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Reporting peace

What has peace to do with journalism (or vice versa)?

“Professional journalists do not set out to reduce conflict. They seek to present accurate and impartial news. But it is often through good reporting that conflict is reduced.”
Ross Howard, Media and Democracy Group

“Peace Journalism is a broader, fairer and more accurate way of framing stories, drawing on the insights of conflict analysis and transformation. The Peace Journalism approach provides a new road map for tracing the connections between journalists, their sources, the stories they cover and the consequences of their reporting – the ethics of journalistic intervention. It opens up a literacy of non-violence and creativity as applied to the practical job of everyday reporting.”
Annabel  McGoldrick and Jake Lynch, Conflict and Peace Forum

“Conflict sensitive reporting … is rooted in the belief that the news media in many societies can be a powerful force to reduce the causes of conflict and to enable a conflict-stressed society to better pursue conflict resolution. The media can do this by training its journalists to better understand conflict and the media’s role in it. The journalists can strengthen their reporting to avoid stereotypes and narrow perspectives on the causes and process of conflict. The media can contribute to a wider dialogue among disparate parts of the community in conflict, through improved reporting. It can explore and provide information about opportunities for resolution. And at the same time the media must maintain its essential standards of accuracy, fairness and balance, and responsible conduct.”
Ross Howard

In recent years, journalists across the world have been exploring new ways of reporting conflict. These approaches have different labels—peace journalism, conflict sensitive journalism, conflict de-escalating reporting, etc.—but each approach acknowledges that covering conflict is a complex process which involves special challenges and responsibilities.

The term “peace journalism” met with considerable resistance when it first surfaced, reminiscent of the opposition to the term “development journalism” some decades earlier. In both instances, the assumption appears to be that proponents of development or peace journalism are promoting an agenda that is incompatible with freedom of the press and professional media practice. Opponents of the concept defend the notion that professional journalism must be “objective” and must not take sides—even in favour of indisputably worthy and non-partisan goals such as peace, if not development (which is clearly a more contentious issue).

Such knee-jerk reactions sidestep the myth of objectivity, which is increasingly recognised as different from, and less achievable and meaningful than, the critical professional goals of accuracy, fairness and balance. They also foreclose the option of honestly evaluating current media practice in order to improve professional norms, standards and ethics.

A substantial portion of current media coverage of situations of conflict everywhere would qualify as “war journalism,” as defined by Johan Galtung and others who have taken his ideas further, such as Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick.  A genuine effort to understand what they mean by peace journalism reveals that it is far more demanding and difficult than war journalism, requiring greater attention and adherence to the principles of good journalism.

Peace or conflict sensitive journalism is also more in keeping with the broad understanding of peace on which this blog is based.  Traditional media coverage of conflict tends to focus on wars between states.  But, as Galtung has pointed out, the goals and methods of peace journalism can also be used to cover conflicts within states, including various forms of political, economic and social violence, such as gender violence, the exploitation and abuse of children, racial, ethnic,  caste and/or class conflict.

According to proponents of peace or conflict sensitive journalism, their aim is not to convert all journalists into peace reporters. Rather, they believe that their analysis, and the insights and values distilled from it, can form the basis for a healthy debate on the subject among media professionals, within media organisations, in institutions of media education, and among the public.

Such a debate is clearly essential because, as they say, “taken together, mass media technologies, institutions, professionals, norms and practices constitute one of the fundamental forces now shaping the lives of individuals and the fate of peoples and nations …. (and because) the media constitute a major human resource whose potential to help prevent and moderate social violence begs to be discussed, evaluated, and, where appropriate, mobilised.”

This blog provides a platform for this necessary debate in the South Asian context, with a special (but not exclusive) focus on gender.

So what, in the end, is peace or conflict sensitive journalism?  Essentially journalism, irrespective of nomenclature, that gives peace a chance.  Anything wrong with that?

“Part of being a reliable provider of information is not to advocate what should happen but to reveal what can happen, including peace.”
Ross Howard

A preliminary list of resources on peace/conflict sensitive journalism:

See also:

Ammu Joseph, “Disasters, Conflicts and Gender,”  in Missing Half the Story:  Journalism as if Gender Matters, Kalpana Sharma (ed.), Zubaan Books, 2010.

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