Peace Journalism: A Needed, Desirable and Practicable Reform
FEATURED RESEARCH PAPER, 13 Aug 2018
The idea of peace journalism has attracted its share of critiques and controversies, but as Vanessa Bassil argues, it still offers a much needed and practical, peace-oriented perspective from which media can be analysed and produced.
Journalism is not just about “reporting facts”. It is about “what” to report and “how” to report, which implies selection and responsibility and hence, high standards of ethics and principles, especially when reporting on conflicts. However, to have a good understanding of conflicts in general, humanity had to wait until the twentieth century for the new emerging field of peace and conflict studies to present evaluative criteria, tools, and approaches to analyze conflicts for the sake of knowing how better to deal with them. The concept of peace journalism has taken advantage of what this new field of research is offering about understanding conflicts and securing world peace, by using conflict analysis and transformation to update the concepts of balance, fairness and accuracy in the traditional news reporting.
In fact, the term “peace journalism” has been coined by the father of peace studies, the Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung who put forward a model of peace reporting during Taplow Court summer school in the UK in August 1997, organized by the former BBC journalist Jake Lynch, who, since then, has pioneered the path of peace journalism.
So what is peace journalism? “Peace Journalism is defined “when editors and reporters make choices – of what to report, and how to report it – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict”. It presents a “road map that traces the connections between journalists, their sources and the consequences of their reporting”. It is a “remedial strategy”, and an “attempt to supplement the news conventions to give peace a chance”.
Peace Journalism is characterized by five main principles: 1) exploration of the backgrounds and contexts of conflict formation of all the sides involved in the conflict, not just two sides as the mainstream media usually portrays, 2) giving voice to the views of all rival parties from all levels, 3) offering creative ideas for conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping, exposing lies, covering-up attempts and culprits on all sides, and revealing excesses committed by, and suffering inflicted on peoples of all parties, and 5) paying attention to peace stories and post-war developments.
The peace journalism model differentiates between what is violence-war/victory journalism and what is conflict-sensitive or peace journalism. What is called war journalism is oriented towards violence in reporting, propaganda, elite and victory. On the other side, peace journalism is conflict, truth, people and solution-oriented journalism.
Since its emerging in the mid-1990s, peace journalism has attracted practitioners and scholars from all over the world as well as others who are interested in the relation between media, peace and conflict. Peace journalism has now become a “globally distributed reform movement of reporters, academics and activists”.
However, although the field of peace journalism is a growing field that is being spread in all continents, it keeps attracting critiques. The controversy is still on-going whether the concept is needed first and can be practiced second. Just as any new concept that seeks to correct a conventional reality, peace journalism is unwelcomed by some practitioners, particularly the ones who refuse the idea of problematising mainstream media reporting that they belong to- generally speaking- as “war reporting”.
The starting point of this paper is thus the debate that peace journalism has provoked regarding its necessity, desirability and feasibility. I will present the concept of peace journalism as a reform necessary to the improvement of the overall journalism quality, by proving first its need in light of the reality of media today that I will showcase through examples from the field. Also, far from assuming that objectivity is an absolute value, yet, important as an essential journalistic principle, I will examine the desirability of the reformative concept of peace journalism from the very principle of objectivity, and point particularly at “framing” as one of the news features that peace journalism reinforces. Finally, I will attempt to demonstrate how peace journalism can be practiced on the organizational, professional and procedural levels.
I- The need of Peace Journalism
“Agreement is seldom reported. Bad news is good news”. That’s the problem of the news reporting practice that leads to misrepresentation of the reality, especially in conflict times, in addition to the big reliance on official sources that cannot be enough, neither accurate to portray the full image to the public. The need of peace journalism is born out of this problem of news coverage.
Galtung and Ruge tried to find out since 1965 “what events make the news?”, when the world was highly tensed in light of the division between two blocs, one leaded by the United States of America, and the other one by the former Soviet Union. This does not imply that the world tension is less today with the new world order, however, the question of what makes the news is still a relevant one, trying to be answered by many researchers.
