Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Kashmir project generates good face-to-face questions, anger online
 My visit to Kashmir has generated some spirited (to put it charitably) comments, both in person and online.

At a lecture at Kashmir University (KU)  today, an intelligent and lively audience quizzed me about the advisability and applicability of peace journalism in the region. The questions were pointed, but good. I conceded that implementing peace journalism here (or really anywhere) is an uphill battle, given corporate and political influences on media. But, I said, it is a battle worth fighting. 

One particularly skeptical questioner wondered how peace journalism can be possible in a conflict area like Kashmir. Good question. My response was that peace efforts , including peace journalism, are underway in lots of conflict areas. I cited Prof. Jake Lynch’s recent peace journalism seminars in Afghanistan as one example. Had I been thinking quicker, I would have also noted vibrant peace journalism activities in Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

My KU appearance was preceded by the second day of a four day lecture series at the Islamic University of Science and Technology. Today, the students analyzed Kashmiri media for peace journalism, and came to the conclusion that some peace journalism is indeed practiced here—certainly more than the national Indian media practice, according to the students.

Online, my posts have generated some anger from several anonymous commenters. The gist of their complaints is that I don't know what I'm talking about (an oldie but goodie). Two writers have made comments designed to get me to take sides on the Kashmir conflict, which I have no intention of doing. I won’t comment on India’s treatment of Pakistan, or vice-versa, nor on either country's treatment of Kashmiris. My concern is the media. As I have said repeatedly during my stay here, peace journalism would say that media consumers throughout the region are best served with factual, dispassionate treatment of news that is free from bias (as much as possible) and hyperbole.

To anonymous writers: I'd be happy to post your comment and discuss your concerns, if  you sign your name.

Although I’m growing weary of the anonymous online vitriol, I do look forward to continuing the discussion with my students and professional journalists here in Kashmir this week.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

In Kashmir, journalists have to practice peace journalism
AWANTIPORA, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR—Today’s peace journalism workshop with university professors and lecturers from the region was punctuated with several interesting, revealing questions and comments. These include:

A. How can peace journalism be implemented? Media owners won’t want it because it won’t sell and because it isn’t sensational. This is both a good and common question about peace journalism. Media owners and managers everywhere I’ve taught share the misperception that audiences are drawn to only that which is sensational. Research shows that this is not the case. Among other studies, one conducted by peace journalism pioneers Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick  (published in The Peace Journalist magazine, Oct. 2012, p. 3), demonstrated that audiences in four different countries all preferred stories with a peace journalism framing to traditional superficial and sensational reporting. A second study by the Solutions Journalism Network echoes these findings, showing that audiences prefer stories with a solutions-orientation.

That being said, of course peace journalism is still a tough sell—just like anything else that seeks to upend the status quo.

B. We (Kashmiris) know who the oppressor and who the oppressed are. Why can’t reporters just say this? This question strikes at the heart of objectivity. I answered by stating that peace journalists, good journalists, are in the job of presenting facts and not reaching conclusions for our readers in our news stories. Oppressed, and oppressor, are subjective terms, I said, best avoided unless in a direct quote. We most effectively serve our readers, I noted, by giving a complete view of all sides of an issue, and letting the reader make up his own mind about guilt/innocence, good guy/bad guy, and oppressed/oppressor. 

C. Kashmiris have to be peace journalists. Conflict here is a daily reality, as hard-to-ignore as the thousands of Indian army soldiers and armored vehicles that seem to lurk on every street corner and under every tree. Thus, even the smallest spark, I was told, could set off a roaring blaze. Careless journalism here, reporting that isn’t carefully balanced or that is racist or unfairly critical of a group/sect/political party, can get a journalist threatened, fired, or even killed. Thus, peace journalism in Kashmir isn’t a nicety, but rather, a matter of survival for journalists.

Our session ended with a discussion of integrating PJ into university courses and curricula, a step many of the educators present seem interested in taking.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Screaming cable coverage provides valuable lessons

AWANTIPORA, INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR—Sadly, there seems to be no end to the examples our world produces that demonstrate the need for a better approach to journalism. This latest example occurred yesterday in a neighboring state, Punjab, where 10 people were killed during an attack in a town called Gurdaspur. Three attackers were also killed after a prolonged standoff.


