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Rules for a post-war media

February 9, 2016

Senior Sri Lanka scholars and activists have come together to formulate media guidelines appropriate for a country struggling in transition from decades of conflict. You can access their statement here, but here are the main pointers they have offered:

With the increased public discussion of issues related to post-war accountability and truth in Sri Lanka that is likely to take place in the coming weeks and months, there is a great likelihood that statements and reportage will evoke charged emotions and potentially trigger further distress in affected people across Sri Lanka. We therefore urge that the following considerations be applied in contributions to the public discourse, to limit unintended harm or distress that may be caused:

Public Figures and Media Personnel

 Do not make speculative pronouncements on the fate of victims without presenting concrete evidence. Especially for families of the missing, such statements can either cruelly crush their hopes or revive great expectations, without a solid basis.

Confirmed information about the fate of particular individuals or groups of victims should be informed to their family members before being announced through media.

 Recognise that reporting on a specific case with confirmed information may still affect other victims and families in similar circumstances who lack information about the status of their own cases.

Exercise restraint in the description or depiction of acts of violence, or where this is unavoidable, include a warning at the outset that details may trigger distress in people with similar experiences.

Do not use distressing images or upsetting details of specific victims experiences without permission from them or next of kin. Where it is not possible to obtain permission, take measures to anonymise or reduce exposure of details that may cause emotional distress or social stigma to victims and their families.

 Avoid dehumanising and stigmatising all the members of combatant groups in statements and reportage, even as individuals and leaders are held responsible for their actions and decisions.

Members of the Public

Before sharing potentially upsetting images or accounts about atrocities or suffering on social media, consider whether your post may be viewed by anyone (ie. victim, combatant or their family members) for whom this might bring up distressing past memories or overwhelming feelings. People are often not prepared for what the materials they may encounter in their social media feeds, which may be shared by their own contacts or from networks far beyond these. If sharing potentially sensitive content, do include a warning that this may trigger distress in people with similar experiences.

Media and peacebuilding: A guide

December 15, 2014

(via Global Peace Index on Facebook)

The media’s impact upon the escalation of conflict is widely recognised, perhaps never more perniciously than the hate media that fed the genocide in Rwanda. But if the media is capable of creating and amplifying divisions, it also has the potential to play a significant and effective role in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.”

This “Insight on Conflict” blogpost lists seven areas identified by Search for Common Ground for media advocacy for peacebuilding:

  1. As an information provider and interpreter, the media provides people with important information regarding their environment and plays an increasingly prominent role in daily communication and entertainment
  2. As a ‘watchdog’ it can provide feedback to the public on local problems and bring hidden problems to the fore
  3. As a ‘gatekeeper’ it can set agendas, filter issues and attempt to maintain a balanced view
  4. The media has a large influence on policymaking, particularly as policymakers are both recipients of messages from the media, and can also use the media to get their messages across
  5. The media can be used to cover diplomatic initiatives and send messages back and forth between warring sides for which there are no direct channels of communication
  6. As a promoter of peace the media can be used at the start of negotiations to build confidence, facilitate negotiations or break diplomatic deadlocks to create a climate conducive to negotiation
  7. As a bridge builder it can promote positive relationships between groups, particularly in conflicts over national, ethnic, or religious identity

See the full SFCG report:

Holding up a mirror: Jyoti Punwani, “Where’s your free media?”

December 15, 2013

Jyoti Punwani writes for ‘The Hoot’ about how Pakistani mediapersons view their Indian counterparts.

“Breaking News in your TV channels is almost always anti-Pakistan news,” said a group of activists in Lahore that included trade unionists, lawyers, artists and media professionals. Even the Governor of Sindh recalled having heard a threat to eliminate Pakistan during an Indian channel discussion. Arnab Goswami was of course mentioned by many. Observed one journalist: “As media persons, why should we become defensive or over-react when the establishment makes accusations against our (the Pakistani) government?  We should not become a party to these games, calculated at keeping the tension high. The large majority of our people want peace.” 

There’s little one can say in defence. Forget TV coverage in India which is always over the top. Even in the press, the image of Pakistan remains what it always has: that of an enemy. While LOC violations by the Pakistani army legitimately make front page news, there’s little reported about similar violations from our side. In the hysterical reportage about the decapitation of our soldier last year, only The Hindu quoted “sources” saying the Indian army had done the same. Stories about the shared history, culture and even religion between our countries rarely make it to Page one, though they shatter stereotypes and make for “news” in every sense of the term.

Read the article in its entirety for the questions it raises about the role of journalists and their relationship to security establishments.

