Monday, October 20, 2014

Rongo students embrace, appreciate Peace Journalism

Media class, Rongo, Kenya
Here on a hill overlooking the picturesque East African countryside, up a rutted dirt road, is the last place one would expect to find a university. In fact, until about three years ago, the large tract housing Rongo University was indistinguishable from the surrounding fields of corn and sugar cane. Now, the area is bustling with about 5,000 university students.

Rongo University is interesting in many respects, including its commitment to peace journalism. Rongo houses the Center for Media, Democracy, Peace, and Security, which is run by Dr. Fredrick Ogenga, a peace journalism devotee. The 200 or so communications/journalism students take a curriculum that is infused with sophisticated instruction and discussions about the role of responsible media. Media responsibility is an especially salient topic here in Kenya, which has seen its share of media-inflamed violence, most notably after the 2007 elections.

Gloria Laker, peace journalist, addresses Rongo class
At Dr. Ogenga’s invitation, I had the privilege of working with students and professional journalists here in southwestern Kenya last week.

My first lecture to a packed house of about 45 students went well thanks to the contributions of Dr. Ogenga, who discussed his center’s goals, and Gloria Laker, the director of the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa based in Uganda. Laker chronicled various peace journalism projects in Uganda and Kenya, inspiring the students while underscoring that peace journalism is more than just theory. I talked about how journalists can use their influence as a tool of reconciliation—something that, according to the students, is sorely needed here.

The day after the lecture, I had a fascinating discussion with an extremely bright young lady who quizzed me at length about PJ and about the practice of peace media following the 2013 Kenyan elections. Her conclusion, one that I shared, was that media took one extreme in 2007 (inciting violence), but went to the other extreme in 2013 (ignoring election irregularities—rigging—for fear of inciting violence). The happy medium, I told her, would be media that carefully exercised its watchdog role without inciting. Certainly, it’s possible to point out rigging while simultaneously encouraging non-violent responses to that rigging. She agreed that this is possible, but pointed out that such reports would have to be worded very delicately, avoiding words like protest that could be misinterpreted.
Dr. Fredrick Ogenga discusses peace journalism in Kenya

I led discussions about peace journalism in two other classes later in the week, and even threw in a peace journalism writing lesson for Rongo’s new writing students. They did a great job.

My stint at Rongo University reminded me of my love for teaching, and the importance of peace journalism instruction in East Africa. I can’t wait to share my experiences and impressions with my peace journalism students at Park University.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Peace and Reconciliation Journalism in Kenya

 According to my Kenyan professor colleague, his country is in need both of peace journalism and of reconciliation. In the project that we're launching next week, we're teaching both.

Our "Peace and Reconciliation Journalism" project will be taught in rural Kenya for the benefit of radio journalists, since radio is of paramount importance in Kenya. We'll be focusing not only on avoiding partisan and inflammatory speech, and giving voice to the voiceless, but the use of radio as a tool to heal communities torn apart by violence.

Stay tuned to this site for updates and photos.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

October Peace Journalist magazine: Hot off the presses

The October, 2014 edition of the Peace Journalist magazine is here. This special edition addresses how the press handled (or, mis-handled) the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Also featured are reports from literally around the world--Mexico, Palestine, Libya, Kenya, Nigeria, The Bronx, Gaza, and Afghanistan. Click here for your free download. Please share with colleagues and friends.

The Peace Journalist is a publication of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri USA. Information on article submissions for our next edition (April, 2015) can be found on page two of the magazine.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Depressed but not defeated on Intl Peace Day
A friend and colleague recently wrote me and asked if I, as an advocate for peace, was discouraged by the avalanche of violence that seems to be engulfing mankind.

It would certainly be easy to be discouraged, or even to abandon the notion that peace is possible, given the new status quo in Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, Ferguson, Missouri, Mexico, Syria, Gaza, Somalia, etc., etc., etc.

Against this backdrop, the annual commemoration of the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21 (http://www.un.org/en/events/peaceday/) seems futile—like holding a storm awareness seminar in the middle of a category five hurricane.

Yes, the big picture is awful. That’s why I choose to look instead at a number of small pictures that show pockets of peace breaking out all around the globe. 

Several examples of these peace outbreaks can be found in the September, 2014 edition of “Building Peace” (http://tinyurl.com/oc9dabb ), a publication produced by the Alliance for Peacebuilding (www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org) . 

One peace outbreak spotlighted in “Building Peace” is occurring in Congo. “Since 2010, a local Congolese organization, Fondation  Chirezi (FOCHI), has taken an innovative  approach to (accountability, justice, and peacebuilding).  FOCHI’s primary focus is to ensure swift, accessible, and free justice to rural village populations. Staff and volunteers work with local communities and within traditional structures to establish community peace courts called barazas.”

Another peace project is connecting Middle Easterners. “The Peace Factory is a nonprofit organization promoting peace in the Middle East by making connections between people on Facebook. The Peace Factory initially encouraged people to post a simple message of love from Israelis to Iranians. The campaign quickly expanded to other conflicted pairs (Palestine-Israel, Morocco-Iran, Pakistan-Israel, America-Iran, and so on).”

There are many such successful peacebuilding efforts. I have witnessed many of these efforts myself. In northern Uganda, real, measurable reconciliation is occurring after a tragic 20-year civil war. In Uganda in 2011, radio journalists joined forces to ensure that they did not fuel violence during the presidential election. The same occurred in Kenya in 2013. I’ve witnessed productive, cross border dialogue, again among journalists, in Cyprus. And I’ve even seen Lebanese politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum do what many believed was impossible—they actually sat behind a table together and agreed on several important policy positions.

Also, the number of organizations succeeding in promoting peace is impressive, and includes the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Seeds of Peace (www.seedsofpeace.org), the Search for Common Ground (www.sfcg.org), and, humbly, the Center for Global Peace Journalism (www.park.edu/peacecenter). 

So, to answer my friend’s question, while no one could help but be depressed by the deluge of bad news, there are nevertheless plenty of examples of peace outbreaks around the globe. It is these outbreaks that provide me the encouragement and the impetus to continue working for peace.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nazi Propaganda Exhibit Offers Valuable, Timely Lessons


Among other factors, “press indifference” helped the Nazi party consolidate power in the early 1930’s in Germany, according to our guide at the National Archives-Kansas City’s exhibit of “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.”

The Park University peace journalism class toured the exhibit today.

It is exactly this press indifference to tyrants, war-mongers, and propagandists that peace journalism preaches against. Instead of simply parroting propaganda, peace journalists help the public identify propaganda and its purposes while offering news consumers a counter-narrative that relies on facts instead of distortions.

Once the Nazis came to power, they swiftly crushed free media, making it impossible to report anything that didn’t echo official propaganda. However, before the Nazis ascended to power, during the late 1920’s until they were elected to a Reichstag majority in 1933, the German press could have attempted to expose Hitler and his broken ideology. Why didn’t this happen? Our informative guide Ellen told my students that the German press regarded Hitler as a powerless nobody, a preposterous lightweight, before he came to power. This dismissive attitude had the gravest repercussions for Germany and the world.

Of course, the Nazis weren’t the first or the last to use propaganda. Monday in peace journalism class, we talked about how ISIS was using social media to spread their messages, and how responsible media should react to offer counter-narratives. Later this semester, we’ll talk about how the American media shirked their responsibility to not simply regurgitate administration propaganda during the run-up to the Iraq war in 1993.

The outstanding “State of Deception” exhibit is a must visit, and a vivid reminder of the destructive power of communication. In teaching peace journalism, I hope to offer my students the antithesis—an education in the power of communication to be constructive. 

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--