Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Northern Ireland Journalists:
Do yourself a favor-Don't call yourself a peace journalist

Anyone engaging in peace work anywhere in the world has learned the discouraging, ironic truth about the word “peace.”

The word “peace” is incendiary, and provides a blank screen upon which self-righteous critics and “glass half empty” skeptics project their anger, ignorance, and cynicism. In fact, in some places, leading discussions about peace can be dangerous. Just ask the colleagues and friends of Shujaat Bukhari, a newspaper editor who was shot and killed outside his papers’ office in Kashmir. His crime: embracing non-inflammatory, non-sectarian reporting and leading discussions about peace in Kashmir. Or, ask my journalism colleagues in Cameroon, where discussing peace can arouse the suspicions of both government authorities and rebels which in turn can get one arrested or kidnapped. This happened to me: gendarmes shut down a peace journalism seminar I was conducting in Cameroon, and threatened to arrest all presenters and attendees.

Then there’s Northern Ireland, where mention of the word “peace” won’t get you kidnapped or killed, but will subject you to sneering derision. I know, since I’ve written about peace journalism in Northern Ireland and made several visits there this year for peace journalism seminars and workshops. A recent spate of columns, broadcasts, and social media posts have taken aim at anyone who has the audacity to link the words “peace” and “journalism.”

Take Alex Kane’s recent column in Newsletter:

   "Over the past couple of decades I have heard a number of academics (and some politicians, as it         happens) push something which is described as ‘peace journalism.’ It’s the Pollyanna approach to       politics: no matter how bad things may look on the surface, and no matter how much worse you         actually know them to be below the surface, you should simply ignore that reality and find                   something positive to say. Yet nobody ever asks why, if things really are so good, the Pollyannas         rarely offer anything more substantial than, 'Well, it’s better than it used to be.'” (25 Nov. 2019)

In another example, on the BBC’s The Nolan Show (21 Nov. 2019), one speaker said that there is a presumption that “for peace journalism to work” in support of the peace process, it must look closely at unionist politicians, but avoid looking into the “deep, dark hole” of Sinn Fein politics.

Finally, a Twitter discussion recently suggested that a peace journalist would “kill” an accurate story if this story damaged the peace process.

These criticisms are all off base, and reflect a complete misunderstanding of the nature and goals of peace journalism. Yet, I’m coming to realize that all the corrections in the world in defense of peace journalism won’t help skeptics understand what PJ really does, since all they seem to see is the word “peace” and its accompanying baggage.

In fact, as long as peace journalism contains the word “peace,” it will be criticized not for what it actually proposes, but for what its critics ignorantly and erroneously project onto the concept.

So, rather than spending our precious time and energy putting our fingers in the dyke leaking misinformation about peace journalism, perhaps peace journalism proponents should direct discussions away from the term peace journalism, and more towards its concepts.

Let me start.  Journalists and journalism academics and students in Northern Ireland, do you agree with these principles?

--Journalists should avoid inflammatory, sensational language that exacerbates or fuels conflict
--Journalists should reject “us vs. them” narratives and instead build bridges between communities
--Journalists should lead societal discussions about solutions (without advocating for any one solution)
--Journalists should balance their stories by giving peace proposals and peacebuilders a voice proportionate to voices of those advocating violence and war (without advocating for peace)
--Journalists should give a voice to the voiceless in their societies—victims, migrants, women, etc.
--Journalists should reject formulaic, stereotyping coverage and instead offer counternarratives about marginalized groups and perceived enemies (“them”)

Northern Irish journalists, if you embrace these concepts, do yourself a favor and don’t call yourself a peace journalist. Say that you’re a good journalist, or a socially responsible reporter—anything that doesn’t use the word “peace.” What really matters anyway is promoting and practicing these principles of good, fundamental journalism, regardless of what the label we use.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

   A friend and colleague asked me to review his fascinating book, and I gladly obliged. That review is below. --SY

Book Review: Practical Politics
After reading “Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy” by Titus Alexander, I am convinced more than ever about the urgent need for both political literacy and media literacy.

Alexander’s book, beginning in chapter one, makes a compelling case for why universities should teach practical politics as a basic life skill (like reading and writing). He writes that practical politics-trained students will be more employable, will possess an improved ability to solve complex social problems, and can help to restore trust in democracy.

