ABOUT THIS COLUMN: PART ONE

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 19 Dec 2009

Jake Lynch

Jake Lynch began writing this regular column for TMS in November 2008. Since then it has gained many new followers around the world, some of whom are kind enough to send appreciative messages! Here, and over the following two weeks, he explains the rationale behind it, some of its underpinning ideas and the range of its coverage. An invitation to browse the TMS archives!

Critical peace perspectives on the news

What do you remember from the news? What happened in Mumbai, in November 2008, or Baghdad in June 2009? (I’ll give you a clue: ‘bang’!) Try word association: Somalia = piracy; Burma = monks; Sri Lanka = cricket; Palestine = terrorism; West Papua = …er, where’s that? And who are the baddies? ‘The Taliban’; ‘terrorists’; ‘Hugo Chavez’?

Do you ever get the feeling there’s something you’re not being told? That bits are dropping off the edge of news before it reaches readers and audiences? Think back over stories of conflict, and you might remember the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ in particular cases. What about the ‘how’? Crucially, what about the ‘why’?

Media these days operate under constant pressure of deadlines, from round-the-clock television and the unblinking web. Between the intense glare of the camera and what’s been called the “distracted gaze”  of our postmodern condition, we might catch the same few bare facts as they’re repeated unrelentingly from every outlet for about five minutes before the focus switches elsewhere. What’s missing is context.

This column has tracked the global news agenda from a year in our interconnected, interdependent world, adding context and background along the way. If journalism is the first draft of history, then this is the first draft of an alternative history, one that usually remains hidden beneath vested interests and political pretensions.

Some instalments are based on original research; some on reporting from a particular dateline, including Ramallah, Palestine; Stavanger, Norway; Chiang Mai, Thailand and Cleveland, Ohio. Others take the form of arguments for a particular response to the situation under discussion. So far, they have covered events in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Burma, Venezuela, Somalia, India, Sri Lanka, Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Mauritania and more. They deal with issues from global poverty to nuclear weapons, human rights and the primary role of culture in shaping responses to conflict.

They point out what lies outside the frame, and why. They trace the patterns of omission and distortion in the way conflicts are represented and explore what this means for our understanding, and even how it might feed back in to the actions and motivations of those involved.

So the column takes cues from news events and processes to delve into some important theories about culture in general – and the media in particular – and their relations with and influence on our lives, as well as key issues from the academic field known as Peace and Conflict Studies, or Peace Research.

I have shown:

·    How America switched in 2009 from being a country usually at peace to one that is usually at war. January – the month of President Obama’s inauguration – marked 805 months since the US entry into World War II, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, of which, 403 had, by that stage, been spent at war;

·    How Australia has the most spineless foreign ministry of any democratic country on earth. Canberra is the only world capital to have uttered not a peep of condemnation of either Israel’s attack on Gaza, at the turn of the year, or the subsequent military ‘victory’ by the Government of Sri Lanka over the Tamil Tiger rebels. Many others were ‘covered’ in statements put out by such bodies as the EU, OAS or ASEAN, even if they did not issue their own;

·    How journalists briefly got serious about reporting issues of international law in the Israel-Palestine conflict, contributing, arguably, to the commissioning by the UN of the landmark Goldstone report, which accused both Hamas and Israel of war crimes and Israel of crimes against humanity;

·    How being in favour of human rights leaves you no choice but to oppose wars, even though many human rights organizations in the West still try to maintain such distinctions;

·    How public broadcasters are failing to meet their obligations to report opposition to the continuing drift into militarism, with a particular focus on coverage by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of the extraordinary arms build-up in a country with no enemies;

·    How the growing global gulf between rich and poor threatens to plunge us into a new era of conflict, with gains in alleviating poverty now being wiped out, in many cases, by successive crises in the worldwide markets for food, and finance;

·    And many more of the hidden angles, contexts and backgrounds we need to start making sense of the events and processes shaping the reality we meet.

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Next week: Peace Journalism – What is it, and what difference does it – and could it – make to our understanding of world events?

Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Dec 2009.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: ABOUT THIS COLUMN: PART ONE, is included. Thank you.

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