In their paper, Galtung and Ruge came up with twelve factors that determine the foreign news selection of local journalists in Norway: frequency, threshold, unambiguity, meaningfulness, consonance, unexpectedness, continuity, composition, reference to elite nations, reference to elite people, reference to persons, and reference to something negative. For long time, this publication was considered as the “most influential explanation” of news values, before other studies came out as revisit and reconsideration of this list, or even suggested another one.
The Norwegians researchers have found out that some of these factors, especially the ones that refer to official sources produce patterns of inclusion in conflict reporting, and make news content dominated by representational conventions.
Peace Journalism derives from this very insight, and criticizes the patterns that emphasize official sources over people sources, event over process and violence over peace. Conflicts are represented thus as a zero-sum game and the parties involved are reduced into only two that are fighting over one particular goal. For that, “news needs remedial measures to ‘give peace a chance’, because these conventions predispose it to a form of war journalism, which is neither fair nor accurate”.
In relation to its orientation towards official sources, war journalism relies highly on propaganda that can be defined as an attempt to “shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions and direct behavior”. There are many examples on conflict reporting that reflect how media can be prey to propaganda and thus create willingly or not a manipulated audience. The international coverage of the war in Iraq is a clear indication of media control by political sources narratives. By not making sure if the information are accurate or not, western media did not hesitate to cover prominently the statements of the Bush administration about the “weapons of mass destruction” that turned out to be false.
The problem of inaccuracy, unfairness and unbalance in the mainstream media is acknowledged by the practitioners themselves. The BBC journalist David Lyon writes in a conclusion after a long critique of peace journalism:
This is not to say that everything in journalism is fine. In a world where Fox News, with its ridiculously partisan comic-book view of foreign news, can try to patent the notion of being “Fair and Balanced”, and where most British newspapers take a strong “line” one way or another on conflicts, there are problems. Seeing the “Sun” trying to find good news from Iraq has had a sort of black humor in recent months. The affair of Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction raised searching questions in newsrooms on both sides of the Atlantic as it should have. Research findings showing that most of the British television audience believe it is the Palestinians who are “occupying” territory, not Israelis, should set alarm bells ringing.
Because peace journalism stresses on many principles that already exist in the field, it might lead to the thinking that all what it does is reinventing the wheel. However, there are some elements in news reporting that the concept of peace journalism highly emphasizes on: framing.
Although framing is an essential news feature, peace journalism uses from an approach that takes seriously into consideration the effects that this frame has on public. From previous journalism studies as the ones undertaken by McQuail for example, we know already that media play a big role in constructing social reality. The frames chosen by journalists, either intentionally or unintentionally, dictate the way this reality is constructed, and therefore, the understanding of the public of it. According to Gitlin, frames, “largely unspoken, unacknowledged, organize the world both for journalists who report it and, in some important degree, for us who rely on their reports”.
The media coverage of the wars in Eastern Europe, is an obvious example of how propaganda and manipulation manifest through a political representation of the conflict, framed in a way that serve the interests of media controllers. Ruigrok states:
During the war in Kosovo, the media contributed to an atmosphere in which the international community was making up for earlier mistakes. With the inaction still in mind with respect to the Bosnian war, western governments were eager to react in Kosovo. […]The use of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the media and governmental officials is an example of this […]. The Serbs became the ‘issue owner’ of the term, portrayed over and over as the main perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and other war crimes against the Muslim population. Having framed the conflict in Bosnia in such a way, it was a small step to continue this type of coverage during Kosovo. Western newspapers for example framed the air strikes as humanitarian aid to the Albanians to stop the ‘ethnic cleansing’ initiated by the Serbs.
The Rwandan genocide did not make any exception neither for the inaccuracy of media coverage and its rely on non-African sources while covering an African war, and representing it in a frame that fits the formula us [westerns] vs them [African tribals].
