Thursday, July 28, 2016

Violence imperils peace journalist friend in South Sudan
My greatest joy in traveling the world spreading the gospel of peace journalism is in meeting wonderful, diverse people. The downside is that many of my new friends live in less-than-secure locales, which leaves me constantly anxious about their well-being.

For example, recent violence in Turkey and Kashmir, where I did peace journalism projects last year, has me sending anxious “are you ok?” emails and Facebook messages.

Perhaps the most perilous situation for my peace journalism friends and colleagues is in South Sudan, where I worked on a peace journalism project in May. (For details on this project, see: http://stevenyoungblood.blogspot.com/2016_05_01_archive.html ) When I arrived in mid-May, a precarious cease fire and power sharing agreement had been in place only three weeks. While there were high hopes among my trainees, there was also a keen understanding that the whole arrangement could crumble with the slightest provocation. Sadly, that’s what happened in early July, when factional infighting in Juba claimed at least 272 lives, sparked over 100 sexual assaults, and displaced thousands of South Sudanese. Another cease fire was put into place after several days of fighting, and seems to be holding, at least for now. (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/100-sexual-assault-cases-south-sudan-juba-160728065151636.html)

This flare-up followed a three year civil war (2013-16) that killed at least 10,000 (no one really knows how many) and has displaced two million.

As the recent violence erupted in Juba, I couldn’t help but think of my friends, and especially a journalist who I’ll call Robert. (Using his real name could put him in jeopardy). He and I have corresponded since May, and I’ve come to respect him, and his work, even more during these last few months. When the violence flared, I immediately wrote Robert to inquire about his well-being. It was several long weeks before he was finally able to respond.

Robert wrote, “Here we are fine except that the security situation in the country is so scary. I am sorry to have delayed writing to you just because the current political situation in the country has made it very difficult…As I talk now almost all NGO’s have evacuated their staff and most offices are closed. As such we are badly lacking Internet. Today I have succeeded through a narrow chance.”
He said that the situation at the radio station where he is a reporter has become almost untenable. “We have got stuck because (an international media NGO) has not given a new contract to our station and we do not know yet the fate of the radio because we entirely depend on the donation from (the media NGO). We have now stayed for three months without salary.”

Robert’s emails echo what the media have been reporting—that the situation remains dangerous in South Sudan. “About on the cease fire in South Sudan, it is now very very difficult to talk about because what we are able to see between our leaders is now tribal hatred. It is difficult to predict the future of the country as far as peace is concerned without the intervention of the regional forces and pressure from the international community…The situation is tough and hunger is looming in the country and many people have now left South Sudan for Uganda. I wanted to evacuate the family but I have got stuck due to financial constraints,” he said.

Robert never asked for money. I wrote him to inquire how much it would take to evacuate his family to Uganda, but have not yet received a reply.

Perhaps if the amount is within reach, and we are able to figure out how to get the funds to him, there will be one less colleague and friend for me to worry about.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Kashmir police strong-arm responsible newspapers

Last week, amid unrest in India-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 people, a newspaper that I visited a year ago was raided by Indian police.

Like 99% of such raids by authorities on media outlets, this one is unjustified.

According to the BBC, “Police seized printing plates and thousands of editions overnight on Friday. Cable television is also reported to have been shut down… "The clamp-down was necessitated as Pakistani channels that are beamed here through cable television network have launched a campaign aimed at fomenting trouble here," an unnamed Jammu and Kashmir government minister told the Reuters news agency.

"Some newspapers were also sensationalising the violence... We will take a decision on [their] restoration after 19 July."

The Greater Kashmir, Rising Kashmir and the Kashmir Observer, are among the titles who said they were affected.” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36815815)

A have read Greater Kashmir, and have found it to be anything but inflammatory. The same can be said of Rising Kashmir, a fine newspaper that if anything is the opposite of inflammatory of sensationalizing. I was so impressed with their work that I used Rising Kashmir as an example of peace journalism in action in my upcoming textbook Peace Journalism Principles and Practices.

This is what I wrote about my visit with the Rising Kashmir staff in 2015:

AT Rising Kashmir, 2015
“Editor Shujaat 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…

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. (Peace Journalism Insights, Aug 6, 2015)”

Authoritarian governments everywhere use raids and arrests to intimidate journalists. A quick perusal of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website (cpj.org) shows such raids occur regularly in places like Somaliland, Mexico, Turkey, and so on. So while journalists and their supporters should be alarmed by strong arm tactics like those on display in Indian-controlled Kashmir, we certainly shouldn’t be surprised.

The Center for Peace Journalism calls on the Indian government to immediately re-open these vital publications and cease their harassment of reporters who are doing nothing more than their jobs.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Istanbul attacks
My heart goes out to the victims of the Ataturk Airport attacks. This is unscientific, but I saw and heard way too much speculation and guesswork by "experts" in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Guesswork is not news.

Orlando shootings reveal familiar media habits
Some thoughts on media coverage of the Orlando nightclub shooting:

1. Typical of traditional media coverage of mass shootings, reporting about Orlando was too heavily focused on the shooter, rather than the victims. A simple Google News search (June 20, 2016) using the names of four randomly selected victims showed 2,140, 4,770, 27,500, and 75,800 hits--an average of 27,552 hits per victim. The same search on the same day using the shooter's name scored 1,440,000 hits--52 times more hits than for the average victim. (from Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, to be published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis in September, 2016).

