The Art of War Journalism


Mwaura Kaara – Pambazuka News

Reflecting on how the media and war industries often feed off each other for political and commercial ends, Mwaura Kaara considers the prospects for ‘peace journalism’ that ‘captures the truths as they are without bias or favour’.

For the last two weeks I have been experiencing the hospitality of the Norwegian people. As an orientation to my new environment, I was part of the team that was organising the 80th birthday celebration of Professor Johan Galtung.

Professor Galtung is one of the celebrated sons of Norway, and an authority in the field of peace studies. He has written over 1,000 articles and published over 150 books on the subject, spoken to many audiences across the globe, and consulted with many governments on this important issue.

For me this is a remarkable fit, and I could not help but admire the courage of a man who has not only walked his talk, but who has also been courageous enough to dream of a better world.

The celebrations of his 80th birthday took place within the context of a peace seminar, allowing for a critical reflection, not only on his life and works, but also on the discussion on the larger concept of peace within the context of our world.

This has left me reflecting on the whole question of peace, in relation to the reality at hand, trying to understand on the extreme: Why is there war? What perpetuates these wars? How do we deal with it?


Dealing with the concept of war is not easy; to understand why war exists, one will need to look in detail into the cause of wars – and unfortunately there is no consensus as to why and how wars come about.

Different theories and approaches have been offered by the social sciences; genetic and evolutionist theories (aggression as a genetically based function to maximise survival); behaviourist theories (war as a learned behaviour); rational theories (maximisation of profits); various economic theories (greed, relative depravation, bad economic situation, the interest of the armament industry); various political theories (power imbalances, the institution of the state, repressive political systems especially when there is rapid change, lack of access to power, cycles of peace and war, the institution of the military); ecological theories (worsening ecological conditions and availability of resources); cultural theories (ethnicity or nationalism) and cognitive theories (attitudes and beliefs).[1]

There has even been less agreement on how to overcome wars. Those who consider economics as the root cause – either directly in form of the armament industry and other war profiteers, or as a result of the capitalist and consumerist system in general – see the solution lying in a changed world wide economic system. Those who are coming from the realpolitik position point out that democracies have more or less stopped fighting each other, and therefore suggest working on international governance with democratic rules. Those who consider the psyche of the individual human-being and its shortcomings as the beginning of the problem argue that individuals must be at the centre, that individuals must first change, that attitudes towards violence and towards life must change and everything will follow.

What this scenario clearly captures is that irrespective of what school of thought you ascribe to, there is a central driving force in all cases to safeguard interests. In scenarios that perpetuate wars, it is as a result of pushing to safeguard personal interests, drawing out much room for collective bargain. To those people who believe that power ultimately rests with the people and not governments, go for people’s uprisings and civil disobedience.[2]


As highlighted, wars are as a result of a drive to safeguard personal interests, as this will rule out room for collective bargain. To this end, the drive has been to manipulate the psyche of the civilians to see wars as the only solution and the best among the solutions.

Acclaimed political scientist, David Easton, postulated that ‘politics is the authoritative allocation of values.’ How then do we get ourselves to a situation of relative comfort amidst an environment of raging wars?

Politics and war have been turned into entertainment. Such a collapse of the mind produces a society dominated by entertainment – which places little burden on thinking – rather than critical inquiry, which helps to explain why there has been a symbiotic relationship between the media industry – focus on it being an industry as it churns ideas to the highest bidder – and political formations.

Entertainment fosters a passive consciousness, a willingness to ‘suspend disbelief’ with a purpose to generate amusement. Government officials know what every magician knows, that to carry out their illusions, they must divert the audience’s attention from the hidden purpose.

The authority of the state is grounded in a consensual based definition of reality, whose content the state insists on controlling.[3] This is why so called ‘public opinion polls’ rather than factual analysis and reason have become modern epistemological standard and why imagery – which the media helps to foster – now takes priority over the substance of things.

The media helps shape the content of our consciousness by generating institutionally desired moods, fears and reactions, a role they have perfected over the course of time. We need to ask ourselves about the extent to which our understanding of our history and other human behaviour has been fashioned by pictures and television drama. Through carefully scripted fictions and fantasies, others direct our experiences, channel our emotions and shape our views of reality. The fantasies depicted are more often of conflict not cooperation; of violence not peace; of death and not the importance of life.

All of this leads me to ask whether media industry is an extension of the war system or whether war is an extension of our need for the media industry?

What should be clear to us is that the media can be used as a principle means by which our thinking can be taken over and directed by others. This is what has been the case as testified in the war imageries, and the support we have accorded. But it is out of our compliance, as we have made our minds passive, which we do and have done, when we are asked – whether by political establishments or by media establishments – to suspend or judgment about the reality of the events we are witnessing.

When we are content to be amused, to have our attention diverted from reality to fantasy, and have our emotions exploited by those skilled in triggering unconscious forces, we set ourselves up to be manipulated by those producing the show.


The complacency of the media industry indicts journalism as a profession. As such it allows for the binary view of the professionals within the industry categorising them in two groups: War journalism and peace journalism.

There is a growth in numbers for the group that can be labelled as war journalists. With their sheer financial might, and numbers, they have taken centre stage to shape and map the thinking of our society. Through sensationalising content, they have captured the attention of the society, keeping them in a circus of life through well-laid propaganda, allowing them to lose their values and focus, while they continuously maintain the interests of the status quo.

Peace journalism on the other hand, though smaller in number has held to the principles of journalism as a profession. Telling the story as it is, by capturing the truths as they are without bias or favour, have laboured and researched to authenticate facts and sources, have been strong enough to link their stories to the reality of the lives of the people. They have been bold enough to envision solutions to problems.

But largely what this illustrates is that, amidst the confusion, there has been a drive to give journalism the face it so deserves. The contention is between ethical journalism (peace journalism) – which truly put is true journalism – and the runaway journalism which has managed to steal the show to serve corporate interests, thus being labelled war journalism.

I support Professor Johan Galtung, in his call, can journalism get its face again amongst professions!


[1] C. Schweitzer,2010, Overcoming War: The importance of constructive alternative ‘Experiments with peace, celebrating Johan Galtung’s 80th Birthday, Pambazuka Press.

[2] Sharp, Gene, 1973, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher

[3] E. David, 1957, An approach to the analysis of political systems, In world Politics 9


Mwaura Kaara is the regional youth coordinator for the UN Millennium Campaign, Africa. Currently he is the 2010 Ragnar Sohlman Scholar supported by the Swedish – Norwegian Friendship Organization and the Voksenasen together with the Networkers South North at the Dag Hammarkjold Programme.

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