Whether we study frames from the media side, (media frames), or from the public side (individual frames), as dependent or independent variables (the factors that push the journalists to choose certain frames and the effects they produce, and the factors that influence the way the public understands issues based on the way they receive news from the media), the credit goes for peace journalism to raise the frame feature of news as an essential element of consideration in the journalistic work. The idea of a critical and forward-looking press implies that the media are also capable of questioning certain generally accepted beliefs and assumptions, and the frames that peace journalism offers to the journalists facilitate this task.
Some critics reproach peace journalism about not presenting anything new. However, having an expectation of “invention” from a social science discipline, whether is related to communication or peace and conflict fields, is simply unrealistic as social sciences do not aim to invent anything but actually look at what it exists already but from different approaches, perspectives and levels, and this is what peace journalism does to the already existing journalism field. Furthermore, both communication and peace and conflict are multi-disciplinary fields, which reflects their complexities, and any concept that derives from them, such as peace journalism, aims to understand or illustrate the complexity that characterizes them.
II) The desirability of Peace Journalism
Peace journalism has provoked a serious debate on the role of journalists in society generally and conflicts particularly and how this role would affect the principle of objectivity in news reporting.
The mass media are known to perform the function of sustaining the existing world view rather being an agent of change. One would argue that being an agent of change is not the job of a journalist, as “reporters need to preserve their position as observers not players”.
However, journalists are players in the society, and even very important ones, otherwise why would the media be called the Forth Power in democratic regimes? They do not play a role in the news as such, but they do have a role in the way they report the news and how they report it. In this sense, they are not simple observers but actors, in respect of the responsibility that they carry in their work, not out of engagement, in the political sense of the word.
It is this responsibility that peace journalism stresses on, and from the journalistic responsibility ethics, it calls on the awareness to consider the consequences of the reporting on the audience and sometimes the news developments themselves.
In contrary of what its opponents think, peace journalism does not present itself as the rescuer of the world problems, and is clearly not an advocacy journalism and none of its pioneers or advocates calls for advocacy in reporting. Neither the ten points of Galtung in “What I would like to see in a peace-oriented newspaper” nor the “17-point plan for practical Peace Journalism” presented by Lynch and McGoldrick contains elements of advocacy. “Give a voice to both or all parties in the conflict”, “make explicit the intellectual frame of reference”, emphasizing less “elite nations, elite persons, personification and negative events”, “not underestimating the public”, “portraying more clearly the benefits of peace”, looking at the problems of development not only political “avoid only reporting the violent acts and describing “the horror” [… ], instead show how people have been blocked and frustrated or deprived in everyday life as a way of explaining how the conditions for violence are being produced”  etc.
Advocating for peace journalism does not mean making journalism an advocacy.
Also, by calling on an active and responsible role in reporting complex issues by providing contexts rather than a passive and superficial one, peace journalism shouldn’t be confused with journalism of attachment, a term that appeared upon the war in Bosnia, where some reporters took the side of the Bosnian government against the Serbs. Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell defines journalism of attachment as a journalism that “will not stand neutrally between good and evil, right and wrong, the victim and the oppressor”.
Peace journalists do have distance from the matter they report on, and since they aim to report on all sides of the conflict by providing necessary contexts, they are not thus engaged personally in one of the sides of the conflict. Therefore, the kind of journalism they are doing is not a journalism of activism or one of its forms “journalism of attachment” that makes them loose their neutrality. 
This is said, peace journalism does not conflict with the sacred principle in journalism which is objectivity. However, it is important to note that this principle is debatable even before the concept of peace journalism saw the light, and it is still controversial in both academia and media regardless peace journalism. Therefore, it would be more useful to try to find answers to the controversy about objectivity and subjectivity in the nature of human being in general, before bringing it to peace journalism discussion or even journalism field. It would be also important to take into consideration the social and economic changes in the era of globalization that are shifting the nature of journalism from “public service and objectivity to one of consumerism and commercialism”.
