HESP November 1, 2017

War vs. Peace Journalism

By M.A. Blackmur

Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung, in their book Reporting Conflict: New Directions in Peace Journalism, present quite a bit of thought provoking information about how conflict is currently reported on and the possibilities of how this style of reporting could be improved to include peace journalism. I feel it is important to mention at this point that I am an American. Hence, my views on reporting and journalism are deeply rooted in the First Amendment. The First Amendment in the American Constitution states that citizens have the right to freedom of speech without interference from the government except in the case of clear and present danger and in cases of “extreme national security”.[1] However, as Lynch and Galtung point out, conflict reporting can be influenced by a government’s agenda, which frequently is not as clear as the binary good guy vs bad guy affair that is presented to the public. Lynch and Galtung provide some feasible solutions to move away from the traditional, government influenced, binary view of conflict. In the case of most governments involved in war there is an agenda, most likely one that involves economics. This, of course, wouldn’t be seen by most citizens as a good reason to go to war. American’s would not tolerate having their sons and daughters’ lives being put in peril for purely economic reasons. However, if something is presented as a threat to freedom and democracy, the American way of life, we are all in. For example, during the War on Iraq campaign, the U.S Government provided the media with all the vital information that Reporting Conflict states that war journalism is comprised of. This style of reporting focuses on violence and victories, and it views the conflict much like a sports game (5). The American government was the good guy and Saddam Hussein, and his Weapons of Mass Destruction, was the bad guy. That is what the mainstream media in the U.S. reported; that is what I believed. I cannot help but wonder how my perspective would have changed in regards to the War on Iraq if the reporting style shifted from war to peace journalism.

Peace journalism is Lynch and Galtung’s proposed solution to deconstructing the binary of war journalism. Peace journalism reporting demands that the reporter exercise the hermeneutics of citizenship, a concept introduced by Atalia Omer in her book When Peace is Not Enough. War consists of more than the direct violence of a military campaign; there is ultimately structural and cultural violence occurring simultaneously. It is important for the media to include reports of structural and cultural violence when covering the war so that all aspects of the conflict are exposed. It is through this multifaceted approach of peace journalism that the larger picture of the war, beyond the military campaign, can be seen and deconstructed. There is a shift away from the binary perception of war when peace journalism reports cultural and structural violence providing a glimpse of the reality beyond direct violence and how it is impacting the communities in the war zone. Reporting Conflict also suggests reporting on organizations and individuals that are working towards peaceful solutions, and towards conflict transformation, will facilitate a shift in how the war is viewed. I believe it reminds us, the viewers and readers, that there are real human beings involved in the conflict, not just a military strategy.

When the war “becomes routine, terrible but repetitive, monotonous, plainly boring” (18) war journalism reports and hypes up direct violence to ignite interest. What if instead, when the direct violence thing gets stale, they shifted to even one story framed in the concepts of peace journalism?

Peace journalism provides an opportunity for reporters to delve deeper into the conflict and provide the public with the big picture, beyond the direct violence. Journalists could use this opportunity to expose the cultural and structural violence that occurs, while also reporting on how local organizations and others are providing solutions to these issues and working towards conflict transformation. The reporter is only one part of peace journalism becoming a normative method of reporting. Another part is the responsibility of each of us to practice our hermeneutics of citizenship and deconstruct the normative method of war journalism. The road to more peace journalism begins with us.

 

[1] http://www.ushistory.org/gov/10b.asp

Quotations and references are taken from Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung’s Reporting Conflict: New Directions in Peace Journalism.

 

M.A. Blackmur is an editor at HESP.

In Search of Creativity: Reporting Context From Up High

By Donatella Felice

“The task of good journalism is not only to mirror the world but to make the world transparent. The task of a good journalist is not only to locate the smoking gun but to make transparent why it was fired.” (3)

I was very excited when I read Lynch and Galtung’s analysis of conflict reporting. Their class based dissection of low road journalism struck a chord with me. Throughout this term, I have been inspired by the call to use one’s imagination in order to find solutions. Papers in Dr. Moore’s class have presented many reports of people, in unimaginably difficult situations, finding new and useful ways to try to initiate and support conflict transformation. The writers concur that “… conflict is … a clear opportunity for human progress, using the conflict to find new ways, being imaginative, creative, transforming the conflict so that the opportunities take the upper hand. Without violence. Winning is not the thing. Creativity is; put in sufficient creativity and you produce peace” (2).