Jyoti Punwani, “Where’s your free media?” The Hoot, December 14, 2013.

The unseen perils of conflict journalism

January 3, 2013

The unseen perils of conflict journalism

Kishalay Bhattacharjee, No candles for Nanao! The Hoot, December 31, 2012 (via Kalpana Sharma)
Reflecting on the death of a journalist while covering a protest following the assault on-stage of a Manipuri actress, Bhattacharjee says that while posting journalists to cover conflict situations, media houses pay no attention to their own safety. She specifically mentions one resource designed
Along similar lines, Katherine Ronderos reports on several studies that underscore the safety challenges women journalists face. She mentions the Committee to Protect Journalists guide and its sections on Civil Matters and Disturbances and protecting oneself against sexual violence.

The Twitter War: Active, Passive or Benumbed Spectators?

November 19, 2012

In an interesting blogpost, Harini Calamur analyses the war on Twitter between Israeli and Palestinian groups, each one trying to harness the power of instant communication to press their point. She concludes:

“The idea on both sides is to convert the passive supporter into an active one — and allowing their narrative to dominate — but there is a danger to this. The social media animal is a fickle one. S/he is rather like a adrenalin junkie that surfs from wave (outrage) to wave (outrage) — finding the next big wave so as to speak. Apart from a few committed people who will stick to the cause, the larger public will move to the next breaking story soon. Also, how do you top live death or live bombings, in terms of excitement? Presenting their case directly to the people — sans filters — is a great idea, but how do you prevent acute boredom? One bomb is pretty much like another bomb — especially when it is not falling on you.”

Harini Calamur, [Guest Blog] The War: Brought to you Live, Tweet by Tweet, Tehelka Blogs, November 18, 2012,

November 19, 2012


This photograph, posted by a Facebook friend, led to an online conversation with the Israeli feminist movement, Coalition of Women for Peace, which in turn reminded me of an article, “The media, war and peace,” written during the August 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Gaza and northern Israel.

It turned out that this particular image, the cover photo on the CWP Facebook page, is a few years old but, as the CWP person who responded to my query said, “Still relevant, of course.”  The FB exchange revealed that there have been similar demonstrations in Israel in response to the ongoing, mid-November Israeli attack on Gaza, including three protests in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, one in Jerusalem, and a couple in Haifa on 15 November. 

In addition, the CWP along with The Alternative Information Center, New Profile, and Yesh Gvul  released an advertisement  stating:  “No to the election war! We refuse war and bloodshed. We refuse the wave of hatred and incitement against the residents of Gaza. We refuse the abandonment of the South in favor of a political spin. Join us in protest demonstrations and actions across the country.”


As in the past, Israeli conscientious objectors who are against the occupation of Palestine and for peaceful and just co-existence find little mention in Indian media coverage of that seemingly unending conflict. 

This is, of course, not surprising since peace-building efforts within India and across its borders are also given short shrift by much of the mainstream media here, which seem to thrive on conflict and controversy. 

Take, for example, the Intra-Kashmir Cross-LOC Women’s Dialogues facilitated by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.  An online search yielded only two links to coverage of the latest get-together in the series, which took place in early November:  a brief news report by Muhammad Aslam Mir and an Op-Ed article by Kalpana Sharma, “Conversations across the LOC.”

On the other hand, news of the attack on a liquor shop in Srinagar on 15 November was widely covered in the mainstream media, both print and broadcast, with follow-up reports  the next day, too.

It appears that, as Johan Galtung, founder of peace studies as an academic subject, who also introduced the concepts of war and peace journalism, has pointed out, “for the journalist violence is interesting because it is fast and something happens (whereas) peace formation is always a slow process.”

Then again that’s not necessarily true always, as this much ado about nothing story, based on presumably unofficial remarks by unidentified “highly placed” sources, establishes:  “PM’s trip to Pakistan hangs in the balance.”  The report contains no discernible information, let alone action, but it does, of course, presage at least diplomatic conflict, suggesting that while the “Indian side” is reasonable the “other side” is not.  Maybe that’s what got it prominent space on the front page.

By not paying attention to processes attempting to create time and space for dialogue that can build bridges and bridge gaps the media are in effect precluding the possibility of peace.  As Sharma points out in her piece, “A prerequisite for peace between countries and between regions must necessarily be a meeting of minds between the people.  In the absence of routes of communication, how can there be any conversation that could presage peace?” 