On the other hand, the following question would be worth asking: If peace journalism isn’t an objective journalism, than what would war journalism be considered then? Also, if researchers and media practitioners found out finally that objectivity do not exist, then, when this happens, peace journalism would claim to be bias towards peace instead of war.
In all cases, peace journalism is a preferable journalism, as it provides a more accurate representation of the conflict through providing backgrounds, contexts and underlying processes that traditional media usually do not provide them to the audience. “It does not promote particular accounts and perspectives, but where they are unjustly excluded, it should enable them to be seen and heard”.
The journalistic practice is continuously faced by many challenges. It is attached to political determinants, economic imperatives, newsroom structures and working routines. It is thus not only shaped by political influences, but also by economic, organizational and institutional ones.
According to the widely-known levels-of-influences on the media content defined by Shoemaker and Reese, the individual influence comes first, in addition to the media routines, the organization, the extramedia level and the ideological one.
Based on a survey conducted in 2010 with 1700 journalists from 17 countries to study what they consider to be sources of influence on their work, the findings have revealed six domains of influences: political (influence from political context, government officials and politicians), economic (journalists’ profits expectations from their news organizations, advertisers and the market), procedural (limited resources in terms of space and time, and standards and routines of news work), organizational (supervisors, higher editors, managers and owners of the news organization), professional (policies, conventions, laws) and reference groups (colleagues, competing news organizations, audiences, family and friends).
In contrary to the general assumption about the big influence of economic and political factors, the hierarchy of influence that the journalists precise in this study revealed that these two factors are actually overestimated, as the most influential forces on their work comes actually from the organizational domain first, professional second, and procedural third. A continuation of this study has revealed later that the influences are relative and may differ from one country to another, according to national contexts. By comparison with the differences between countries from developing and developed countries “the differences between countries on perceived political and economic influences are obviously larger than the differences on perceived organizational, professional, and procedural influences and reference groups.” “Political influences are indeed perceived to be more powerful in less democratic countries, as well as in nations with lower levels of press freedom and higher levels of political parallelism”.
Although according to these studies, journalists do not perceive political factor as the most influential factor in their work, in contrary to what media and communication research highlights on, this does not mean that political influence does not exist. However, since the journalists are the ones that, at the end of the day who are going or not to practice peace journalism, it would be thus useful and effective to find answers to what they think it is challenging for the practice of their work.
Therefore, I am going to bring the potential of the practicability of peace journalism to the findings of the above mentioned research, taking into consideration that “influence” doesn’t necessarily have to be negative and assuming that changes will occur on the three above most influential levels, only if peace journalism has been introduced to the processes that the journalistic work engage in as an editorial decision based on an editorial will.
- Organizational influence: In reference to the categorization of the survey of the organizational influence between: “within the newsroom”, and “within the media organization”, in respect to editorial and managerial decision-makers, peace journalism once included in the editorial and managerial line of the news organization, it would affect all working journalists in the organization. Since organizational influence means in other terms people in leadership positions drawing the road work of the employees, the influence that peace journalism can have on their decisions would affect the organizational structure as a whole, as by changing people, the structure would change.
- Professional influence: In contrary to religious books, policies and conventions of a profession can and should change. Journalism field is not an exception. If a conflict-sensitive approach to media coverage was never or not enough considered before the emergence of peace and conflict studies, then it is time now to include it in the conventions of the journalism profession. Some media organizations are already indirectly adopting the principles of peace journalism without calling it this way. This is said, the ethical framework that peace journalism offers in respect of the media coverage of conflicts can be adopted by more media outlets which care about high standards of professionalism and ethics, at least by theory. This fact lead then to influencing professionally all the editors who work within the organization.
- Procedural influence: Procedure is a very practical factor. And just as any profession in the world, journalism has its own. It is determined by many standards and routines already established, and whatever type of media they work in, journalists will found themselves limited by space and time. However this shouldn’t be an excuse to not present a quality media content. Principles such as accuracy, fairness and balance in reporting are essential standards, and peace journalism stresses a lot on them and goes further by suggesting itself as a concept that updates those principles through the usage of conflict analysis and transformation techniques.
