Monday, January 16, 2012

Pacifist Journalism--Propaganda by any other name?

Like any good discussion, the one launched as a result of last week’s column (see below, “Peace or Pacifist journalism?”) has left me with more questions than answers.

Of course, I had plenty of questions to begin with. Most fundamentally, these deal with the logical extension of peace journalism to what my colleague Professor John Lofflin calls pacifist journalism—-journalists as open, unabashed, biased peace advocates.

Two comments about my column (posted on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network) were especially well stated. Thomas Saraiva Selistre wrote, “For me, pacifist journalism, the propaganda, according to you text, would polarize even more the society instead of creating an understanding among people. Am I right?”

I responded, “Thomas--A very insightful comment. Yes, those who may practice pacifist journalism would certainly run that risk. Thus, the question would be: is this a risk worth taking? As my column indicates, I'm not sure myself.”

Onnik Krikorian wrote that he agreed with Thomas’ assessment. He said, “Polarizing positions could actually lead to more conflict and make one or more sides more extreme. Moreover, I also tend to think that journalism in general should anyway be as objective and impartial as possible. In that context I consider 'peace journalism,' although I personally prefer the term 'conflict-sensitive reporting,' to be what journalism should be in the first place. That is, it should "avoid using inflammatory, demonizing, victimizing language so as to not further inflame or provoke those who might promote or engage in violence.

In fact, in the region where I'm based -- the Caucasus -- this is the main problem. The media has become a combatant and militaristic, xenophobic and often downright racist propaganda/misinformation machine in three frozen conflicts in the region, and rarely if ever are peacemakers or alternative voices quoted or given exposure, and if or when they are, they are usually demonized and labeled as 'traitors.'
No journalist should anyway resort to such reporting, but the counter approach in the definition of pacifist journalism you give isn't the answer and just a symptom of the same problem.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in Onnik’s comments. Pro-peace propaganda is still propaganda, even if it is created with a principled objective. Pacifist journalism, in essence, represents the old “ends justify the means” argument. I am still left pondering the fundamental question I offered at the end of my original column: Is extremism in the defense of peace no vice?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

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