Peace journalism

Thanks to the likes of peace scholars/practitioners Johan Galtung and Jake Lynch, peace journalism has been increasingly growing into a strong movement (see their recently released book, Reporting Conflict: New Directions in Peace Journalism for more detail).

 While peace journalism may sound like a form of activism on the part of the journalists, this is really not the case. It is more a case of putting a measure of balance into how journalists portray conflict, working towards a more comprehensive picture of how things are. As things stand now, the media tends to report on conflict with an ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality. That is, focusing simply on the violence – the bombs, explosions, the people fleeing.

 At the same time that violence is being played out, however, there are people and organizations that are working to bring a stop to the hostilities and solve the underlying causes of the violence. Peace processes are underway. But it is not only the peace processes that are being given scant attention, so too are the issues, context and underlying causes themselves. Lynch and Galtung liken this state of affairs to looking at the smoke and ignoring the fire, or simply viewing the result of a disease without examining the diagnosis, prognosis or therapy. War journalism could be seen as parallel to disease journalism whereas peace journalism would be similar in nature to health journalism.

 If journalism is supposed to be facilitating our understanding of the conflicts that are going on in the world, then simply portraying the violence is really not going to help. It is in fact going to inhibit our understanding, not only because it provides but one superficial part of the picture, but also because it encourages gross oversimplification of the situation and the reinforcement of inaccurate stereotypes.

It is in this light that a demonstration for peace journalism was held outside the offices of the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in Sydney on 9 July 2010, primarily targeting workers at the ABC as they came in for work. It seems that this was the world’s first protest for peace journalism. It was a modest gathering with most of the participants being those attending the conference on the theme ‘communicating peace’ organized by the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) and held at Sydney University, but the movement will surely continue to grow.

 The notion of stealth conflicts is about the majority of conflicts remaining off-the-radar of the media, with the bulk of media attention being lavished on a select few chosen conflicts. Peace journalism draws attention to the ‘stealth’ within the coverage of individual conflicts. As long as the violence is the primary target of coverage of conflict, many important aspects of the conflict will remain in the shadows.

With corporate media seemingly addicted to action and sensationalism in attempting to sell their product – which is increasingly infotainment, rather than news – the movement for peace journalism will certainly be an uphill struggle, but it is one that is very necessary.

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2 Responses to “Peace journalism”

  1. Very good Virgil.
    Thanks for opening my eyes to this perspective.

    It goes hand in hand with the mentality of action movie creators.
    It seems human nature to be drawn to scenes of a not too nice nature [eg people slowing for a motor accident]

    So with that, to play devils advocate, is the media just catering for peoples needs? Giving them more motor accidents to view from the comfort of their lounge?

    The angle might be to change peoples views on this and “boycott” such things, but what an insurmountable task that would be!

    Your thoughts?

  2. Thanks for that, David.

    It is true that sensationalism sells. But sensationalism alone doesn’t last. It’s a bit like a drug in the sense that you have to keep upping the dosage to keep viewers interested (if there is no substance underneath). Now granted, people will gravitate towards the action, but in the long run, people also seem to want substance.

    Sounds a bit suspect, I know, but bear with me here. I’ll give you two examples that show that all hope is not lost.

    1. Turn back the clock several decades, and in New York there were three big newspapers: two tabloids whose names you would not recognize, that did all the sensational stuff, and the New York Times, which reported serious news in a sober manner. The reason you haven’t heard of the two tabloids is because they folded long ago. Over the long run, it seems that doing serious news was a more stable and sustainable business.

    2. Sales of the Economist (a serious, analytical and unsensational periodical) have been going up big time over the last ten or so years. Some say this is because the population in the West is aging and that that demographic is after the serious news, not the sensational fluff.

    I guess the question is about whether the media corporations are chasing the quick sensational buck, or are looking at longer term success.

    The sad thing is, though, that the so-called ‘serious’ media – New York Times and Economist included still leave a lot of the world uncovered, and Africa is the prime example. They may be more serious, but you read it from cover to cover and still have a very incomplete picture of what is going on in the world…

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