Monday, April 15, 2013

Should peace journalists give voice to racists?

It’s not easy being a peace journalist who, on the one hand, wants to avoid inflammatory comments but, on the other hand, sees the need to expose those who would spread hate and divisiveness.

This very situation arose yesterday when I learned on Facebook of a flyer (pictured) that was distributed to the home of a colleague of mine here in Kansas City. The flyer, and the sentiments behind it, are reprehensible and offensive.
Racist propaganda, distributed in a Kansas City neighborhood.
The question becomes, then, should a peace journalist take on the purveyors of hateful messages like these? If we do challenge their bigotry, do we inadvertently give their messages credibility? By starting discussions like these, are we needlessly inciting conflict?

One the most frequent criticisms leveled against peace journalism is that it avoids reporting about conflict and controversy. However, this criticism reflects a misunderstanding about peace journalism. When I teach PJ, my students learn that PJ doesn’t relieve or excuse them from covering conflicts, controversies, and even wars. We have a duty to our readers and listeners to inform them about these things. The question becomes, then, not if we should cover violence and mayhem and conflict, but how we report about these things—how we frame our stories.

Thus, the racist flyer, while on its face as useless as those who produced it, will provide valuable grist for my peace journalism students at Park University, who will be tasked with deciding if they would report on the flyer and the organization behind and, if they would report it, how they would frame their story.

For what it’s worth, I would choose to report about the flyer, but do so in a way that deprives those who produced it of the publicity they crave for their organization and their cause. In fact, the image of the flyer posted here has been cropped to exclude the name and web address of the organization that distributed it here in Kansas City. In my reporting, I would not seek comment from the racists, but I would interview those who would discredit this divisive, white supremacist propaganda.

This means my report would not be balanced, since I would have only one side of the story. However, is it always incumbent upon us to balance every story, even when one side has no credibility whatsoever? This is one more question for my classes here at Park University and at my peace journalism seminars this summer in the Bronx, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan.--SY

--The new Peace Journalist magazine is out! If you didn't get your copy, click here.

1 comment:

  1. I just read it…I like your approach.

    I appreciate that you will use it for your class, to teach and discuss, and in that way, this useless waste of a piece of paper, ink and energy… has served a greater purpose =). Cheers.

    Thank you for your time and your voice.