The State of the World–By Journalism

EDITORIAL, 19 Sep 2016

#447 | Johan Galtung

We want journalists to do that, give us the state of the world, by from one “trouble spot”–arenas of past-present-future violence–to the other. Not to mirror the world, but to make it more transparent.  What questions should they ask to do a good job, below the surface?

For key illnesses like epidemics: ask for diagnosis, the causes; for prognosis, the consequences; for therapy, “what are you doing to restore health”.  “Ice to lower the fever”, would not be accepted; they would demand a theory linking the diagnosis to the therapy.

We should demand the same level of sophistication for peace even if there is no consensus about peace diagnosis, prognosis and therapy. But peace studies have identified two causes underlying violence: unsolved conflict, and unconciled trauma from past violence. It makes as good sense to use “the talking method” (Freud) to try to identify them in concrete cases as to ask patients where it hurts and how long.

Journalists, physicians and mediators have one thing in common: they are expected to ask questions.  Having worked as a journalist for some time for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a medical family background, and nearly 60 years as a mediator, my obvious conclusion has been for journalists to ask the kind of questions mediators ask, like:

  • What does the Middle East look like where you would like to live?
  • What is the situation right now?
  • Was there a good time, what went wrong, what could have been done?
  • What is the worst that happened, and the worst that could happen?

Journalists should not mediate–they are not trained for that. But they could make the world more ready for mediation, also by readers-listeners-viewers. People will answer, and give interesting answers.

Of decision-makers journalists could also ask questions like:

  • Mr-s President, what conflict is underlying yesterday’s atrocity?
  • Mr-s President, what are you going to do to solve that conflict?

However, whereas authorities often are parts of the solution for illness, they are also often parts of the problem for violence-war.

They cure illness with medicine or surgery, not with illness; like fire with water, not with fire.  For violence, however, authorities often recommend more violence to stop violence; like terrorism with state terrorism, killing more innocent victims than the growing non-state terrorism it may even stimulate.  The term “state terrorism” is even ruled out; journalism focused on that will be “not fit to print”.

In some media, but not in some others. There are always openings.

What would be a state of the world itinerary?  12 key stops:

  1. Washington, how they would like to see Europe, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Libya, Somalia, East Asia, IS, Russia, China, Latin America; and how to achieve the goals? By warfare, by peacefare?
  2. London (Scotland, Ireland): the same, the “special relation” to USA, Brexit and EU, Brexit and UK, relations to Africa’.
  3. Brussels-Paris-Berlin-Moscow-Beijing: a German EU vs Eurasia, BRICS.
  4. NATO-Warsaw-Bucuresti, Moscow: confrontation vs a European House.
  5. Ukraine: USA-UK-EU-Kiev-Donetsk-Moscow: confrontation vs federation.
  6. Middle East/West Asia: Israel, Palestine, (League of) Arab States, all parts of Iraq and Syria, Egypt: the future of the Middle East.
  7. West vs Islamic State: all of the above; for IS London, Baghdad.
  8. Central Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, the “stans”, Iran: the future.
  9. East Asia: Japan-2 Chinas-2 Koreas-Russia: the islands, the future.
  10. South China Sea: 2 Chinas, ASEAN-Philippines-Vietnam-Brunei: future.
  11. All over, countries exposed to US-UK bombing: what were the results?
  12. All over: relations to the environment, climate: and the results?

Imagine 12 weekly media publications willing to publish not only their side–aka propaganda–but all sides.  Multiple viewing-angles make the world more transparent, as when scanning a body.

Readers could then be encouraged to propose solutions; like the past-oriented rule of law, compromises, or more creative futures.

This could contribute to what we badly need: a culture of peace in general, and of peaceful conflict transformation in particular, as opposed to the current culture of war and violence, of killing.

Both states and non-states invent new ways of killing.  Read the Iraq Chilcot Report about the weapons used in the attack on the 2003 Baghdad laboratory, clearly experimenting with new weapons when the professed goal was democracy. By white phosphorus? By new types of napalm?


White Phosphorus Weapon

The terrorist side experiments with planes and trucks, new IEDs [improvised explosive devices]; taking enormous risks, paying with their own lives. Change the focus.

This is not the whole “state of the world”; much peace is going on.  Good things flow between parties for mutual benefit; better had the trade been more equitable.  But today’s polarization involves huge parts of the world population, like West vs Islam, NATO vs SCO, EU vs Eurasia, Japan-USA vs 2 Chinas-2 Koreas-Russia over islands. USA personalizes, psychiatrizes, and polarizes, “us vs them”.  Add peace.

“Journalism around the world” should include peace arenas, like ASEAN, inside EU, Nordic countries, much of Africa and Latin America. Same questions, but to find out what makes them tick peace, not war.

And journalism should cover deeper issues such as the long shadows of history, from the split of the Roman Empire along Catholic-Orthodox lines over 1600 years ago in Europe, the 1893 Durand line in Central Asia, the 1916 Sykes-Picot lines in the Middle East, to learn whether consciousness and joint processing of history could be useful.

Deeper causes: hidden scripts in the collective subconscious.  Like US Dualism-Manichaeism-Armageddon: two parties, one good-the other evil; for evil only a final battle will work.  Include assumptions, ask why?

One day journalists may ask questions to shed light on shadows, and on how to make the subconscious conscious.  If they ask competent questions about bacteria and toxic pollution, why not also about peace?

Most violence is West against East or against South.  Maybe one day journalism will make miracles come true: the West recognizing past errors–Italy did for 1911. And rejecting old scripts for the present.  For a better future state of the world, made by compelling deep journalism.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published 1669 articles and book chapters, over 400 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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6 Responses to “The State of the World–By Journalism”

  1. Leejah Singh says:

    Yes I’m partial but I do think it is strange to leave out India in the range of stops.

