Friday, June 22, 2012

Eldoret PJ seminar strikes raw nerve

As this week’s peace and electoral journalism seminar unfolded in Eldoret, Kenya, I had hoped to learn more about what happened here in western Kenya (and in the rest of the country) in 2007.

Editing radio stories on Thursday
About four and a half years ago, a disputed election sparked inter-tribal violence that left over 1,000 dead and forced over 250,000 to flee their homes. Much of that violence was centered in this region.

For those of us who study peace journalism, especially important is the role that radio played here in western Kenya in fueling the post election violence. In 2007, radio stations broadcasting in tribal languages spewed hate speech that, everyone agrees, degraded an already bad situation. In fact, one radio executive from this region is on trial at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He’s charged with helping to inflame the violence in late 2007 and early 2008.

Group work at Eldoret seminar
In a seminar room filled with journalists, mostly from radio stations, I had hoped for answers as to how this had happened. My hopes were dashed as we began a discussion (really, a monologue) on the 2007 conflagration. Almost no one wanted to speak about the role that media played in fanning the flames. One journalist did explain briefly the participants’ reticence in discussing the issue. Essentially, the event is still too near, the wounds too fresh, the memories too painful to re-live. In fact, the radio executive being tried at Hague formerly managed a radio station that employs one of the participants in this seminar.

Teaching PJ in Eldoret
After some prodding, several journalists did say that they could now fully comprehend the errors that media committed which exacerbated inter-tribal violence in 2007. Now that these 18 journalists know about peace journalism, I believe that they will no longer engage in inflammatory speech, and will report in such a way that encourages peace and reconciliation.

Hilda (R) from US Embassy confers w/journalists
I’m worried, however, that 18 journalists may be too few to make a real difference here in western Kenya. As we wrapped up the U.S. Embassy-Nairobi sponsored seminar today, I shared those concerns, and charged the participants with spreading the gospel of peace journalism to all of their colleagues in the region. I just hope that the efforts of these 18 professionals are enough to prevent a recurrence of violence here after the elections early next year.

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