In addition, in chapter three, Alexander theorizes that a society steeped in practical politics can improve its governance. He writes,

Campaigns by the Bristol schoolgirls, Citizen UK, Brake and victims of
sexual abuse are calls for better governance, by institutions such as the
BBC, schools, road safety bodies, employers and the state. People want
‘units of rule’ to be run well and solve problems better. This is the supply
side of politics, what I call the top tier of political action, involving leaders
and decision-makers at any level. Improving governance and the ability of
political decision-making to respond better to citizens will also encourage
people to take part, the demand side of politics, because better governance
creates hope that they can make a difference.

Encouraging people to take part in society, and prodding decision-makers to act, can best be facilitated by and through a simultaneously politically and media-savvy public. 
As a communications professor, I see media literacy the same way Alexander sees political literacy: as an essential tool to restore and maintain democracies. In fact, the two are complementary, and if taught side-by-side, can serve to empower and amplify citizens’ voices.

This relationship between media and politics is explored in chapter five of the book. In this section, Alexander notes that the media are the public’s primary source for political education, the “main channel for politicians to communicate with the public,” and finally the means through which journalists can “influence the political agenda.” Alexander correctly points out that ownership, control, and use of the media are critical political battle grounds. This can be clearly seen both in the U.S. and U.K. in the ongoing political/media turmoil surrounding the Trump presidency/impeachment and Brexit. One is left wondering: If our publics know practical politics, would they be as susceptible to political disinformation, propaganda, and self-serving half-truths dished out by politicians, political pundits, and red-faced cable TV talking heads? If citizens had a more nuanced understanding  of media and politics, would they be so quick to reflexively retreat into their media bubbles, consuming only that which confirms their world view?

Later in chapter five, Alexander cites a study showing the media consumers trust the media more than politicians—hardly an accomplishment worth crowing about.  In the U.S., trust in media can be charted according to individual media outlets—viewers trust “their” channels, and distrust those outside their media bubble. Regarding the internet, Alexander writes, “Traditional political parties and campaigners are also investing heavily in using new media to reach target audiences, so it is hard to predict how far power will really shift.” Thus, simultaneous political and media literacy takes on a new urgency, one necessitated by the exponentially growing power of social media for the delivery of information, or disinformation. Alexander concludes,

Citizens need to learn media literacy to understand how it works,
how to use the media to have their say about issues of the day and how to
win and use power accountably. The press and television, particularly the
BBC, could also play a bigger role in giving citizens impartial information
on how the system works, contentious issues and how to have an effective
voice in politics.

Alexander expands on this point in chapter 10, when he discusses the media’s role in political education. He writes,

What is missing are straightforward guides (produced by media outlets)
to help people navigate issues and find the best way to have their say.
For democracy to flourish, citizens need more than commentaries
and analysis of the issues. They also need to know how they can influence
decisions. To do this, politics needs to be presented as something anyone can
do all year round, not just in elections every few years. Promoting public
participation does not mean taking sides on the issues, but siding with the
public. Citizens are ultimately responsible for how the country is governed
and need to be better informed…A free press and independent media are critical for 
democracy, providing a plurality of opinion and scrutinizing those in power. 
Here here. If citizens are empowered with political literacy, they will know that they
can participate and, ultimately, how to most efficaciously influence decisions. If
they are also endowed with media literacy, citizens will understand how to reject
disinformation and to leverage media to amplify their voices.


In chapter eight, Alexander proposes a model to teach practical politics that mimics business education in that it would “create and disseminate applied knowledge” in a manner that will fulfill Harvard Business School’s charge to “make a difference in the world.” This model has proven to be successful in business school settings, so it’s logical to believe that it could work with practical politics. In fact, my Center for Global Peace Journalism follows a similar model wherein peace journalism is taught as an academic discipline while it is simultaneously promoted, implemented, and practiced around the world.

In chapters 10 and 11, the author offers useful guidance on both creating practical political content and navigating the choppy waters of curriculum change. This advice, in fact, will prove indispensable for any academic needing guidance on how to deftly surmount curricular barriers.
In conclusion, I found “Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy” by Titus Alexander useful as a practical guide to promoting political literacy, an inspirational tool, and an important reminder about the vital interdisciplinary connections between political science and media studies.

