The World’s First Demonstration for Peace Journalism?
TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 28 Jun 2010
Peace researchers from around the world converge on Sydney next week for the biennial global conference of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA). See www.iprasydney2010.org for more details. Its theme is ‘Communicating Peace’.
On the penultimate morning – Friday July 9 – we are taking the conference a few blocks down town to a demonstration outside the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). The protest is due to take place from 07:30 – 08:30, before the conference starts for the day and just at the time when many ABC journalists are arriving for work.
The theme of the demo is ‘Give Peace a Chance’. It is – as far as we know – a world first, being a demonstration in favour of peace journalism. In our book of the same name, Annabel McGoldrick and I define peace journalism in these terms:
“Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices – of what stories to report, and how to report them – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict”.
Such choices are subjugated, in most media, most of the time, by journalistic conventions: conventions that grow out of the economic and political interests of the news industry. This is why, as Richard Keeble argues, “We need to move away from the concept of the audience as a passive consumer of a professional product to seeing the audience as producers of their own (written or visual) media”.
In an important new book – Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution, edited by Richard himself along with John Tulloch and Florian Zollmann, and published by Peter Lang – he highlights the peace journalism of alternative media, both historically and globally, and calls on peace journalism advocates to “extend the definition of ‘journalist’ beyond the ranks of the professionals to radical media activists, intellectuals and human rights campaigners”.
Nevertheless, there are still distinctions to be drawn, and sustained – and struggles to be joined – over the power of representation in corporate media. The public service obligations written into guidelines for journalists in news organizations such as the ABC represent an important intervention in what would otherwise be an unfettered free market. And peace journalism represents a way to hold them to account.
Hence our demonstration for peace journalism at ABC headquarters. We’ll be handing out leaflets to journalists entering the building, and passers-by, featuring the text below:
ABC: Give peace a chance
We greatly value the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Its teams of talented journalists are its greatest asset. It – and they – are a cornerstone of our democracy.
But it is letting us down.
It should provide a balanced account of key issues in public debate. According to Clause 5.2.2 (e) of the ABC Editorial Policies: “Balance will be sought [and] achieved as soon as reasonably practicable and in an appropriate manner… as far as possible, present principal relevant views on matters of importance”.
- Have you ever heard the view presented on any ABC program, that Australian troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan?
- Have you ever heard the view presented on any ABC program, that spending on Australia’s military should go down, in real terms, instead of up?
These views are generally excluded from ABC news and current affairs. And yet, opinion polls show, they are shared by large numbers – even a majority – of the Australian public.
Australian governments can carry on with their warlike policies, without having to justify them against countervailing views, because of an ABC management committee, which drew up a statement of ‘news values’. They include:
- “Prominence: Status, power of the information source, or of the individuals or institutions involved in the event;
- Personification: Involvement of famous people even when what happens to them is commonplace”.
In practice, it means any point of view has to find an advocate who is powerful or famous, if it is to be reported. ABC responses, to complaints about a lack of balance in coverage of ‘defence’ issues in particular, show how managers hide behind these ‘news values’.
THIS MUST CEASE.
The ‘news values’ must not be allowed to interfere with the obligation to balance.
Balance in the round
Other public broadcasters, elsewhere in the world, typically try to achieve balance ‘in the round’. It means that views and perspectives habitually excluded or downplayed in the news can find expression elsewhere in the schedule: in a documentary series, for instance.
The ABC has adopted an overly restrictive interpretation of its mandate, which prevents this. Instead, every series has to be ‘balanced’. It has led to the important documentary, Hope in a Slingshot – to be screened at the IPRA conference on Saturday – being censored by the ABC.
Hope in a Slingshot shows the realities of Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian territory. When was the last time you heard that phrase on ABC news? These are aspects of the conflict desperately in need of reminders, to the listening and viewing public.
As a pro-peace film, which hears from peace activists on all sides, it was banned from its slot in a documentary series because the ABC could not find a pro-war or pro-occupation film to ‘balance’ it.
THIS MUST CEASE.
The ABC must acknowledge the biases inherent in news, especially about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and use other parts of its programming to rectify them.
Audiences must have opportunities to see and hear the facts about Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory, its illegality and its consequences.
The ABC needs to adopt a policy of ensuring balance in the round, across its range of programming, not in individual series or strands.
IT’S OUR ABC. LET’S TAKE IT BACK.
Associate Professor Jake Lynch is Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney and Chair of the Organising Committee of the IPRA conference 2010, ‘Communicating Peace’.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Jun 2010.
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