Reporting Conflict offers a concise rebuttal of the single story. Most news articles one reads in the western world clearly identify a villain. Many pieces regarding ISIS fighters, for example, lack any sort of deeper discussion of motivation (other than the ubiquitous and unhelpful implication that the influence of a broken and destructive religion is to blame). This other-ing offers no room to move. By reporting on more complex causal chains, we are more clearly able to see what actions might be taken to initiate or foster conflict transformation (9).

Instances of private but direct violence are also discussed in such binary terms. Recently, Harvey Weinstein’s conduct towards women has been the subject of multiple exposes and articles. Many articles fail to discuss the cultural and structural violence that allowed such injustices to be perpetuated (and covered up) for so long. The blame is clearly fixed on one side (16), which means that helpful discussions about how to avoid such situations in the future are stifled. Interestingly, the culprit’s own response, in which he insists he is a product of his generation and environment, has created a more helpful conversation about that culture that surrounds and legitimizes these sorts of behaviors.

For me, the revelation that, “unlike marketplace gossip and word of mouth, media cost money. So media reflected, or did not seriously contradict, the world visions of nation and class elites, also in their propaganda and elite-orientation”, was an important one (15). It is such a simple notion, but it is also not something that you might necessarily be aware of. And awareness of the motivations of the media is a crucial step towards understanding what you are reading, whether it be high or low road journalism, propaganda, advocacy or something else entirely (perhaps ‘fake news’). Not all journalism attempts to make the world more transparent (22). As we have seen, time and time again over history, the media can make the world infinitely more opaque and block out even the most horrific offenses by supplying ready-made single stories that clearly identify ‘the other’ as the readers’ mortal enemy. Access to the Internet has revolutionized the way we consume news by providing us with the opportunity to fact check our information. A consumer of today’s news surely has a better chance of detecting and rejecting propaganda than someone glued to their radio in 1939.

There is no doubt that in many modern circumstances transparent reporting which draws attention to hidden systemic injustices has created conflict transformation and positive change. Here, one of the most obvious examples is the journalism associated with the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. Drawing attention to the horrors perpetuated by people in positions of power has helped the victims seek compensation and closure, and it has helped the general public to understand how problematic such systems and situations can be.

It follows then that offensive statements made by the alt-right, and Donald Trump, should be brought into the fore and reported on. This should allow people to make informed judgments about these peoples’ characters and motivations. Recently, however, we have seen a different outcome. The 24-hour news cycle has provided a platform for these people to further spread their messages of hate and violence. When Trevor Noah invited Tomi Lauren on his show to ‘debate’, she was hardly a worldwide sensation. Their conversation was entertaining but could not be described as fruitful. While Noah tried to engage with Lauren, she remained insistent and evasive. After the segment aired, outrage sparked across the Internet, and Lauren’s platform exploded. The New York Times wrote an article about her (which it has since followed up with several others). It seems the story of the fiery, attractive, American blonde confronting (or confronted by) the attractive, well spoken, African news host was too tantalizing to resist. But their dialogue provided no deep insights or new ideas, and certainly no suggestions for change. In providing a fair and transparent report of someone’s character, how do we ensure we are not providing excuses for their actions? While in the past, drawing attention to injustices or shaming members of the public for bad behavior constituted a positive step, recently, such reporting has provided a free platform for those who are meant to be shamed to spread violent hate speech and misinformation.

Free speech is a vital and important element of our culture. However, the binary nature of journalism and the media’s natural impulse to feed on ‘news’ (18) must be analyzed and rethought. It is not only enough to create a transparent and clear picture of some events. New methods of reporting for the digital age must be developed in order to foster helpful and thoughtful dialogue. Galtung and Lynch write “Nothing should be concealed, nothing but the truth should be reported” (3). It is worth noting that, if we reported in the way that they suggest, focusing not only on the explosive outbreak of direct violence but also on the processes and permanents that surround such events, perhaps we would have more to report on than a constant stream of Donald Trump’s offensive missteps. If we were to move away from the relic of war journalism and encourage more peace journalism, the real villains would become clear to readers on their own. There would be little need to report on every hateful or offensive thing Trump uttered, because a well-rounded reporting of American life would offer those types of sentiments in other more productive contexts. Instead of sound bites that improve the platforms of a few but the lives of none, well-rounded journalistic efforts could provide balanced depictions of injustices and also clarify possible steps towards transformation. The media’s obsession with the four-factors of news must be contextualized if journalists wish to effectively report on the realities of the world today.

All quotations and references are taken from Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung’s Reporting Conflict: New Directions in Peace Journalism.

Donatella Felice is Head of Editorial at HESP.

 

These essays were written for Dr, Moore’s Class: Religion, Conflict, and Peace in Contemporary Global Affairs.

Edited by M.A. Blackmur

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