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 --

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