Peace journalism is a constructive response to the problem of news reporting in today’s world that rely heavily on elites sources, violent acts, inflammatory elements and ignorant biases. The greatest problem is the implications of these practices that lead to the misrepresentation of the reality and inaccurate framing of the facts. Peace journalism is thus born out of a need of a good quality of reporting and is able to make a change on the personal, professional and structural levels.
The essential objective is to tell the audience what is really happening by providing them as much contexts and backgrounds as possible and presenting them the sides of all parties involved. At the end, the audience is the one that is going to evaluate “non-violent responses to conflict”, if it choose not, then the work of journalists would have ended here. However, it is the responsibility of media to know what to select as information and how to present it to its public, considering the consequences that it might have on them.
Still questioning if the concept of peace journalism is needed or not is simply a waste of time, as examples of bad reporting are enough to be undeniable, and both practice and research have already confirmed this fact. Addressing the problem of media content in order to bring solutions to it is the discussion that should be engaged in academia, newsrooms and civil society.
Criticizing the term or the desirability of “peace journalism” would not help in improving the quality of reporting and in overall the performance of media. Therefore it is time to move from the debate of “why we need change?” to “how can we make it happen”? Assuming that everyone agrees that there is something going wrong in the performance of the media while reporting conflicts.
Peace journalism is one answer, as it represents a reform to the proven problem in news coverage, and obviously a new paradigm in media, communication and journalism researches. It is thus not only a “better application of known methods” but also a new toolkit of new techniques borrowed from peace and conflict field.
If the ones who are involved in media whether by practice or theory, consider peace journalism “good to have but hard to apply”, then it would be helpful to think, experiment and research ways through which it can it more spread, feasible and convincing to people who have hard time to accept it, understand it and/or apply it. If peace journalism is not a good answer, then the efforts of criticizing it or debating it for the sake of doing so would be more efficient if they are invested on attempts to search for alternatives to fix “war journalism”.
Last but not least, the minimum that peace journalism offers to practitioners is an ethical framework for the production of their reports and stories. Also, not to take for granted the hope and positivity that peace journalism brings to the communities in conflict zones, where media is as polarized as the reality they live in. It is also a hope for the journalists themselves, who many of them struggle to keep the principles of journalism profession away from political and commercial agendas, and keep therefore their integrity without risking their jobs. Peace journalism reminds them that they are doing a “good” work, and thus playing a positive role in their societies, by being ethical, responsible and unbiased.
Editors/journalists/reporters and their managers, or in other terms the producers of news, as individuals, deserve in fact a more in-depth analysis that both journalism and peace and conflict field should further undertake, in order to improve the role of media in societies, and thus, improve societies as such.
Bell, M. (1998) ‘The Truth is our Currency’, The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 3(1).
Dente R. (2007). Peace Journalism: constructive Media in a Global Community. Global Media Journal. Mediterranean Edition, 2(2)
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Hanitzsch, T. (2007). Situating peace journalism in Journalism Studies: A critical appraisal. Conflict & Communication online, 6(2).
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TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS: https://www.transcend.org/tms/about-peace-journalism/1-what-is-peace-journalism/
Peace Journalism: www.Peacejournalism.org
BBC Editorial Guidelines: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/guidelines/
The Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2011/02/la-times-ethics-guidelines.html
 Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2005), Peace Journalism, Hawthorn Press, Stroud, UK.
 Lynch J. (2014), A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict, Routledge, New York and London, p. 36
 Richard Falk R. (2008) Foreword, in Lynch J. Debates in Peace Journalism, ix, Sydney University Press, University of Sydney, Australia
 Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2005), p6.
 Lynch, J. “What is peace journalism?”(1) in Transcend Media: https://www.transcend.org/tms/about-peace-journalism/1-what-is-peace-journalism/
 Lynch J. (2014), p 41.