“Practical Politics: Lessons in Power and Democracy” author Titus Alexander is the founder and director of Democracy Matters in the UK and honorary fellow at the Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield.

Reviewer Steven Youngblood is the director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism (www.park.edu/peacecenter) at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, where he is a communications professor. He is author of “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices” and editor of the “Peace Journalist” magazine.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Presenters battle disinformation with fact checking, literacy, PJ
(Strasbourg, France)—Disinformation is a menace to democracies around the world. Yet, there are those around the world who are fighting disinformation using fact checking, literacy program, and peace journalism.

These anti-disinformation efforts were detailed at a session called “Mythbusters,” which was part of the Council of Europe-sponsored World Forum for Democracy last week in Strasbourg, France.

My presentation was titled, “Disinformation, Democracy, and the Peace Journalism Solution.” I began by defining disinformation, which is the use of lies, half-truths, and irrational content to manipulate public opinion. We discussed its purposes (distracting, obscuring truth, inspiring action, and shaping the information environment) and characteristics (it works best when targeting pre-existing divides and prejudices within a society). Disinformation succeeds because trust in media is low, and because consumers embrace information that confirms their biases.
Steven Youngblood, Park U.

Then, I discussed how peace journalism is an effective tool for countering disinformation. First, PJ’s principles, as taught during hundreds of seminars around the world, are antithetical to disinformation, including seeking to unite parties (disinformation divides), carefully choosing language (disinformation leverages inflammatory, sensational language), and offering counternarratives that debunk stereotypes (disinformation relies on and reinforces stereotypes).

Other presenters in the “Mythbusters” session included Anna University (India) Prof. Sriram Arulchelvan. He discussed his university’s media information and literacy program that helps high schoolers spot fake news.
Austin Augbe, Nigeria
Austin Augbe, director of the Nigerian Centre for Democracy and Development, then presented about countering disinformation in Nigeria. He said that democracy is on the “verge of collapse” in Nigeria, and that disinformation is one reason why. His center has a project to fight disinformation through fact checking, training 500 fact checkers, spreading the word about a #StopFakeNews campaign, and conducting research on fake news.

Beatrice Simoncini then gave a different perspective on disinformation. She is a member of a working group on disinformation and spokesperson for the government of San Marino, a small nation of 33,000 surrounded by Italy. The working group’s efforts include convening conferences, fostering cooperation among entities battling disinformation, and sponsoring media literacy programs in schools.

Wrapping up the session were respondents Titus Alexander and Matthew Golozia. Alexander suggested that universities should lead the way in fighting disinformation, and act as “intelligence agencies” for democracy. This would include changing the story (in PJ terminology, counternarratives), speaking truth to power, and following the truth. Golozia concluded by opining that government regulation of internet providers and cell phone companies is needed so that everyone has equal access to information.

“Mythbusters” was hosted by the City of Strasbourg in its historic city hall in a room used for formal occasions and, frequently, for weddings. I can’t recall ever speaking in a more beautiful place.
Sriran Arulchelvan, India


From Nov. 8, 2019
World Forum: Disinformation is a threat to democracy
(Strasbourg, France)-At the World Forum for Democracy this week, the alarm sounded loudly on the threats to free press and democracy posed by disinformation.
First plenary session

In one plenary session, speakers discussed disinformation as a factor in eroding trust in the media. This session featured a spokesperson for Russia Today, RT, the Kremlin’s propaganda satellite TV channel/website aimed at an international audience. The spokesperson said RT has been unfairly labeled as disinformation, and is in fact an independent media outlet. This claim was met by groans and head shakes in the audience, and in fact sparked a one minute mini-demonstration wherein standing demonstrators loudly chanted, “Russia Today is fake!” Numerous questioners challenged the spokesperson about the true nature of RT.

After this session, discussion raged about whether RT should have been invited to the forum. My take: If we believe in the free exchange of ideas, we must not be afraid to confront propagandists.

Another authoritarian state, China, was in the spotlight in a speech by Shirley Lam of the Press Association of Hong Kong, who talked about the clash of values between mainland China and Hong Kong. Lam detailed a fake news campaign using 200,000 social media accounts to denigrate and delegitimization democracy activists and journalists, who are portrayed as unprofessional and biased. She said this disinformation is worse than physical violence because it “shakes the fundamental support for press freedom.”

