Thursday, December 29, 2011

Postscript: First two peace media-terrorism seminars build bridges

They work together, but they usually don’t like each other. Yet, because of their working relationship, they need to at least display some superficial cordiality, no matter how difficult that may be.

They are journalists and government officials in charge of security (local leaders, police, and army personnel). Before our peace media and terrorism project came along, they would have never dreamed of spending three days together.

During two recent seminars in Kampala and Gulu, Uganda, the security officials and journalists came together to build frameworks of collaboration and cooperation for preventing and mitigating terrorism. My pitch was simple: although you have disagreements and even conflicts, you share the common goal of stopping violent extremism and, if it does occur, mitigating its effects.

Towards that end, we spent much time analyzing media, police, and army conduct during and after the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. The consensus—mistakes were made by all. The government officials acknowledged that they probably were too restrictive and secretive with information, while the journalists admitted that they were too sensational and that their coverage was often superficial.

(These were just the first two seminars of the peace media and terrorism project, funded with a $150,000 in US State Department grant. The project will continue in May and June with more seminars, and will culminate in the fall of 2012 with an online course. Click here for more details about the project.)

On the last day of these initial seminars, the officials and journalists split into teams and drafted proposed agreements that outlined how they would collaborate on anti-terrorism efforts. Security officials agreed to be more forthcoming with information and to collaborate with journalists in developing messages designed to blunt efforts by terrorist organizations to recruit Ugandans. Journalists agreed to be more vigilant in verifying their stories and to consult security officials when stories may jeopardize efforts to prevent terrorism or prosecute terrorists. They all agreed to meet regularly to discuss issues surrounding media and terrorism and to continue working to develop protocols and procedures that would help each side do their job more effectively.

I’m still not too sure how much they like each other, but I sincerely believe that after the seminars that the participants had more respect for one another. At the very least, the journalists and security officials understood their joint responsibility to keep Uganda safe from attack.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn --

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Security officials, media join forces to discourage potential terrorists

GULU, UGANDA--At the Peace Media and Counterterrorism seminar this week, participants (reporters, editors, and government security personnel) are working to bridge their differences and find common ground in the battle against terrorism. (For a photo album from the Gulu seminar, click here.)

Toward that end, the participants have created public service ads for printed media or the Internet. These ads are targeted at those who are at-risk for violent extremism--in other words those who may be targeted by recruiters for terrorist organizations. These ads are presented here.

The Peace Media and Counterterrorism project will continue through next September, and include seminars this May and June for security officials and journalists. An online course will also be taught next September by Park Univ professors.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Security officials, journalists seek understanding

MUNYONYO, UGANDA--The often-strained relationship between government and media was put under a bit more pressure today as the first peace media and counterterrorism seminar concluded.

Specifically, government spokespeople from the army, police, and local government and journalists sparred over whether the Ugandan government was justified in banning live coverage of protests earlier this year, and restricting official updates of the investigation of the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. Each side played its part, with the journalists crying foul at the heavy hand of the government while the security officials maintained that the moves were designed only to protect people and property. Predictably, no consensus was reached. I did express my opinion that the ban on live coverage represented a journalistic decision, and thus should not have been made by the government. (Photo-eager seminar participants)

As the State Dept-sponsored seminar wrapped up, however, the government officials and journalists did find agreement in their desire to prevent terrorism and mitigate its effects if it does occur. Towards that end, they jointly developed an agreement—a collaborative framework—that laid out their responsibilities vis-√†-vis terrorism.

Within the framework, the journalists pledged to not use inflammatory language or engage in sensationalism, to verify information, the “preach the gospel against terrorism”, to respect security officials, and to provide a platform for the government to inform citizens about counterterrorism. For their part, the security officials agreed to look on journalists as their allies and to respect them, to make themselves available when needed by journalists, to collaborate with the media in identifying terrorist threats, and to protect the media when violence does occur.

I was thrilled to hear these frequent adversaries agree on the need to protect their fellow Ugandans. As the seminar ended, I lauded the participants for their commitment, and encouraged them to follow up by discussing their pledges with their colleagues in security and in the media. It’s my hope that we built some permanent bridges during the last three days that will ultimately benefit not only the participants but more importantly Ugandan society in general.

Click here for photo album of peace media-terrorism seminar.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stuck in the mud, searching for answers

KAMPALA, UGANDA--We started the day today stuck in some gloppy mud about halfway to our destination, a hotel in Munyonyo where we were needed to begin teaching the first day of our peace media and counterterrorism seminar. Fortunately, our stay in the mud was brief—just a minute or two.

