Monday, July 21, 2014

War journalism fuels hatred, violence in Gaza, Israel

As the inconceivable war in Gaza continues to unfold, so, too does the predictable propaganda war playing out in the media.

This propaganda takes several forms. In an insightful piece in the New York Times, writer Jodi Rudoren talks about a “clash of narratives” about the war, and about the use of euphemisms. On the Israeli side, these include substituting “forced obstruction” for “assassination” and “uninvolved” for “civilians.” On the Palestinian side, media are advised by officials to always add the term “innocent citizen” when discussing casualties. 

PeaceVoice Editor Erin Niemela, in an article analyzing coverage of Gaza, cites similar examples. Al Jazeera online currently (July 21) posts a banner headline that says, “Gaza Under Siege: Naming the Dead.” This regularly updated webpage lists the names and ages of the Palestinian victims in Gaza. The war and propaganda journalism viewpoint is also present on the Israeli side. Niemela cites a July 18th article from The Times of Israel. The title is: “20 Hamas fighters killed, 13 captured in first hours of ground offensive.” The lead justifies the campaign: “IDF says soldiers in Gaza destroy 21 rocket launchers, find several tunnel openings; Eitan Barak, 21, from Herzliya, is first IDF fatality; 80 rockets fired at Israel.” 

Not only is this traditional war journalism evident on websites and in articles, but it can also be seen in visual reporting (photos and video) of the conflict. Specifically, I examined a series of 10 photos in two online publications—one Israeli, the other Palestinian. These photo albums were analyzed using a rubric my students at Park University and I have developed during the last three years. This rubric, which is still a work in progress, attempts to put a point value on images that are inflammatory, misleading, or represent propaganda.

My mini-study showed that traditional war journalism was evident in the photos posted on both Hareetz (Israel) and the PalestineTelegraph on July 20. In Hareetz, the 10 photos included one mug shot of two Israeli victims, two shots of injured Palestinians, two photos of tanks, two shots of rocket shell casings that fell into Israel, one destroyed building, one artillery firing shot, and one picture at night of artillery firing. Hareetz’s photos seemed pro-military, showing the efficacy of the IDF campaign, but not showing too much suffering. To their credit, at least there were two shots of injured Palestinians. However, the victims portrayed looked only moderately injured, at worst, thus the photos weren’t especially bloody or gruesome. 

Not surprisingly, the Palestine Telegraph photos told a different story. Of the 10 photos posted or linked from their website, there were four shots of kids in the rubble of blasted buildings. There were three pictures of injured or dead children, one shot of rubble, one of a destroyed building, and one of an Israeli rocket launch. Noteworthy is the fact that seven of the 10 pictures featured children, leaving one wondering if there is a directive of some kind at the Palestine Telegraph mandating photos of young victims. Also noteworthy was one truly awful, heartbreaking photo of a bloody toddler (1 or 2 years old) who was either dying or deceased.

What we are left with, then, are two different narratives—one sanitized and pro-military, and one sensationalized. As peace journalists, we ask ourselves the question, what is the effect of these visual narratives? In Palestine and the Arab world, these sensational images do nothing but stoke hatred against Israel, and empower hard liners who see only violence as the only response. In Israel, these sanitized, pro-military images support the government’s version of events, and reinforce the notion that the military action is succeeding with minimal suffering on the Palestinian side.

Peace journalism—indeed, good journalism—mandates coverage that doesn’t pour gasoline on an already blazing fire, and coverage that values peaceful alternatives while giving peacemakers a voice. Failure to practice peace journalism in this instance is further dividing the parties, inciting hatred, and helping to make peace virtually impossible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Debunking immigrant stereotypes in the Bronx, NY

You can never go wrong asking people to criticize the media.

Man-on-the street interviews: immigration.
As I began my workshops last week at BronxNet/Lehman College in New York City, I started by asking the participants, “What’s wrong with the media?” The responses were animated, and didn’t deviate much from the common themes of inaccuracy and distortion. Then I narrowed the question, directing it to specific coverage of immigrants. Again, the participants easily listed a dozen tired stereotypes of immigrants perpetuated by the media. 

These immigrant stereotypes, and the media narratives that fuel them, were the theme of my workshops last week at BronxNet. One two-day workshop was for students and young reporters, while two other shorter workshops were for public access TV producers and the general public.
I presented research that confirmed what the participants already knew—that immigrants are stereotyped in the media, that most of these stereotypes are negative, and that negative stereotypes in particular infect audiences. We specifically examined a study by Latino Decisions that discussed the corrosive stereotypes of Latinos and immigrants. (

Man on the street interviews: immigration.
Then, we discussed using a peace journalism model as a way for media to break out of these stale, distorted narratives about immigrants. While peace journalism was conceived as a way to model war and peace reporting, I’ve found it useful in many other arenas—crime coverage, development issues, politics, etc. Certainly, the peace journalism principles of accuracy, balance, giving a voice to the voiceless (immigrants), being proactive instead of reactive, eschewing us vs. them reporting, and humanizing all sides are useful as we seek to give a more three-dimensional quality to our reporting about immigrants and immigrant issues.