    Yes I know that it can be argued that this is a minor detail and that I read too much into a list of examples, but Mr. Galtung’s writing and opinions reflect a US(West-)centric view that is too prevalent in the World today.

    Roughly speaking two views dominate. The “Good US vs bad world” we see from mainstream US politicians/CNN/Fox on one hand, and the “Bad US vs good world” we see from Mr Galtungs (and most other Transcend’ers).

    Both (good/bad) US centric. Both wrong. The role of the US (good and bad) is much much less than what these two views project. The interary and the list of conflicts above can be painted from both sides of that pallette, but one would be black, one white. None with the colours. None with the gray scale that is needed.

    Other conflict that need attention – and interarys just as much as the above – nay, even more – include: Pakistan-India, China-India, China-Russia, IS-Russia, Russia-EastEurope, Russia-Caucasus, Islam-China, Islam-India. Just to name a few close to me.

  2. John Cabral says:

    Yes. Galtung’s plea here is not to oppose U.S. imperialism but for more journalism to be developed of the kind that asks these key questions about the conflicts it covers. Main question: what is the underlying conflict here? So in the India-Pakistan conflict for example, underneath the threatening rhetoric, what is the conflict about? And what are the past traumas. On both sides.

    • Leejah Singh says:

      I agree Mr Cabral. My point is not the suggestion of work nor the intentions. Both are very good. It’s only that Mr Galtung’s 12-stop list is a reflection of the far too US-centric (good or bad) world view.

      • Salim Erbil says:

        Galtung studies the coditions for peace. In so doing he has to identify the hindrances of peace.

        He has defined peace as nonviolence. empathy. equity. cooperation for mutual and equal benefits. no exploitation. harmony and whatnot. Also he is as much a Japanese as he is a US foreign affairs specialist in his area studies perspective.

        So in a way, it makes sense that Galtung focusses on what he calls the bellogenes that stop the paxogenes which he wants to see grow from impacting the world. And what is he to write about, when the most massive overt and covert military actor in the world with 33% of global military expenditure is the USA.

        And also, as I understand it, he is very worried about the fact that everywhere he looks, he finds the US footprint dabbling in some political intrigue or negotiation. Sometimes I laugh when I read his pieces because it looks like “here is this man, travelling all over, curious to see what is particular about the new places he visits, only to find that all places on earth have a common factor: US presence in their administrative stances.”

        As an analyst of “the things that hinder peace”, when you always find the same atom in every single molecule, no matter how different it is from the previous one, you must wonder about its function. And one doesn’t have to be a rocketscientist to understand that this presence of the US in every other polity, including the spying on the UN and the recent NSA, oh boy the NSA spying… Singh… how does one even begin to write about this world without taking stock of the USA omnipresence when they are everywhere influencing everything they can. note the nuance: everything they can. And this is a serious question based on their own declaratory agendas not on some imputed nonsense. What about JCS 570/2 and its implications?

        I so agree that he talks about the US a lot. But are you disagreeing with his basic view that the foreign policy of the US has a tendency to implement structural and direct violence in and around the 120+ countries where it has its 800+ bases located and or active military personel? Are you disagreeing with Nick Turse’s revelations:,_a_secret_war_in_135_countries/

        What do you want Galtung to say about the US foreign policy other than point out these violence inducing factors… when that is exactly his job description as a global peace studies expert?

        I agree btw that it would be hugely enjoyable to see him apply his tools to other regions altogether.

  3. Leejah Singh says:

    Dear Salim Erbil

    Yes I agree that one has to identify the hindrances of peace in order to study the conditions for peace. But focus on the size and prescence of the US (or any other player) will often mask out the underlying conflicts and will shadow for many critical considerations.

    Take Kashmir. As a “local” I consider this to be one of the potential flash points of the world. Territory fought over by Pakistan-Indian wars and non-war methods. Other parts (illegaly) occupied by China and (as of now) a dormant “volcano”. Probably one of the hot spots and conflicts with the most real risk in the last 30 years to explode into nuclear war. If you paint this with “US color” you might – as Mr Galtung – gloss over it, because it has very little of the US (good/bad) factors that the two equally wrong poles (both the CNN/Fox/republican and the Galtung/Transcenders opposite) in media factor in today. But both are wrong. This is one of the countless flash points that are just as, or even more, important than some of the others on Mr Galtung’s list.

    My point is that we need a global view. A much more global view, that take the local and regional causes of conflict into consideration, even when they don’t have a major US/west good-or-bad factor in.

  4. Per-Stian says:

    I don’t think the main thing to take from this article is whether Galtung’s view in it is US/Euro centric or not, but a call for journalists to look at conflicts and danger areas and ask the question that is almost never asked: WHY. The same goes for Kashmir and many other potential conflicts not on Galtung’s list. It would be great to see journalists look deeper into these issues, ask important questions, like the open questions in the beginning of the article.

    Ultimately it’s about a more positive form of journalism, more solution oriented. Peace journalism instead of war journalism. And without the simplistic good/evil world view that you typically see in the media.

    Foreign news has a strong influence of national interests, as they are often incorrectly called, and tend to take the form of at best disinformation and at worst outright propaganda. I support Galtung in a wish for a media that look more independently and seriously into conflicts and possible conflicts, and ask why.

    Just different view points would be a gain at this point, that’s how bad it has become. Journalists seem more than capable to offer both sides in more domestic and everyday matters, but when it comes to foreign news and conflicts, “the other side” is often missing — and of course there are many more than two sides to any conflict.

    A small example is the recent coverage by Al Jazeera and the Intercept about ISIL members having misgivings about their treatment of civilians in the area under their control.