Peace Journalism

One of the best ways to transform ethnic conflict is by means of consensus democracy or the sharing of power between groups. Consociation is an ideal to be sure, but it remains an important aspiration. At a minimum, it rules out the use of force for achieving unilateral objectives. An additional deliberative goal is a media that is oriented toward peace and solving problems rather than intensifying them. This would be part of a consensus democracy project and would represent a shift in priorities from sensationalism trying to attract readers to conflict resolution. This has been termed peace journalism by McGoldrick & Lynch, a term often met with skepticism as too simplistic.

Journalist organizations remain convinced that the media are not only positioned to illuminate conflicts but to actually resolve them and encourage cooperation. By practicing the best journalism the media can contribute to bridge building between conflicting groups. This calls for an activist journalism that relies on a set of practices that go beyond straightforward reporting about conflicts. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on reporters to be trained in conflict resolution and to have the promotion of peace as their goal. They are asked to be well versed in the narratives of both sides of an issue and scrupulously avoid reinforcing violence. Moreover, journalists should be equally as concerned with solutions and common ground as much as the basics of a story. McGoldrick and Lynch pose a set of guidelines for the coverage of conflicts that are too numerous to list here, but include techniques such as (1) avoid simplifying the contest by enumerating the various goals of the conflicting parties,  (2) avoid stark distinctions, (3) see ourselves in others, (4) avoid reporting on only violence, (5) report on peace initiatives, (5) identify wrongdoers, (6) avoid demonizing words, (7) do not see signing documents and military victories as creating peace, and others.

These recommendations can lead one to believing that clear reporting and sensitive concerns will enlighten readers and advance peace. But journalists live and work in political, economic, and power systems like everyone else. They are not independent actors who can determine effects. Hence, a biased and aggressive media will have less impact on an educated audience than and uneducated one; a prosperous and comfortable society will be less responsive to a challenging media. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the media can contribute to a helpful deliberative environment. Transparency, rationality, diversity, and the promotion of quality journalism are all part of peace journalism as well as deliberation. Bell (1997) refers to a sort of peace journalism as the journalism of attachment, that is, the concern is more for people than issues. Attachment journalism is not necessarily deliberative but it does represent a broadened sensibility to balance. It helps quiet the persistent refrain about how violence and drama captures attention, and peace is boring. Most journalism related to conflicts is “war” journalism and preoccupied with propaganda and violence. But “peace” journalists can be easily manipulated and subjected to propaganda that they are not able to understand. Gowing (1997) explains how journalists are easily manipulated and not always able to check facts. They sometimes begin to identify with one party and simplify or distort information. In the end, journalism must take a critical stance such that it does not encourage violence but also avoids disseminating peace propaganda. The critical stance requires transparency and, most important, a diversity of opinion that comes with exposure to quality disagreement and the avoidance of polarization.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on August 23, 2012, in Media and politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Peace Journalism.

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