Serving the cause of offering counter-narratives to the usual reporting about immigrants, student reporters were sent out to produce several projects. The first was to collect man on the street interviews about the benefits that immigrants bring to communities like the Bronx. The second was a video package about an immigrant or about a social service agency serving immigrants. The students are still working on these, but I’ve promised them feedback once the stories are complete.
The students and access producers alike, I hope, learned to think about media, and particularly media coverage of immigrants, in a more analytical, critical manner, and to report thoroughly, thoughtfully, and constructively.

ALSO...BronxNet's OPEN TV program hosted me last week. We had a lively discussion about irresponsible partisan media, and about the alternative--peace journalism. To see the eight minute segment, click here:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

PJ project underway in Bronx, NY

The Center for Global Peace Journalism's third PJ project at BronxNet/Lehman College is underway. The young journalists and I had a robust discussion yesterday about media narratives and how they relate to immigrants. Toward this end, students shot sound bites on the street about attitudes towards immigrants. The seminar will continue as the reporters shoot stories about immigrant families here in the Bronx.

Next week, I'll have a full re-cap of the project.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Headline reflects need for more careful word choice

Peace Journalism teaches us that words matter, and that poorly selected words can, among other things, desensitize us to violence. A case in point is the cavalier use of the headline "Hobby Lobby ruling puts Green family in crosshairs" in today’s Kansas City Star and other media outlets.

The offending headline was widely used. A Google search showed the use of "Hobby Lobby ruling puts Green family in crosshairs" on websites belonging to the Associated Press, ABC news, the Arizona Daily Star, and dozens of others.

It’s clear that this headline represents the very antithesis of peace journalism. My colleague Professor John Lofflin, who called my attention to this headline, put it succinctly when he said, “No matter how you feel about the Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby, this headline from the Kansas City Star, in this day and age, has got to go. Totally irresponsible. Period.”

Could “In the Crosshairs” in some way encourage violence against the Greens, Hobby Lobby’s owners? This is a stretch, perhaps, but not completely out of the question. I see the headline as part of a bigger picture, one where the commonplace media use of violent imagery delivers an implicit message that there is something normal, or desirable, to putting those with whom we disagree in the crosshairs. 

The Star, along with every media outlet that used the offending headline, should immediately pull the headline from its websites, and apologize for its use.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Iraq coverage lacks balance, context, peace voices

In a media environment where peace journalism is being practiced, the current run-up period to possible renewed U.S. military intervention in Iraq would be covered by the media in a balanced way that proportionately reflects voices from both sides of the intervention debate.

Using the peace journalism model, articles about further U.S. military strikes in Iraq might look a bit like this:

Secretary of State John Kerry floated the possibility of U.S. drone strikes in Iraq today, while opponents of U.S. intervention warned that such strikes would be destabilizing and ineffective.
Administration official continue to make a case for U.S. military intervention in Iraq, citing a growing humanitarian crisis in the wake of a militant insurgency. Intervention opponents acknowledge the humanitarian crisis, but question the ability of air strikes to slow the insurgency.

Unfortunately, a quick examination of media coverage of the crisis indicates that a disproportionately small voice seems to be given to those who question or outright oppose military intervention. 
For example, a perusal of the lead stories about Iraq in today’s New York Times and Washington Post show that both sources seem intent on regurgitating claims from Secretary of State John Kerry about the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Iraq. Now, there’s nothing wrong with quoting Kerry. What’s wrong is that there is no context in either story—no acknowledgment or analysis that points out Kerry’s obvious attempt to justify a U.S. military response. 

The Post story is especially heavy with Pentagon reports about ship and personnel movements in the region. Again, there is nothing wrong with this per se. What’s unfortunate is that, given the volume and urgency of military movements, the story’s  tone indicates that U.S. involvement is almost a fait accompli.

The Times story does mention diplomatic efforts aimed at getting Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki to reach out to opponents. However, these efforts are presented only because improvements by Al-Maliki are listed as a pre-condition for military action. Thus, diplomacy is presented as viable only in a military context.

What is absent from both stories, and from the bulk of the coverage I’ve seen in print and online sources, are comments and analysis from those who question the administration’s analysis of the situation and/or outright oppose intervention.

An informal, unscientific survey shows that today’s Times and Post stories reflect the general media coverage about U.S. intervention. A search on Google News shows 1,060 hits for ‘US-Iraq intervention “vital”’, but only 655 hits for ‘US-Iraq intervention “unnecessary.”’ A search for ‘Iraq-US military solution’ scored 4,770 hits, while ‘Iraq-US diplomatic solution’ had only 1,450 hits. 

As peace journalists, we are not wading into the debate about the advisability of further U.S. military action in Iraq. However, we do believe that it’s the media’s responsibility to fully inform the public about all the options, including peaceful ones, if they are to reach intelligent conclusions about the situation in Iraq. When media do the opposite, and merely parrot administration pro-war propaganda without analysis or giving voice to war opponents, the results have been disastrous.

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