Tuesday, June 19, 2018

After journalist's murder, is peace journalism dead in Kashmir?

In peace starved Indian-controlled Kashmir, it’s disheartening beyond words when the region’s leading voice for peace, dialogue, and responsible journalism is silenced.

On June 14, the editor-in-chief of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, Syed Shujaat Bukhari, was shot and killed along with his two bodyguards outside the newspaper’s offices in Srinigar in Indian-controlled Kashmir. One young man was arrested in the killing, and police are seeking three other gunmen. (Rising Kashmir, June 15).

Syed Bukhari (in white, right) and I discuss PJ with his newspaper's staff in 2015
I had the honor of meeting Bukhari a few years ago during a peace journalism project in Kashmir. We chatted in his office and then discussed peace journalism with the staff of Rising Kashmir. It took seconds to see that Bukhari had a keen mind—quick to ferret out the key issues and to probe for insights. Though I’ve had dozens of such meetings with journalists through the years, the discussion with Bukhari and his staff still stands out as one of the most candid and valuable. (For details, see the blog below I wrote in 2015 about the experience).

Though Bukhari was dubious about the label peace journalism, there’s no doubt that he and his staff practiced the concept. In 2016, I wrote, “Rising Kashmir is a fine newspaper that if anything is the opposite of inflammatory or sensationalizing. I was so impressed with their work that I used Rising Kashmir as an example of peace journalism in action in my textbook Peace Journalism Principles and Practices.

During our chat in his office, Bukhari and I discussed Rising Kashmir’s necessary balancing act. In volatile Kashmir, favoring either the Indian authorities or Kashmiri protesters or militants could result in the paper being raided by authorities (as it was in 2016) or the paper’s staff being the target of violence. Sadly, even Bukhari’s cautious professionalism couldn’t shield him from an assassin’s bullet.

Bukhari was noted for favoring a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict—a position that was the opposite of easy, convenient, or safe. He even helped to organize several peace conferences in the region. 

After his murder, the tributes poured in. The Jammu and Kashmir lecturer’s form issued a statement which said in part, “The services which this great son of the soil rendered especially for those unvoiced sections of the society through his incredible writings are immortal.” (Rising Kashmir, June 18) Twitter comments included, “Well he was a sane voice of Kashmiri people, we condemn the killing,” and “So finally we have the answer to ‘who could have gained by killing a balanced voice like him!!’” Today, three Kashmiri newspapers ran blank columns on their editorial pages to protest the killing.

Even an optimist can’t help but be demoralized by Bukhari’s murder. If a peacemaking moderate can’t speak up in Kashmir, who can? Who can adopt Bukhari’s cause, and further, who would want to? Under circumstances like these, how much can we reasonably ask journalists to do to foster peaceful dialogues or promote reconciliation? Is peace journalism possible in conflict areas, and more specifically, is peace journalism dead in Kashmir? I am struggling with these questions more than ever.

In speaking with journalists in conflict areas, I almost always make it a point to remind journalists that they should ensure their safety first before thinking about their professional responsibilities. 
 Because of Rising Kashmir’s balanced approach and rejection of sensationalism, I didn’t think I needed to reiterate this point to Bukhari and his staff. Sadly, and tragically, I was wrong.

Peace Journalism Insights blog
August 6, 2015
Kashmir journalists debate PJ label, approaches

SRINIGAR, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR--Whenever journalists get together, a spirited discussion usually follows. This was certainly the case as I met the news team yesterday at Rising Kashmir newspaper.

The meeting was organized for me to very briefly introduce the principles of peace journalism. As it turned out, it was much less presentation and much more me answering thought-provoking questions about PJ and journalism in general. 

Editor Shujaat Bukhari opened the discussion with a question about the label peace journalism. While he encourages his reporters to take a facts-based, unbiased approach, he asked if the term peace journalism was itself inflammatory and unnecessary. Bukhari said PJ principles could be simply taught as good journalism, or, just journalism.

Bukhari’s point is well taken. As practitioners and teachers of PJ have observed and written, the word peace itself is  ironically inflammatory, stirring strong emotions and conjuring distorted images of 1960’s style long haired, pot-smoking, tree hugging hippies. In the groundbreaking 2005 book Peace Journalism, Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick admit that the term peace journalism doesn’t appeal to everyone, and indeed will be misunderstood as open advocacy for peace and an abandonment of the cherished journalistic notion of objectivity. Lynch and McGoldrick wrote that the strength of the term peace journalism lies in its ability to “galvanize, shake up, and send a seismic energy through sedimented layers of (journalistic) tradition, assumption, and definition.” 