The World Forum’s most poignant moment was when the names of 24 journalists killed in Europe during the last five years (including Jamal Khashoggi and Lyra McKee) were read aloud by Ricardo Gutierrez of the European Federation of Journalists. 

One recurring  theme at the forum was the conflict between those who believe disinformation can be tackled through regulating journalism and online platforms with those who prefer a more self regulated, free speech approach. The first approach might work in well developed democracies, but would surely be abused to stifle speech by authoritarian regimes, especially in the developing world.

This World Forum, titled “Is democracy in danger in the Information Age?”, also featured
Women in media session
presentations (and witty cartoons, several featuring Donald Trump) by Cartoonists for Peace, and a robust discussion about gender issues in journalism, including online harassment and how to counter it.

It was an honor to speak at the forum, and to meet so many who are engaged in the good work of battling disinformation.

The World Forum was sponsored by the Council of Europe.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Conference explores human rights and journalism
If Friday’s session “Human Rights and Journalism” proved nothing else, it confirmed the deficits among media both here and abroad, particularly when it comes to reporting women and minority groups.

The Friday discussion was part of the three-day Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding Conference. The theme this year was “Human Rights: The Foundation of Peacebuilding.”

Sarah Margon from the Open Society Foundation, formerly of Human Rights Watch, led off the day by discussing why journalism matters to human rights organizations, and vice-versa. She said journalism is essential for figuring out what governments are doing, and to push for needed change. Margon noted that journalism matters to human rights organizations since journalism is a “force-multiplier” that can help set the agenda and maintain pressure for change. She cited the ongoing media pressure regarding the Jamal Khasoggi murder and the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar as examples of beneficial media spotlights.

Lewis Diuguid; Bette Tate-Beaver at Park Univ.
Lewis Diuguid, author, lecturer, and journalist, and Bette Tate-Beaver, executive director of the National Association of Multicultural Education, continued the discussion by looking at media’s role in “continuing oppression” in society. The speakers presented information about the functions of media, then discussed how these functions (surveillance, correlation, transmission, entertainment, economic) make some minority groups (Asians, Native Americans) invisible, while relegating other minorities (African Americans, Latinos) to ne’er-do-well status--those who need to be watched closely (surveillance).

Journalist and syndicated columnist Mary Sanchez then discussed the importance of diverse newsrooms, noting that you “have to have connections to tell real stories” inside the Latino community. She said that she’s used Human Rights Watch for years as a reliable source of data. Sanchez also explored the fine line between journalist and activist.

The session ended with a call from Northern Ireland featuring veteran journalist and officer for the National Union of Journalists Kathryn Johnston. She decried journalism that re-victimizes those who have been traumatized—reporting that “strips people of their humanity.” She noted that women have been excluded from peace processes and newsrooms in Northern Ireland, to the detriment of both, and that her community overall has been desensitized to violence. When asked about Brexit, Johnston discussed the impact of a hard border. She said that this possibility has already led to violent threats. She said that if the hard border is established, she “fears” it will lead to a resumption of violence.
Overall, the presenters agreed that traditional media narratives often ignore or stereotype women and minority communities, and that the link between human rights and journalism is important if the potential of society is to be realized.

The Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding Conference began on Thursday, Oct. 31 at Avila University with a presentation by Rwandan peace activist Felix Manzi. The event concluded on Saturday, Nov. 2 at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) with a keynote from Sarah Margon, a panel discussion about the ongoing human rights challenges in Kansas City, and break-out sessions on gender and sexual orientation, human rights in conflict, global migration, and servitude and slavery.
The annual event was sponsored by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, JCCC, Avila University, and the International Relations Council.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Greater KC Peacebuilding Conference starts Thursday
Mark your calendars for a terrific event: This Thursday, Friday, and Saturday is the annual Greater Kansas City Peacebuilding Conference. On Friday from 1-4pm at Park University, we're discussing human rights journalism Mary Sanchez, Lewis Diuguid, Bette Tate-Beaver, Sarah Margon from the Open Society Foundation, and journalist Kathryn Johnston from Northern Ireland.

For details about the conference, listen to the Danny Clinkscale podcast about the event and about peace journalism generally--https://tinyurl.com/y2k6hg4k .

You can register for free for the conference at https://secure.touchnet.com/C20110_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=19802 .
We ask that you register especially for Saturday, since a free lunch is provided.