I told the 50 or so gathered for a peace journalism seminar at the Islamic University of Science and Technology today that the coverage of this event on three Indian cable TV channels was reminiscent of American cable news coverage of mass shootings or attacks. Before I gave the students my impressions of the coverage on News X, Times Now, and CNN-IBN, I let them go first. Their assessment was spot-on: the Indian cable coverage was sensational, one sided, finger-pointing, and distorted.  I agreed.

Further, I said, this coverage I viewed last night was irresponsible, pointing the finger of blame at Pakistan immediately after the attack and before any investigation was conducted. Screaming animated graphics on Times Now announced “Attackers were from Pakistan” before this was proven. The other channels were only a bit more subtle, announcing in their graphics “Pak(istan) hand nailed?” and “Pak hand?” 

Not only were no voices advocating calm or peace heard, the cable coverage here even went as far as to snidely dismiss efforts at peace (“India pays price for appeasement,” Soft on India haters,” “Talks or Terror: Time to Decide.”)

Finally, although the Pakistan foreign minister condemned the attack, only CNN-IBN mentioned this during my 90 minutes of viewing, and that mention was only a 10-second flashing of a graphic.
This cable TV coverage provided grist for our discussion all day long, and effectively drove home the need for a peace journalism approach in India that rejects traditional reporting that:

--Is “us vs. them”, or in this case, India vs. Pakistan;
--Blames without providing proof;
--Presents claims as facts;
--Is sensational and inflammatory;
--Presents violence as the only option while marginalizing calls for peace.
 
I look forward to my continuing discussions this week and next with students, faculty, and professional journalists here in Kashmir.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Peace, and journalism, in Kashmir
As our peace journalism project gets underway in Kashmir next week, it’s worthwhile to look at the state of both peace and journalism in the region.

Peace
The dispute over the Kashmir region is ongoing. When there’s not actual shooting, the conflict manifests itself in a number of other ways. Just this month, protesters displayed a Pakistani flag and an Islamic flag (some say it’s an ISIS flag).  One report said, “Stone-pelting youths took to the streets in the Safa Kadal area of old city Srinagar as police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel used batons and tear smoke canisters to disperse the protesters. “ (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Pak-ISIS-flags-waved-during-protest-over-Syed-Ali-Shah-Geelanis-detention-in-Srinagar/articleshow/48122278.cms ). The government then imposed a curfew in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Journalism
According to a groundbreaking study by Seow Ting Lee and Crispin C. Maslog, journalists on both sides of the India-Pakistan border have been using a traditional, sensational “war reporting” framework when covering the conflict.

This study is based on a content analysis of 1,338 newspaper stories from 10 English- language daily newspapers from the five Asian countries (India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka) involved in the four regional conflicts. The stories were content analyzed by six graduate students in mass communication between March and May 2003. 

The study found that the coverage was predominantly traditional journalism, which they called war journalism. "Out of the 1,338 stories in Asian newspaper, 749 stories (56%) were framed as war journalism, compared to 478 stories (35.7%) framed as peace journalism, and 111 stories (8.3%) that were neutral.

Of all the conflict coverage analyzed in the study, Kashmir coverage was most likely to be framed as war journalism by Indian and Pakistani newspapers. The two countries differed in their framing of war/peace/neutral stories, with a significantly higher proportion of war journalism frames observed for Pakistan (74.2%) than for India (63.7%),  Based on the war journalism index, the Pakistani papers showed a stronger war journalism frame than the Indian papers. The strongest war journalism framing is by the Pakistan News Service; nearly 80% of its stories were framed as war journalism, followed by the Statesmen (67%), Hindustan Times (66.4%), Pakistan Dawn (65.6%), and Times of India (59%).

The Pakistan News Service, as a national news agency, demonstrated the highest number of war journalism frames among the 10 news organizations. Overall, stories produced by national news agencies were observed to have a significantly higher proportion of war journalism frames (78.7%) than stories produced by independent news organizations. ( http://mysite.dlsu.edu.ph/faculty/marianog/inserch/lee.html)

A second study by Seow Ting Lee in 2010 essentially replicated the results above from the 2003 study.

Questions
As we launch the Kashmir project, the first question I’ll be asking my university and journalistic colleagues is whether war journalism is still predominant in the region 12 years after the Lee/Maslog study. (From what I'm reading, the answer will be yes). If yes, I hope we can explore the reasons why, and whether (or if) peace journalism can provide an antidote to poisonous, destructive reporting. If peace journalism has a place in India and Kashmir, what obstacles will have to be overcome before it can be more widely practiced?


We'll begin updating the project next week on this site.