Agreeing with the notion that the label peace journalism “shakes things up,” I asked Bukhari if I would have been invited to speak to his reporters if all I was peddling was plain vanilla “journalism?”
Setting aside the label discussion, Bukhari and I seemed to agree on the principles of balance and objectivity offered by the peace journalism approach. The reporters asked pointed questions about subjective terms like massacre and martyr. I suggested that if reporters use these words, they lose their objectivity.

One reporter asked, what if her cousin was murdered by the authorities—how should that be reported? I said that peace journalism, and indeed good journalism, asks that news reporters set aside their biases. Understandably, in this example, and indeed in everyday life in Kashmir, remaining unbiased is an especially tall order. Nonetheless, I suggested that she report her cousin’s death factually, without finger pointing, and in a way that gives balance to both accuser and accused. I acknowledged, however, that this is easy for me to say. I hope I would stick to my principles under such circumstances.

The discussion concluded with a more general discussion about the business of journalism and the transition from traditional to digital media. At Rising Kashmir, their website is becoming increasingly popular, and like their counterparts everywhere, they are seeking sustainable economic models that maximize their online revenues. 

Overall, I admire the work done by Rising Kashmir in not sensationalizing or irresponsibly reporting the news here under extremely difficult circumstances. They can certainly teach their colleagues in New Delhi a thing or two about responsible journalism.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Peace journalism principles more important than label

(WASHINGTON, DC)-Journalists can be peacebuilders at the same time they “serve up” the news.

It was exhilarating to hear these words yesterday not from a peace journalism teacher or student, but rather from a front line, high profile journalist, Jina Moore, East Africa Bureau Chief for the New York Times.
Jina Moore (right) and Cassandra Vinograd at "Beyond War."

Moore spoke as part of a conflict and peace journalism panel at a two-day conference at the National Press Club titled, “Beyond War: Causes of Conflict, Prospects for Peace.” The conference was sponsored  by the Pulitzer Center and the Stanley Foundation.

Moore, based in Nairobi, Kenya, challenged the journalists gathered to “sneak” content into their reporting that piques readers’ “moral imaginations.” She explained this using J.P. Lederach’s four disciplines of peacebuilding, and discussed how journalists might address these concepts. These four disciplines are:

1. Relationships—This means helping readers to imagine themselves in relationships even with enemies, Moore said. I believe this is an important peace journalism tenet—to reach across boundaries and build bridges.

2. Paradoxical curiosity—Moore said this involves leading societal conversations about how to rise above cycles of violence and dualistic polarities (good vs. evil, Muslim vs. Christian, etc.) She said this includes “rising above accepted meanings.” Again, I believe this is the essence of peace journalism, which suggests abandoning “us vs. them” narratives and offering counternarratives that debunk media created or reinforced misperceptions.

3. Creativity—Moore explained how journalists should “give birth to the unexpected.” I agree that this is the essence of good journalism, as well as peace journalism, which gives news consumers an unexpected dosage of voices from everyday people as well as discussions about solutions.

4. Willingness to risk—Violence is known, while peace is a mystery, she observed. So, how can journalists lead discussions that demystify peace? Peace journalism, I believe, promotes giving peacebuilders a voice and provides platforms that can help facilitate reconciliation.

Interestingly, the term “peace journalism” was never uttered by Moore or her two co-panelists, Tom Lansner and Cassandra Vinograd. I can’t say whether this was deliberate or accidental, though this is immaterial, since the omission of “peace journalism” didn’t concern me in the least.

Based on discussions with attendees at “Beyond Peace”, and with journalists around the world, it’s clear that attaching the word “peace” to the word “journalist” is off-putting for some who mistakenly (in my view) perceive peace journalists as advocating for peace, rather than reporting about it. What is most important to me, my take-away, is that top-shelf professionals like Moore embrace and implement many of peace journalism’s core principles. This is encouraging, regardless of whether these principles are labeled peace journalism or not.

