Friday, January 6, 2012

Peace Journalism or Pacifist Journalism?

Peace Journalism is only a half-measure—a pragmatic compromise that tip-toes around the moral imperatives of non-violence and pacifism.

I hadn’t given this much thought until my Park University colleague Professor John Lofflin broached the subject recently during a discussion and later on his insightful blog.

Lofflin argues that perhaps peace journalism advocates should consider taking peace journalism to its “logical conclusion”, something he calls pacifist journalism. Lofflin writes, “Would that simply mean condemning all violence, from capital punishment to war and everything -- terrorism and guerrilla fighting -- in between? A tougher pill to swallow, eh? Martin Luther King, Jr. vs. Malcolm X., Gandhi vs. Che. “

Like a discussion with any good teacher, a conversation with Lofflin always leaves me with more questions than answers. For starters, what does this say about the ethics of peace journalism? As peacemakers, are we shirking our ethical responsibility by not doing everything in our power to prevent violence, even if this means discarding the rules of ethical journalism?

As we consider what pacifist journalism might look like, perhaps we should examine how pacifist journalism might differ from peace journalism. Here are some ideas:

A. Peace journalism gives peacemakers a voice alongside those who advocate violence. Pacifist journalism would silence warmongers and openly promote only peacemakers.
B. Peace journalists avoid using inflammatory, demonizing, victimizing language so as to not further inflame or provoke those who might promote or engage in violence. Pacifist journalism would embrace negative language and use it to demonize those who advocate violent conflict. Pacifist journalists would use sensational language and images as propaganda to negatively portray wars and warmongers.
C. Peace journalists seek to maintain their objectivity and to balance their stories. Yes, they are framing their stories differently, with an understanding that what they write and how they write it could trigger violence. A pacifist journalist, one supposes, would openly reject the notion of objectivity in favor of spinning information to promote an anti-war, anti-violence agenda.

If the idea of pacifist journalism makes you uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Journalism ceases to be journalism when it takes such an extreme, one sided position. (What this says about Fox News, MSNBC, etc. is a question for another time). Of course, this begs the question, so what if pacifist journalism isn’t actually journalism? Thanks to technology, the lines between journalists and citizen communicators have been blurred or erased anyway. Does it even matter any more if you consider yourself a journalist? I would say yes, because true journalists still operate under a professional and ethical code that is sorely needed in this day and age of disinformation overload.

The journalist in me wants to reflexively reject the extremism of pacifist journalism, since it is not our role to advocate or propagandize. The peace activist in me wants to embrace the notion of pacifist journalism wholeheartedly, since I do truly believe that peace is the ultimate good.

Thus I am left with one vital question. With apologies to Barry Goldwater, is extremism in the defense of peace no vice?

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--


  1. Boy, THAT made me think. Now you've made my head hurt.

    I'm not advocating a radical departure from journalistic values, am I? Nothing more radical than what peace journalism advocates. At least I don't think that is my intention.

    I'm just uncomfortable with the way we distinguish between good warriors and bad warriors. Now, I admit I'm thinking more in terms of the advocacy side of journalism than the reporting side. I have to give the reporting side more thought. But it seems to me that as journalists we have a tendency to make a distinction between our side and their side that is wrong headed. Both sides are killing.

    I'll just offer one quick example from domestic reporting (and this is not advocacy, per se). Fox News was first to adopt a first person stance to the country and the wars it is fighting, if you noticed. The switch was subtle, but to an old reporter's ears it sounded like a singer hitting a very off-key note. They went to "our" country instead of "the" country, our troops instead of the troops, then, finally, our heroes instead of American soldiers. I call that inflammatory language in the context of pacifist journalism, if not peace journalism.

    And as I said in my post, that's a tough pill to swallow.

    Another quick example: Should we write that Gary Roland Welch was executed by the state of Florida, or should we write that he was killed by the state of Florida... or one step more, that he was murdered by the state of Florida?

  2. No, I don't believe you were advocating pacifist journalism, just correctly pointing out that it is a logical (but not necessarily desirable) extension of peace journalism.

    You're right about Fox News. One of the things that the originators of peace journalism talk about is the traditional (and corrosive) us vs. them mentality. As for your Florida execution example, should the Florida press say say, "We killed Gary Welch tonight?"

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