Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Looking to gain wisdom, if not weight, in Ethiopia
(EN ROUTE TO ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA)--In an environment where government media dominates, and where press are not free, how can reporters practice the principles of peace journalism?

This essential question will be driving me for the next five months in Ethiopia, where I will be living and teaching after being named a U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism  in Ethiopia by the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Indeed, this question about the possibilities and limitations of peace journalism was also a constant source of discussion during my first visit to Ethiopia last July. Other oft-repeated questions during that brief stay included these:

--Isn’t peace journalism just good journalism?
--Does peace journalism ignore stories that are violent, could fuel conflict, or upset people?
--If the government kills peaceful protesters like the case in Ethiopia? How can journalism be peaceful  under these circumstances? 
--Does peace journalism conflict with developmental  journalism?

I’ll keep these questions in mind as my work unfolds the week of Jan. 22 in Addis Ababa.  There, I’ll be meeting with African Union-accredited journalists; PhD students at Addis Ababa University;  and local journalists, including those working for Ethiopia Broadcast Service.

Then, it’s off to Gondar (also spelled Gonder) in the north of the country. There, I’ll be working with colleagues at Gondar University. I’ll be teaching PJ in special seminars and short courses, and will also integrate the concept into classes on Developmental Communication and Broadcast Writing. We plan to do several regional seminars for journalists in Gondar, and also travel to the surrounding regions as well.

This project has a million moving parts, and has taken a great deal of effort to put together. The staff in the public affairs office at the U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa, especially Nick Barnett and Ali Suleiman, deserve roses for their patience and perseverance. The same can be said of my colleagues at Gondar University, Solomon Assefa and Mustofa Worku. Of course, they wouldn’t have had a chance to do their stuff without Park University, which encouraged me to pursue this project by allowing me to adjust my teaching schedule.

I’m always thrilled at the opportunity for an immersion experience in a different land. This is especially true for Ethiopia, which has one of the world’s oldest and most fascinating cultures. I know I’ll return in July a richer person.

While I hope to be intellectually and spiritually richer, I do not wish to be any fatter, which could be an issue since Ethiopian food is so delicious. One possible saving grace: I'll be forced to eat my own dodgy cooking.

Whether it's my stomach or my brain, you can keep up with my (mis)adventures in Ethiopia on this page and on Facebook (peace journalism group) and Twitter (@PeaceJourn).

Monday, January 15, 2018

Looking for real s***holes. Hint: They're not in Africa
Donald Trump is right—there are s****holes in this world. What he’s wrong about is what constitutes a s****hole.

I think what makes a place great, or a s****hole, isn’t poverty, but instead the spirit and goodwill of its people. Using this definition, the characterization of an entire continent, Africa, as a s****hole is fundamentally flawed.

As director of Park University’s Center for Global Peace Journalism, I have had the privilege of living and working throughout Africa. Although generalizations about such a large and diverse place are problematic, I can say without fear of contradiction that the wonderful  Africans I’ve met make the continent anything but a s****hole.

In Uganda, where I lived 11 months, I met Betty, a fellow journalist, at a workshop I presented. Betty, like most Ugandans, isn’t materially wealthy, but her generosity of spirit is noteworthy. Betty single-handedly rescued six orphans from the bush, and probable death, and has taken care of them since 2010. Her community, Fort Portal, definitely not a s****hole, has pitched in to help the kids, too. I am proud to call dozens of similarly-minded Ugandans my friends and colleagues, and prouder still of my smart, sweet Ugandan goddaughters Stephanie (named after me) and Cindy who have helped lead a drive to assist refugees living in Uganda.

In Kenya, I know a journalist, Robert, who has literally risked his life to report about government and electoral corruption. Robert also isn’t monetarily wealthy, but we can all learn something from his devotion to his community, Nairobi, which is also not a s****hole.

I taught throughout Cameroon last summer. Tiny Beau, Cameroon may be poor, but it is decidedly not a s****hole thanks to its warm-hearted residents, especially my colleagues at CBS radio, who work hard every day under difficult circumstances to make their community, and country, a better place.

In fact, I am on my way to Ethiopia, also not a s****hole, to teach peace journalism in the spring, 2018 semester. In my previous trip there last summer, I was impressed by the determination of Ethiopia’s journalists to make their country a better place, despite any number of obstacles. In May, at the conclusion of my State Department-sponsored project, I’ll no doubt have a long list of Ethiopians who make the country anything but a s****hole.

So if the spirit and goodwill of its people means that Africa isn’t a s****hole, then where can we look to find one? One might start by examining  the antithesis of the African spirit, which I would characterize as racism, greed, xenophobia, ignorance, and selfishness. This negative spirit includes a lack of compassion for one’s fellow man and any basic human decency. Wherever one finds people embodying these characteristics can truly be called a s****hole.

Given these criteria, a cynic might argue that the most obvious s****holes in America might just be a 58-story skyscraper in Manhattan or a members-only resort in Florida. Now, this is probably unfair since  not all those who frequent these locales embody these selfish characteristics. Still, this characterization is at least partially accurate since we know of at least one frequent visitor to these places who does.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Standing Up to Press Oppressors
I’ve met with hundreds of journalists around the world the last 10 years discussing peace journalism and how and if it can be practiced. As journalists discuss obstacles to implementing PJ, the most frequently and universally mentioned impediment is government restrictions on free press.

Just in the last year, I’ve traveled to countries where anti-terrorism laws are used to silence journalists (Cameroon) and where a nation’s “powerful military pressured media outlets and journalists to disseminate positive coverage of its operations against militant Islamist groups” (Pakistan, according to Freedom House). I’m headed to Ethiopia next week to spend a semester teaching peace journalism. In Ethiopia, there are concerns about the government restricting access to the internet and social media, and 16 journalists were jailed for doing their jobs, according to Freedom House.

We Americans used to smugly think that undermining press freedom was an issue only in the developing world. Of course, we’ve been disabused of this notion by Donald Trump, whose anti-press rhetoric, which includes talk of tightening libel laws, seeks to undermine press freedom.
In fact, Trump has been bellowing recently about presenting his own awards for “fake news” to smear and discredit those who report negative information about his administration. As a counterweight to this foolishness, the Committee to Protect Journalists has devised its own Press Oppressors Awards list to recognize “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”

CPJ’s awards categories include most thin-skinned (Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump), Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press, Tightest Grip on Media, Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom, and Overall Achievement in Undermining International Press Freedom. To no one’s surprise, Trump is the winner in the last category. According to the CPJ, “Trump…has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as (China’s) Xi, Erdoğan, and (Egypt’s) Sisi. Authorities in China, Syria, and Russia have adopted Trump's "fake news" epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists.”

It’s important for CPJ, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and others who embrace the vital role of free press to remain vigilant against attacks against media by governments worldwide. I’ll continue doing my own small part a few journalists and students at a time in Ethiopia and elsewhere in 2018.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Planning for Ethiopia
I'm honored to announce my selection as a U.S. Department of State as the U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism in Ethiopia. In this capacity, I'll be spending the spring, 2018 semester in Ethiopia working on various peace journalism projects.

My partners and I are still ironing out some details. In early January, I'll write with more details about what I'll be doing, where, and why. Of course, I'll be blogging regularly from Ethiopia, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Center for Global Peace Journalism: Map of activities
As the year winds down, I thought it would be interesting to see where peace journalism has taken me. I'm sure I missed a place or two, but you get the idea. I'll be adding a few new spots in 2018.