 Lynch J. (2008), Debates in Peace Journalism, xi-xii
 Galtung & Ruge (1965) and Harcup & O’Neill (2001) in Lynch J. (2014), p. 35.
 Galtung, J. & Ruge, M. (1965) “The structure of foreign news: the presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus crises in four Norwegian newspapers”, Journal of International Peace Research 1, pp. 64–91.
 McQuail D, (1994), Mass Communication Theory, An Introduction, Sage Publications, p. 270.
 Harcup, T., & O’Neill, D. (2001). What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited. Journalism Studies, 2(2), pp. 264- 267.
 Ibid, 267-280.
 Galtung, J. & Ruge, M. (1965).
 Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2005), p8.
 Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2010). A global standard for reporting conflict and peace. In R.L. Keeble, J. Tulloch & F. Zollmann (eds.). Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. Peter Lang: New York, p.91
 Jowett and O’Donnell (1999), cited in Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2010). A global standard for reporting conflict and peace, p.91.
 Ruigrok, N. (2010). From Journalism of Activism towards Journalism of Accountability. International Communication Gazette, 72(1), p89.
 Lyon D. (2007), Good journalism or peace journalism? p, 9
 Hanitzsch, T. (2007), Situating Peace Journalism in Journalism Studies: A critical appraisal. Conflict & Communication online, 6(2), pp. 1
 Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2005).
 Tuchman G. (1978), Cited in Scheufele (1999).
 McQuail D. (1994), Cited in Scheufele (1999).
 Gitlin T. (1980), Cited in Scheufele (1999).
 Ibid, p87.
 Myers, G., Klak, T., & Koehl, T. (1996). The inscription of difference: news coverage of the conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia. Political Geography, 15(1), pp. 22.
 Scheufele (1999).
 Galtung, J. (1986). On the Role of the Media for Worldwide Security and Peace. In Tapio Varis (ed). Communication and Peace. San Jose: Universidad para la Paz, p. 245.
 Hanitzsch, T. (2007).
 Lyon D. (2007), p. 3.
 Ibid, pp. 249- 264.
 Id, Galtung J. & Ruge M. (1965).
 Id, Lynch J. (2005).
 Id, Ruigrok, N. (2010), p. 87.
 Bell, M. (1998) ‘The Truth is our Currency’, The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 3(1): p.273
 Ruigrok, N. (2010), p 87
 Hackett, R. (2006). Is Peace Journalism Possible? Three Frameworks for Assessing Structure and Agency in News Media. Conflict & Communication online, 5(2), p 10
 Lynch, J. (2014), p.33.
 Hanitzsch, T., & Mellado, C. (2011). What Shapes the News around the World? How Journalists in Eighteen Countries Perceive Influences on Their Work. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(3), pp. 405
 Shoemaker, Pamela J., and Stephen D. Reese. 1996. Mediating the Message: Theories of Influence on Mass Media Content. White Plains, NY: Longman.
 Hanitzsch, Thomas, Maria Anikina, Rosa Berganza, Incilay Cangoz, Mihai Coman, Basyoun Hamada, Folker Hanusch, et al. 2010. “Modeling Perceived Influences on Journalism: Evidence from a Cross-National Survey of Journalists.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 87(1): 7–24.
 Hanitzsch, T., & Mellado, C. (2011). pp. 404-426
 Hanitzsch, T., & Mellado, C. (2011), p. 414
 Ibid, P 418
 Ibid, P. 419-420
 Check BBC Editorial Guidelines at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/guidelines/ and The Los Angeles Times Ethics Guidelines at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/readers/2011/02/la-times-ethics-guidelines.html
 Lynch J. (2005).
Vanessa Bassil is the Founder & President of MAP- Media Association for Peace, the first organization in Lebanon and MENA region dedicated to work on Peace Journalism. She is a Lebanese journalist and peace activist. She holds two Bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political and Administrative Sciences, an on-going Master degree in Information and Communication Sciences from the Lebanese University, in addition to a MA in Media, Peace and Conflict studies from the UN Mandated University for Peace, Costa Rica.
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