News executives, of course, are aware of the dilemma when it comes to publicizing the shooter. Kim Murphy, assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Times, said about the Orlando coverage, “The news value of this guy outweighed any ultimately artificial desire to put him under a rug somewhere. It’s almost a societal necessity to know: Where did we as a culture screw up?” (Columbia Journalism Review, June 14, 2016)

I still prefer the model proposed by “No Notoriety,” a website and movement spearheaded by the families of mass shooting victims. They propose, as the name suggests, less coverage of the shooter and his rantings. (https://nonotoriety.com/)

2.  A flood of inaccuracy usually accompanies breaking news coverage of mass shootings. Recognizing this, NPR took the interesting step of posting on its website a revealing graf—what I call a “preemptive mea culpa:”

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops. (https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/06/13/nprs-orlando-coverage-came-warning-label/)

I guess I’m old fashioned, but here’s an idea—save the mea culpas, and don’t publish speculation or any other information that isn’t verified accurate.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Refugee TV gives voice to the voiceless

(Salzburg, Austria) Despite our most conscientious efforts, there are limits to how well journalists can tell refugees’ stories, unless of course they are refugees themselves. That’s the idea behind refugee.tv.

According to their website, “refugee.tv is an act of empowerment. The vision is to create a TV station, which is designed by refugees in cooperation with a German/Austrian film team. The reporters of refugee.tv came to Europe as refugees. Amongst the refugees coming to Europe are many skilled workers, some filmmakers, journalists and camera men. Many refugees had to flee their home country because they were putting the spotlight on problems and injustices in their home countries.  refugee.tv provides them a platform to continue their passionate work.” (http://refugee.tv/)

I had the privilege of chatting with two refugee.tv correspondents during my recent trip to Europe, and was impressed with their passion and their commitment to their profession and to the plight of refugees.

Ayad Salim is a 45-year old refugee from Iraq. In his fluent English, he told me about his dozens of professional journalism jobs, from reporter to “fixer” for many international news outlets. Like the other refugee.tv correspondents, he volunteers for the channel, and is constantly seeking paying jobs. He’s lived in Salzburg for the last year.

Arman Niamat Ullah (pictured), a 25-year old Afghani refugee, is quick with a smile and a one-liner. He’s been living in Munich for three years, and is eager to discuss his love for storytelling. Arman’s working on a feature film—the first about refugees by refugees, he says. Like Ayad, he produces professional reports for refugee.tv as a volunteer.

During a recent avant garde music and art festival called Interlab, Arman presented and discussed several video stories produced by refugee.tv to a modest gathering. The first, with Ayad reporting, was a tongue-in-cheek outsider’s look at a traditional Austrian festival Krampus featuring costumed demons prancing about. Then, those gathered viewed an outstanding short video reported by Arman from Pireus, Greece (Athens’ nearby port city). This report, featuring refugees discussing their plight, had several audience members wiping their eyes.

As we chatted, I told Arman and Ayad a bit about peace journalism, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism’s recent project in Turkey to improve reporting about Syrian refugees. I mentioned that their work is the very essence of peace journalism. These refugee.tv stories offer a counter-narrative to the  misleading or xenophobic refugee reporting done by some traditional journalists, while simultaneously providing a voice to the voiceless.

You can see Arman and Ayad’s work, and that of their colleagues, at http://refugee.tv/ or on their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/refugeetvshow . Some of the segments are in English, and those that aren’t are subtitled.

I hope to someday collaborate with these talented journalists, and perhaps even engage in a joint peace media project.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Media and migration explored; militants dodged
(Klagenfurt, Austria)—It’s not often that I’m looking over my shoulder for protesters—protesters!—at one of my public speeches. However, here in Klagenfurt this week, I was admittedly a bit nervous as I strode to the podium.

You see, just four days earlier, on Thursday, a group of angry, bullhorn wielding far right wing militants, the “Identitarians,”  invaded a symposium about refugees here at Klagenfurt University. They held up a large sign that read, “Integration is a lie,” and scuffled with students and the university’s president, all in an attempt to spread their anti-immigrant hate. Police are investigating a possible assault committed against the president.
Rally in support of migrants, Klagenfurt University

Thus, as we started our symposium on forced migration and media Monday morning, we were naturally a bit nervous, even with a deliberately visible police presence just outside our meeting venue. The symposium, featuring excellent presentations by students and faculty, went off smoothly. The highlight was an enlightening discussion about the vital nature of smartphones for Syrian refugees. Roundtable discussions were held about literature and migration, film and migration, and news media and migration. All were thoughtful and sophisticated.
At the pro-migrant rally, Klagenfurt

The symposium was followed by a large outdoor rally in a nearby square in the afternoon. The rally, organized and lead by students, was titled, “Solidarity with Refugees.” Speakers, including refugees, university administrators, and students, reiterated their empathy and support for refugees. One of their signs said, “No person is illegal.” Certainly, this rally offered a reassuring counterpoint to the ugliness of just four days prior.

Again, there was a visible police presence near the rally site, although no trouble materialized.
By the time my lecture began in the early evening, I didn’t see any police. This could mean either that they forget about my presentation, or that they didn’t think the right wingers would bother with me, which, as it turned out, was correct. My lecture, on Reporting Syrian Refugees, was also delivered without interruption to an interested gathering of students, academics, and members of the public. I presented research about reporting of refugees by European media, and discussed our recent reporting Syrian refugees project in Turkey.

As with my other stops in Austria and Germany, it’s my hope that my stay at Klagenfurt University is the first of many such collaborations.