To make matters worse, in India, as in Israel, the concept of “security” is all-powerful.  Many in the media here unquestioningly accept and perpetuate the view that “national security” – projected as perpetually under threat from a range of enemies – justifies a wide range of actions, including the silencing, discounting or demonising of dissent.  As a result, media coverage of events and issues concerning “national security” – and internal or external threats to it – rarely includes voices of anyone who challenges the dominant, hawkish narrative.  The absence of alternative perspectives is most evident in television “debates” on issues concerning Pakistan, but is noticeable in other discussions, too.

In this context, the CWP project, “Re-framing Security,” which is in line with current thinking across the world about non-traditional security concerns, is interesting and instructive.  Exploring the term from “the broadest feminist-civil perspective,” it seeks to challenge “the narrow militaristic understanding of security” and highlights the need for economic security (having a job, a roof over one’s head, access to health care), security in the family and the community (safety from gender-related violence, protection from crime, having one’s children safe in schools), environmental security (clean tap water, clean air), etc.

An Op-Ed article by Sushanta Talukdar, “Rehabilitation faultlines threaten fragile peace” which highlights the continuing security concerns in the Bodoland Territorial Area District of Assam, concludes that the only way to move towards permanent peace in the Bodo heartland is through the “speedy and proper rehabilitation of all those displaced by this summer’s violence” and “dialogue between the two communities all the way down to the village level.”  This is the kind of story that contributes to some understanding of the road to peace, long as it may be. 

In contrast, while stories that focus primarily on violent incidents, such as the fresh cases reported from Kokrajhar district in mid-November, and promises of “crackdowns” by the authorities, may be necessary, they can do little to improve chances of peace unless follow-ups are done that paint a more holistic and realistic picture of the situation on the ground and what needs to change if peace is to prevail sooner rather than later.

As Giles Fraser observes in an article about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “making peace means leaving the protected place where we are right.”  Whether one agrees with his analysis of the situation or not, this line from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichal, which inspired the comment, is certainly worth thinking about:  “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring.”


Koodankulam – The lies the media told us

October 2, 2012

by Roshen Chandran

How should the media report conflicts over development between the government and affected communities? How has the media been covering one such struggle – the anti-nuclear struggle at Koodankulam?

In September 2012, the anti-nuclear struggle at Koodankulam reached a crescendo when thousands of villagers walked through the beaches and protested at the walls of the nuclear plant. The government tear gassed the protesters and unleashed violence on the villagers. The events received wide media attention.

A piece that caught this author’s eye was a report by P Sudhakar in The Hindu titled “Normality returning to Kudankulam” on September 12. Writing from Kudankulam, the report mentioned “the police arrested those who damaged public property and threatened vehicles” and featured a photo of police peacefully escorting a villager. Readers were not informed about the police violence on the villagers, nor the acts of vandalism by the police during those days. The report presented the protesters as a violent mob.

That report was not exceptional; it was typical of a pattern of media coverage over the last several years. The media sometimes lied, often omitted facts and frequently stayed silent when reporting the conflict between government and people at Koodankulam. This is an unhealthy trend we need to reverse to promote justice and peace.

Here are some of the untruths the media told us.

  1. Where were the protesters all this while?
  2. The delay was caused by the protesters
  3. Painting protesters as luddites
  4. Hunger strikes starved of media coverage
  5. India’s “excellent” safety record
  6. Fukushima is not a nuclear accident
  7. Grid failure and the need for Nuclear Energy

Where were the protesters all this while?

The protests against the plant intensified from August 2011, as the nuclear plant neared opening. Pundits in the media began questioning why the people hadn’t protested earlier; they wondered why the villagers were silent all this while. Russian Ambassador Kadakin was quoted saying “We still don’t know why it took six months for the protests to erupt after Fukushima”

The implication was that these protests were instigated by vested interests just when the plant was about to start functioning.

They ignored the long history of protests against the Koodankulam nuclear plant. They forgot that the protests had begun from the very beginning – 23 years ago. The first stone-laying ceremony on December 19, 1988 had to be indefinitely postponed because of local protests. Over the next 2 decades, the protests continued across Tirunelveli, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari.

The media, like the government, ignored the protests.

The delay was caused by the protesters

News media repeatedly asserted that the Koodankulam protesters caused the delay in the opening of the nuclear plant. It is implied that if the protesters hadn’t blockaded the plant, it would have been commissioned on time. For instance, the Times of India and many other news outlets reprinted a PTI report of September 2012 asserting that “the first unit was scheduled to be commissioned in December last year but had been delayed by the protests by locals on safety concerns”.