The seminar went just fine, and the participants were energetic and engaged. At the end of the day, I think I can speak for the attendees (mostly journalists with a few security officials) when I say that that I was a bit in awe of the wide swath of issues that we covered in one day. As we wrapped up day one, we were left with many more questions than answers. These include:

What is terrorism? Is a terrorist different than a freedom fighter?
How do terrorists attempt to use the media?
Should journalists give terrorists a voice? Under what circumstances?
How does a peace journalist report violence and terrorism?
How well did Ugandan journalists report the July 11th bombings in Kampala? What did they do well, and how can they improve?
Should media self-censor to protect lives?
How should media collaborate with government officials regarding terrorism?

I’m hoping that we are able to extricate ourselves from the mire of these intractable questions by the end of the seminar. I just hope we’re able to find an answer as deftly as our driver did this morning.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jittery prof aims for mediocrity in commencement address

I’m all ready for Saturday’s Park University commencement address. My topic will be “Inciting Peace”. If you can’t make it to the ceremony, the speech will be recorded and posted online. It should be linked either at www.park.edu or www.park.edu/grads .

Most commencement speeches are dull, platitudinous, clich√©-ridden monstrosities. I’m hopeful that mine can transcend the typical speech and achieve, at minimum, mediocrity. If I reach that goal, given the sorry state of most commencement speeches, perhaps my address will be remembered semi-fondly.

Peace media and counterterrorism project begins next week

I’m off to Uganda on Sunday to teach the first two seminars in a new peace media and counterterrorism project that I’m directing. The goals of the project are to discourage at risk people from being drawn into violent extremism and to create durable linkages between government, police, army, corrections, media, community and the at-risk population.

The first two seminars in December will be for members of the media. Seminars in 2012, which I will team teach with Park University criminal justice professors John Hamilton, Ken Christopher, and Carol Getty, will target police, military, and security officials.

For more details on the project, click here.

Stay tuned to this blog for dispatches from Uganda beginning on or around Dec. 13.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Peace speech plug

I'm finishing last minute prep on my Park University commencement speech next Saturday, Dec. 10. (Click here for details). Hope to see you all there. If that's not possible, the speech will be recorded and posted online. Stay tuned here for details about how to access my speech, which is titled, "Inciting Peace".

Young peace journalist heads for Jordan

Park University PR and peace journalism student Andi Enns continues to demonstrate her promotional skills. The latest piece about her appears in the Independence Examiner. I wrote about Andi a few weeks back (see my post from Nov. 4). She will leave in a few days for her peace mission to Jordan. Good luck, Andi.

Professor pens peace piece

My colleague and friend Professor John Lofflin recently blogged about Andi (no surprise there) and peace journalism. (See the Henry Wiggen blog, Nov. 27th post).

Lofflin and I have spent hours discussing the principles and ethics of peace journalism, so I was not surprised to read that he is “not completely comfortable with the principles of peace journalism… The catch is this: peace journalism is about suppressing the inflammatory language in reporting, language which can lead to violence and death... The rub is I'm old school about journalism -- somebody said it, I report it. Somebody is angry, I report somebody is angry. ..But I see the other side, too, how inflammatory language can actually cause injustice and war. And, I haven't always been in love with the way journalism is done in the world. That's why I became a teacher. You can hide behind the idea of objective journalism only so long before you realize doing journalism ought to do more than line the pockets of a few corporations.”

I responded, “I am comfortable with the fact that you are uncomfortable about peace journalism. It is quite a leap, after all. You are correct in saying that peace journalists like Andi "don't sweat the principles". As I have written, debating these principles is healthy. However, let's not allow that debate to slow us as we strive to give our communities a chance at peace and development.”

The last word discussion-wise on Lofflin’s thought provoking piece came from a former student of ours, the wonderfully perceptive Tiffany Miller. She wrote, “When I was taking Peace Journalism I felt like I was fighting years of bad thinking and taking words for granted. I agree you have to report things the way they are said, but slant should be avoided if possible; even though we all argued in Ethics that it can't be avoided completely since we're all human and have opinions no matter how much we try and keep them to ourselves. Since Peace Journalism class I never read stories the same way, just like I can't watch the news since I've made television packages and know how edited and scripted they can be. All my journalism classes at Park taught me to be ever mindful of the world around me, and never to take information for granted. It's rare for me to find a source I trust completely…”