Peace Journalism

FEATURED RESEARCH PAPER, 29 Jan 2024

Christos Frangonikolopoulos and Naya Kalfeli | Academia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Published by The International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies, 2019

The term “peace journalism” was originally introduced in the 1960s by the Norwegian academic Johan Galtung, a pioneer in the study of news values, to describe the orientation of journalism focusing on the causes and possible solutions of a conflict, with the aim to improve the prospects for peace. His model of peace journalism builds on the dichotomy between “war journalism” and “peace journalism.”

Having spent decades studying the media coverage of conflicts, Galtung has observed that the prevailing journalistic practice follows particular conventions or patterns. When covering conflict, media focuses mainly on direct and visible violence (the dead and the injured) and on dichotomies (us and them). It does not explore the underlying causes of a conflict, provides very limited context, does not address the consequences nor the possible solutions, and focuses on the elites (military, police, etc.). Galtung (2006) calls this prevailing journalistic practice “war journalism” and, as an alternative to this kind of reporting, he proposes a framework for what he calls “peace journalism.”

Peace journalism presents a different set of practices, taking a more preventive and proactive stance on conflicts. It does not cover the conflict only when there is visible violence, but attempts to highlight the aspects of (invisible) structural and cultural violence as well; it seeks to explore the roots and the context of conflict formation of all the sides involved in the conflict, not just the two sides that the mainstream media usually portrays; it gives voice to the views of rival parties at all levels; it reveals creative ideas for conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping; it pays attention to peace stories and postwar developments.

Thus, from a peace journalism perspective, journalists are asked to play a more active role when reporting conflict and crises. To do so, they are encouraged to enrich the news agenda over and above current events and broaden the range of sources and voices they use in the news beyond officials and technocratic experts. They are urged to provide comprehensive reporting on the causes of a conflict, reveal its long-term consequences, and designate possible solutions. They are incited to produce stories that expose violence and injustice and humanize people on all sides. Thus overall, peace journalists are asked to serve as a platform for dialogue and a vehicle for understanding between conflicting parties.

In other words, peace journalism is not just about reporting the facts. In a world full of national, religious, and ethnic rivalries, it presents rather a new theoretical approach and a set of practices through which editors and reporters are encouraged to make choices—on what to report, and how to report it—that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value the nonviolent responses to conflict. That is to say, peace journalism is a new road map tracing the connection between the responsibility of journalists, the choices they make, and the consequences of their reporting, while focusing on the roots and possible solutions of a conflict (Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005). It implies selection and responsibility and hence, a good understanding, on behalf of journalists, of the causes and consequences of a conflict.

While gaining momentum, though, and despite being a growing field attracting scholars and practitioners worldwide, the peace journalism approach has also sparked a critical—but productive—debate not just among scholars but also among journalists, with key criticisms focusing on peace journalism’s allegedly interventionist character and the violation of objectivity, as well as structural constraints in the media production process and audience preferences, among others, which make peace journalism infeasible (Loyn, 2007; Hanitzsch, 2007).

In fact, one of the main criticisms of peace journalism has been in regard to its allegedly interventionist character. Peace journalism critics indicate that journalists must try to be objective and impartial, not take a position in favor of peace or seek to promote it. The problem, according to its critics, is that peace journalism starts from a specific starting point—seeking peace—which makes it less objective. Conversely, one could argue that peace journalism highlights what journalists regard as objective coverage, that is, a set of conventions, which are rarely contested. The aspects of “reality” left out are always the same; namely, the causes and the possible solutions of a conflict, common people’s voices, structural violence, among others.

But even if approached as a noble idea, critics argue, there are many structural constraints that shape and limit the work of journalists and make peace journalism infeasible: small staff, limited time and material resources, editorial and textual constraints, limited availability of sources and access to the scene. Above all, the main problem is that journalists do not question aspects of their journalistic practices, the so-called “journalistic conventions.” This magnifies the problems arising from the structural constraints. Yet, even if journalism exceeded these structural constraints, it would stumble upon the public’s preferences. Besides, the popular media (such as The Sun, Bild, and the American television network Fox) would not choose or understand the philosophy of peace journalism.

Moreover, critics stress that peace journalism adheres to an outdated assumption of powerful, causal, and linear media effects, which overvalues the power of journalism and the media and underrates the impact of interpersonal communication. However, peace journalism defenders argue, the debate about the exact nature and impact of media on culture and society is ongoing, and the question is not if, but how much, media impacts society. Consequently, this criticism concerns only the extent of the peace journalism effect and not the existence of the effect itself.

Despite the continuing controversy over it, since the early 2000s, peace journalism has evolved into a multifaceted and transdisciplinary field of research, constantly enriched with new surveys and expanding into different areas of academic and journalistic interest. At the same time, the scholarly discussion on peace journalism has been extended to include new avenues as well as methodological and conceptual challenges and expansion in scope.

Over the past decades, a number of academics, media practitioners, and peace activists have developed guidelines and detailed how-to manuals in order to encourage journalists to favor peace journalism over war journalism. But until the early 2000s, peace journalism had rarely been challenged on empirical grounds. Hence, available literature on peace journalism had been largely normative in nature. In recent years, however, a considerable number of scholars around the world have conducted empirical research on peace journalism. This research consists mainly of quantitative studies that relate the peace journalism concept to framing theory and use content analysis to identify the prominence of the two competing war/peace frames on news coverage of conflict. Eventually, and as research has expanded in scope and diversity, a growing number of scholars have stressed the need for enriching the methodological scope of peace journalism research. Within this framework, contemporary studies have focused on examining, not only textual, but also visual media coverage of conflicts.