(For a good summary of Lederach’s "The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace," see: https://www.beyondintractability.org/bksum/lederach-imagination )

At "Beyond War," brainstorming about reporting conflict in the Central African Republic.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Ethiopia Wrap
I've penned an op/ed piece about my just concluded Ethiopia experience (a four month fellowship teaching peace journalism) for the Peace News Network. While you're on the PNN website, browse around a bit--it's very interesting.

Summer Reading List
 As we swing into summer, I’m reminded of the ambitious summer reading lists our teachers used to give us—dozens of mostly dull, classic books (think Moby Dick) to designed to drain the fun out of our vacation. Keeping in mind the spirit of these onerous readings, as a professor I am compelled to assign you, dear reader, some readings this summer, though I promise they won’t be dull.

First, in the wake of the latest school shooting, I’ve been thinking and reading about copycat crimes. When I team-taught a media and criminal justice class about 10 years ago, the best evidence was that copycat crimes were rare, and that the copycats had already made up their minds to commit a crime, and that, at most, coverage of a crime only gave the copycat criminal ideas about how to commit the crime (methodology). Newer evidence, in the articles below, is challenging those findings. These articles from Mother Jones and Oxford make interesting reading.

I’ve also been reading about refugees, and about how they have been empowered as storytellers. Read this excellent piece in Nieman Reports.

While you’re at it, take a look at the video reports produced in Austria by Refugee TV’s correspondents, all refugees themselves. Click on "reports" along the top. I especially love the story about Krampus. 

Happy viewing, and reading.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Part 2-Leaving Ethiopia
Missing friends, ful; not pining for scattered hooves

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA and PARKVILLE, MISSOURI USA)—As I sit in my home office in a comfortable lounge chair looking out on our freshly mowed back yard, Gondar seems a world away—a place literally and figuratively distant.

Yet, even just a few days after my return home, I am already finding myself missing some, but definitely not all, aspects of life in Gondar, Ethiopia.

First, what will I miss? Here’s a partial list:
-Vegetarian foods (fasting plate of vegetables and injera; ful—delicious spicy beans; shiro--the bubbling, orange kind)
-My infectiously energetic seventh graders
-My journalism department colleagues at the University of Gondar
-The beautiful views of, and from, the University of Gondar campus (pictured)
-Visiting different scenic Ethiopian cities, especially Bahir Dar and Hawassa (hippos!)
-My American family in Ethiopia—Fulbrighters, senior scholars, and their families who welcomed me, always made sure I was fed, and created a real sense of community,
-Donkeys. They hang out on the road just outside our apartments. The babies are surprisingly cute. They all seems oblivious to the traffic speeding along the road, and I was always worried that I would see one of my donkey friends waylaid by a passing motorist. Fortunately, it never happened.
-Salam, my friends’ new eight week old puppy, who is almost as cute as the baby donkeys. I must admit to having called called the dog Saddam, due to the fact that he leaves “weapons of mass destruction” scattered on the apartment floor.
-Ethiopians. Most of them really are very nice. They always made me feel welcome.

Of course, there is no yin without a yang, so here are the “won’t miss” items:

-Days without running water. I discussed this in a previous blog, where I insisted that even on “no water days,” my glass was still half full. After taking any number of two liter showers and “flushing” with a jerry can, I’m not sure if I believe my own previous cheerful assessment. There’s no getting around the fact that it literally stinks to not have running water.
--Scaling a mountain to get to work every day. And then upon arriving at the journalism building on top of the mountain, walking up six more flights of stairs. And then when reaching home in the afternoon, climbing up five more flights of stairs.
--Animal parts (mostly lower shins and hooves) scattered about. I’m not kidding. It’s common to see goat or sheep hooves, and occasionally a bigger mystery bone, along the road or a path while you’re walking. Despite my incessant questioning, no one seems to have an explanation regarding these scattered parts.
--The absence of my favorite vegetarian dishes in restaurants after the pre-Easter fasting period.
--Bureaucracies and red tape which turn even the simplest request or transaction into a soul-depleting ordeal. While visiting one office, I commented to a friend that they office workers were all vying for the title of “least helpful employee.” 

Despite the pitfalls, on balance, Ethiopia was a good experience for me professionally (see previous blog) and personally. It is always an honor working with U.S. Embassies and the State Department. My stint in Ethiopia was four months productively, and interestingly, spent. I look forward to my return, which can hopefully include running water and ful while excluding scattered goat hooves.