Project Brings Peace Journalism to Uganda


Steven Youngblood, Peace Portal – TRANSCEND Media Service

This is great, but it’s not enough.

As I taught Peace Journalism in Uganda for five weeks in 2009, I kept hearing this mantra repeated. The journalists in my seminars said they liked and needed what I was teaching. However, the reporters emphasized that Uganda needed many more peace journalism lessons as the 2011 elections approached.

At the urging of the journalists, we put together a proposal for a comprehensive Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism project for 2010-2011 in Uganda.

If approved, the project would require that I teach radio journalists to understand and practice Peace Journalism, a term coined by journalists Annabeth McGoldrick and Jake Lynch. I define Peace Journalism as when editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace. These choices promote the positive development of societies recovering from conflict while they create an atmosphere supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers and conducive to reconciliation. For the radio journalists, PJ means among other things avoiding the use of  inflammatory, inciting language.

Our project, consisting of three major parts, was pitched to the U.S. Embassy-Kampala and USAID, and approved shortly thereafter. The $270,000 effort consisted of holding 30 seminars across Uganda for radio journalists and managers, launching a Public Service Announcement campaign with a “no election violence” message, and organizing Peace Clubs, groups of Ugandans working with media to ensure a violence-free election.

The principal goal of the Peace, Development, and Electoral Journalism project was to prevent media induced or exacerbated violence during the 2011 election cycle.

The project was needed because of a legacy of violent elections (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe) and of hate radio in sub-Saharan Africa. Hate radio, the use of the airwaves to encourage sectarianism and/or violence, was used as a destructive tool during the Rwandan genocide (1994), during post-election unrest in Kenya (2008), and even during riots in Kampala (2009). Many believed this volatile mix of campaign/electoral turmoil and hate radio, combined with the fact that Uganda is still recovering from a 20-year civil war, made the 2011 election a potentially dangerous one. It was against this backdrop that the PJ project began.

The project, which ran from February 2010 to April 2011, was highlighted by 30 seminars, 25 for journalists and the remainder for radio station managers. At the journalist seminars, we discussed the basics of peace journalism (frame stories to discourage violence, give peacemakers and everyday people a voice, avoid inflammatory language). The radio reporters also produced peace-themed radio reports and PSA’s which aired on their local stations. The seminars were held throughout Uganda, as evidenced by the 9,222 miles that Project Assistant Gloria Laker and I traveled during the project.

Our sore backs and chronic fatigue did not go unrewarded.

By any measure, the project was successful. Ugandans in 14 towns formed Peace Clubs. These clubs joined forces at a summit in Kampala in March, and formed a national organization to promote peace. The Public Service Announcement project also succeeded in getting peaceful messages broadcast on dozens of Ugandan radio stations.

Most telling, there were no incidents of media induced or exacerbated election violence in 2010-2011. The strongest evidence of a dearth of media induced or exacerbated violence can be seen in results from a survey we conducted of 40 radio journalists/presenters and 20 radio managers during the first two weeks of March. Among other things, those surveyed were asked if anything (news, talk program, panelists, telephone callers) broadcast by their radio station encouraged or incited violence. All 60 responded no.

Can our peace journalism project take credit for this lack of media induced violence? The journalists who attended our post-election follow up meetings weren’t hesitant about crediting our project with preventing violence. The journalists said the workshops lead to more responsible and balanced reporting that carefully avoided inflammatory language or irresponsible, sensationalistic stories.

The survey results confirmed what the journalists told us. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings for radio journalists, announcers, and managers (on a 1-5 scale) in preventing broadcasts that might encourage or incite violence. Five is very effective, and one not at all effective. The average for this question was 4.38, somewhere between effective and very effective. Those surveyed were also asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings in improving the professionalism of election coverage. The average was 4.33.

The project succeeded because of the dedication of Project Assistant Gloria Laker and the Ugandan journalists who committed themselves to improving their professionalism and making their communities a better place.

It’s our hope that this peace and electoral journalism model can replicated elsewhere, since it proved to be such a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation in Uganda.

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