Recent studies on peace journalism have used critical discourse analysis (CDA) to supplement a more comprehensive analysis of media representations of conflict and violence and in order to reveal blind spots in news reporting of conflict and violence. Other researchers have conducted research into journalists’ attitudes in order to measure their perceptions and attitudes toward peace/war performance, while some scholars have conducted audience research studies, which actually indicated that news framed as peace journalism prompted and enabled viewers to consider and value nonviolent responses to conflict. As a result of these recent developments in ongoing research, there is now an appreciable amount of literature on peace journalism and it has the capacity to grow into an autonomous research field.

Moreover, and in contrast to the early literature, which focused mainly on reporting war, recent studies have also expanded the scope of peace journalism research. Over the last decade, academics and media researchers around the world have focused on studying the applicability of peace journalism principles to cover issues stemming from a wide range of fields, including politics and elections, religion, terrorism, immigration, gender, indigenous people, and human rights. In fact, as research has shown, it is argued that the peace journalism approach can be used to guide reporting about any type of conflict (politics, ethnic, resource disputes, civil unrest, religious) and not just those that involve violence or war.

Since Galtung first outlined his ideas of an alternative to mainstream war reporting in the 1960s, peace journalism, despite its critics and the controversy it has evoked among scholars and practitioners, has grown rapidly in the field of scholarly research and has stimulated a large body of theoretical and empirical surveys. Within this con- text, academics and researchers have attempted to outline peace journalism’s future. Some scholars stress the need to coordinate the large number of peace journalism initiatives and research around the world. Others focus on the importance of training both journalists and the audience to recognize the virtues of peace journalism and on shaping a connection between peace journalism and media literacy. Toward this end, media researchers suggest integrating the peace journalism concept into the media and journalism curricula at universities worldwide.

Most importantly, as peace journalism is based on constantly evolving scientific fields—peace studies, media, and psychology, among others—its methodology and scope continues to grow and evolve. Consequently, and given that peace journalism research has mainly focused on traditional media, it is desirable that future research extends to include new media technologies. Moreover, further scholarly study into the actual and potential role of peace journalism is needed to anchor this emerging field and more research to test the process and impact of this innovative shift in journalism on society and individuals.

[Note from the TMS Editor: In 2008, Prof. Johan Galtung and Journalist/Editor Antonio C. S. Rosa founded the pioneer website TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS Solutions-Oriented Peace Journalism.]

References:

Galtung, J. (2006). Peace journalism as an ethical challenge. GMJ: Mediterranean Edition, 1(2), 1–5.

Hanitzsch, T. (2007). Situating peace journalism in journalism studies: A critical appraisal. Con- flict & Communication Online, 6(2), 1–9.

Loyn, D. (2007). Good journalism or peace journalism? Conflict & Communication Online, 6(2), 1–10.

Lynch, J., & McGoldrick, A. (2005). Peace journalism. Stroud, UK: Hawthorn Press.

Further Reading:

Lynch, J. (2008). Debates in peace journalism. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press. Lynch, J., & Galtung, J. (2010). Reporting conflict: New directions in peace journalism. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press.

Nohrstedt, S., & Ottosen, R. (2011). Peace journalism—critical discourse case study: Media and the plan for Swedish and Norwegian defense cooperation. In I. S. Shaw, J. Lynch, & R. A. Hackett (Eds.), Expanding peace journalism: Comparative and critical approaches (pp. 217–238). Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.

Youngblood, S. (2017). Peace journalism principles and practices: Responsibly reporting conflicts, reconciliation and solutions. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Nayia Kalfeli is a doctoral candidate in peace journalism (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and scientific collaborator at the Peace Journalism Laboratory, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She received a BA in journalism from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a MA in international law and diplomatic studies from Panteion University of Athens. In 2012, she conducted a 6-month field research project in Rwanda on media and peace-building. She has taught “peace journalism” at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (2014–2016). Her research interests include peace journalism, media literacy, diversity and the media, and the role of the media in crisis management.

Christos A. Frangonikolopoulos, PhD, is associate professor of international relations, holder of the Jean Monnet Chair on European Integration Journalism and director of the Peace Journalism Laboratory at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and director of the postgraduate program on contemporary journalism studies of the Hellenic Open University. He studied politics and government (BA Hon.) and international relations (PhD) at the University of Kent at Canterbury (England).

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One Response to “Peace Journalism”

  1. Dear Nayia and Christos,

    Everything you say about Peace Journalism is correct, is true. The only problem with Peace journalism is that it takes the opposite stance than what the War industry needs politicians to do. And it is not journalists who give orders to the Armed Forces, it is Government who tells military chiefs when they want them to play War Games. And we should not forget that it is not Peace journalists who donate to political parties and finance individual politicians’ election campaigns. It is war industry moguls.

    The ONLY way successful politicians can pay back the favour is by creating business for their donors. The ONLY way this can be achieved is by creating, negotiating and carrying out wars. We produce so much war paraphernalia, that relying on testing and training only for its consumption, is too optimistic. Wars MUST be organised,

    I know the great Johan Galtung since 1986, and in the 38 years we’ve corresponded a few times, so he knows what I think. That peace will never come whilst workers manufacturing machine guns, bullets, grenades. landmines, bombs, rockets, rocket launchers and interceptors, tanks, bombing helicopters and drones, torpedoes, air-fighters and warships, need to be paid at the end of each month.

    Why, with so much anti-smoking journalism, so many people smoke?

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