Friday, October 7, 2011

Are peace provocateurs ethical journalists? Does it matter?

Journalists in conflict situations are constantly toeing the line between journalistically ethical and unethical behavior.

I for one have been in conflict or post conflict situations wondering if I should fork over some cash to help ease things a bit for a poor victim. I usually donate that money, but often ask myself if I should do more to assist, even if this means crossing the line, journalistically speaking.

An interesting case has just surfaced in Indonesia wherein citizen journalists may--or may not--have crossed the line. Social media wielding citizens calling themselves “peace provocateurs” are taking action to defuse a volatile situation in Ambon, Indonesia.

Part of what they are doing—verifying stories and discrediting potentially inflammatory rumors—is classic peace journalism. That this is being practiced in the social media is especially noteworthy, given, for example, Twitter’s tremendous potential to spread both constructive and destructive information.

However, some of the peace provocateurs’ activities (like connecting neighborhood leaders) probably cross the line of what traditionalists would consider ethical journalistic behavior. These activities involve the provocateurs in the story to the point that they are no longer observers and reporters, but active participants.
Whether they are ethical journalists are not, these peace provocateurs are nonetheless ethical citizens who are striving to prevent violence in their community.

The following report is from The Interpreter-Lowry Institute.

…”Last month in the Indonesian city of Ambon, the suspicious death of a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver led to clashes between Muslims and Christians in this provincial capital and raised fears of a return to the communal fighting that wracked the region from 1999 to 2002. At one point, rumours swirled by SMS and word of mouth that a Christian child had been killed (she had not). Muslim houses were set on fire, and retaliation against Christians soon followed.
By the time it stopped, the two days of violence had left seven dead and dozens wounded. Over 150 homes, roughly split between the two communities, were burned to the ground.

What is most remarkable is not that violence re-occurred (something sadly all too common in post-conflict societies), but how it was stopped, in part, through some far-sighted networking and deft thumb work by a group calling themselves 'peace provocateurs' who worked across communities and together with local officials to calm down a volatile situation.

It was an extraordinary effort by a group of about ten people, Christian and Muslim, who decided, at enormous risk to themselves, to go into the areas where violence had erupted to seek truth and then text, upload, and share it.

Every time they heard a rumour, for example, that a church was burned down or that a mosque had been damaged, they went and took photographs of the actual site. With even provincial capitals well serviced by mobile telephone and data services, it was then not hard for them to circulate this proof on Twitter and Facebook using their mobile phones. Given that Indonesians are some of the world's most avid users of these social media, it was an inspired strategy. They sought to calm the level of violence, and it worked.

…They identified influential 'strategic partners' in border neighbourhoods and put them in touch with one another to help coordinate the dissemination of information. They were very conscious of the impact national media could have on the way the unrest was being portrayed outside Ambon and designated one person to monitor the reporting and send clarifications as necessary to the relevant journalists. Their activities focused on collecting and verifying reports of attacks, threats, street blockades, injuries or crowds massing, and then trying to defuse the threats.
Had it not been for their messages, tweets, and posts, the violence would have been infinitely harder to bring under control.”


  1. I'm a part of this. Thank you so much mr. steven :)
    how did you know about us - peace provocateurs?

  2. Dear sir:

    How wonderful to hear from you! I got the info about the peace provocateurs from a Twitter feed. I'm not sure who the feed belonged to...
    At any rate, congratulations again on your wonderful work.

  3. Nice posting.
    I have read many articles of those profiling Peace Provocateurs in Ambon, but in this article I got new side of view.
    thank you sir!