According to S K Jain, the CMD of NPCIL, the Koodankulam nuclear plant was scheduled to be commissioned in December 2007. This was independently confirmed by the Russian deputy atomic energy minister Vladimir Asmolov in an interview to RIA Novosti. The blockade began only in September 2011. If the plant is commissioned in September 2012, the total delay is 57 months. The protesters blockaded the plant between September 2011 and March 2012. The protesters thus caused a delay of 7 months.

When the media reports that the delay in the commissioning of the nuclear plant was caused by the protesters, it ignores the much bigger delays caused by NPCIL and misinforms the reader.

Painting protesters as luddites

The media frequently portrays those opposing nuclear energy as Luddites, as anti-technology and as anti-progress. For instance, the Times of India wrote in September 2011: “Fast-developing India can’t rest content with Luddite responses to technology, as frequently manifested in misguided activism be it against transgenic crops or nuclear energy. “

Six months later, that portrayal continued with the Times of India asserting: “Transparency and engagement are thus all the more necessary to counter Luddite propaganda and boost awareness of nuclear energy’s benefits.”

To call those skeptical of nuclear energy as luddites ignores the vibrant scientific debate on nuclear safety worldwide. The Union of Concerned Scientists and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, to take just two international examples, have highlighted safety concerns in nuclear plants for decades. In India, those opposing nuclear energy include scientists from Indian Institute of Science and Indian Institute of Technology. One could hardly call them luddites. Why then would protesters drawing content from them be considered luddites?

Hunger strikes starved of media coverage

Anna Hazare’s hunger strikes dominated the news channels for weeks. Mounting public support for the hunger strike forced the government to engage with Anna Hazare. If the media had ignored Anna Hazare’s hunger strikes, the public wouldn’t have known about it and the strike would have fallen flat.

In May 2012, three hundred women and twenty five men went on an indefinite hunger strike in the fishing hamlet of Idinthakarai protesting against the nuclear plant. Over ten thousand villagers thronged the protest site daily in support of the hunger strikers.

A study of the most widely read English newspapers in New Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata showed that urban readers had few opportunities to read about the hunger strike at Idinthakarai. They never got to see images of large crowds supporting the hunger strikers. The government ignored the protesters. Starved of media coverage and wider support, the hunger strike was withdrawn 14 days later.

India’s “excellent” safety record

The mainstream Indian media uncritically repeats the claim of the nuclear establishment that India has had an “excellent track record of safety”. Newspapers like The Hindu quote officials claiming that “nuclear power stations in the country were operating without any major incidents for the last 40 years”

They ignore the series of nuclear incidents in India’s power plants. They forget that they themselves had reported these incidents in earlier years. A recent study showed that the media systematically underplays the safety concerns of Indian nuclear power plants.

Fukushima is not a nuclear accident

In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster, several Indian media outlets, reprinted the claim of S K Jain, the CMD of NPCIL dismissing the nuclear accident. For instance, the India Today quote Jain saying “There is no nuclear accident or incident in the Japan’s Fukushima plants. It is a well planned emergency preparedness programme which the nuclear operators of the Tokyo Electric Power company are carrying out to contain the residual heat after the plants had an automatic shutdown following a major earthquake.”

Many months later, The Hindu was still reporting similar claims by the nuclear establishment uncritically. Thus in September 2011, The Hindu reports S C Chetal, Director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam observing that “the Japanese nuclear tragedy in the aftermath of the tsunami was not nuclear-related

Contrast that with the report of the Japanese Parliament’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. The Commission concluded that the nuclear disaster “was a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.” They said that “Governments, regulatory authorities and Tokyo Electric Power [TEPCO] lacked a sense of responsibility to protect people’s lives and society. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made'”.

Grid failure and the need for Nuclear Energy

Twice in July 2012, parts of Northern India suffered a massive power blackout as the electricity grid failed. Pro-nuclear advocates in the media used the opportunity to argue that the grid failure clearly showed we needed more sources of energy, and nuclear energy was essential. The media reinforced the simple assumption that the grid failure happened because of shortage of power generation.

The causes of the grid failure were more nuanced than just a shortfall in production. Shortfall in power was only one contributing factor, and probably not the most important one. As Zakaria Siddiqui explained “Such failures take place because regulatory agencies and state officials at state-owned transmission and distribution utilities cannot act independently even if they have the mandate to do so on paper. Politicians directly appoint and fund them, and can transfer them to other departments and organisations if officials do not act according to their whims and fancies and ignore regulator-set standards”

The grid failure showed the need for better management systems. The mainstream media ignored the broader implications of the grid failure and beat the drums for greater power generation alone.

Author: Roshen Chandran is an independent researcher.