Wednesday, August 28, 2013

As Syria heats up, media must remember Iraq lessons

An American Secretary of State speaks to the world, accusing a dictator of using weapons of mass destruction, and warning of dire consequences for the dictator’s regime.

If you’re experiencing déjà vu, you’re not alone.

The pronouncements this week by Sec. of State John Kerry are eerily reminiscent of the anti-Saddam assertions of then-Sec. of State Colin Powell. In 2003, Powell made a dramatic (and ultimately, incorrect) speech at the UN detailing Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

This week, Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden are launching similar accusations against Syria, this time charging that dictator Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Imbedded in those accusations is no small dose of threats and saber-rattling.

While the diplomats, generals, and weapons experts debate the veracity of the chemical weapons charges and desirability of military intervention in Syria, the media would be well advised to remember their own missteps leading up the Iraq war 10 years ago.

By their own admission, many in the media shirked their watchdog role in the run up to the Iraq war. They were largely content with parroting Bush administration propaganda (lies, some might say). In a mea culpa published in 2004, the New York Times wrote, “…We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge. “

Yes, there were some stories that did question the administration’s propaganda. However, according to Paul Waldman on, “Whenever there's a story that the media as a whole get wrong, there's always a reporter somewhere who got it right. The problem was that those voices were so much quieter, pushed so far to the edge of the national debate.” ( 3/19/13).

So, here we are again 10 years later, an administration vilifying a dictator and accusing him of horrible crimes against his own people. If the media have learned anything from the pre-Iraq debacle, it is that we must never be only the mouthpiece of an administration bent on intervention. We journalists need to be asking questions, and lots of them, seeking independent verification of the claims against Syria. We must be skeptical.

As a peace journalist, one devoted to explicitly stating the consequences of war and to giving peacemakers a voice, we have an even higher responsibility in times like these. We need to lead a discussion debunking the myth of a “clean, surgical strike”, and examine at length the number of civilian injuries and deaths that could occur. Peace journalists must seek out and give a voice to peacemakers and to those who seek a non-violent response in Syria.

This does not mean that peace journalists will openly advocate for peace. Instead, it’s our responsibility to make sure that peaceful alternatives, along with a complete understanding of all of the ramifications of intervention, are aired. Once we’d done our job, it’s up to the public to let their leaders know if they believe military intervention in Syria is indeed the best option.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

PJ in Egypt?
Is peace journalism being practiced during the current Egyptian conflict?

My Peace Journalism students will be doing a content analysis tackling that very issue this fall.
Just from my informal observations, however, the coverage from western media seems to be typically mediocre: superficial, lacking context, concentrating on and sensationalizing the violence and violent acts without any perspective.

On a Facebook post, and Egyptian friend concurs with my admittedly snap analysis. He writes, “I am disappointed, again, at many international media outlets as they are reporting false facts. The simple fact is that the Brotherhood is trying to burn the country and turn it into a civil war, which, the people of Egypt will not allow.”

We’ll continue to examine peace journalism and its antithesis in Egypt during the coming months...

Insights from one Egyptian
I thought I would also share some additional insights from my Egyptian friend, a bright, dedicated young man whose opinion I value. Again, these are excerpted from Facebook posts:

“Nasr City, that I have spent all my life in, is now being turned into a flame neighbourhood, and this is what the Brotherhood is trying to do. Burning cars, buildings, shops.. What a peaceful protests the Muslim Brotherhood are talking about. Attacks on civilians as well as army and police. And then, you listen to the Turkish and Iranian ministries saying that they are against what the Police and Army are doing in Egypt, that's funny. The Egyptian Foreign ministry should reply to those two statements.”

“This is the beginning of the end of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and worldwide. I will keep reporting and sharing the ... attacks and acts the 'very peaceful' protests (definitely I am sarcastic) are doing throughout the country. The Presidency announced the Emergency State for a month…I hope that the international community understands what the Brotherhood (is) trying to turn our country into, and stop supporting them. (They) are attacking Churches, Police Stations, attacking people on the streets, firing up gas-stations, banks...etc. so that the people fear them. This proves that they are saying either they are in the Presidency or burn-down the country. 32 million people came out on June 30, 2013 to take Morsi and the Brotherhood out of the Presidency, we have done so, but now we are facing much more than this...”

As a peace journalist, I am uncomfortable using the terms terrorism/terrorist, since those terms are imprecise and inflammatory. Thus, I have stricken those words from the above dispatch, which is still powerful without them.

Now, of course, I am interested in hearing the perspective of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters about these comments.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Call for Papers: The Peace Journalist
The Peace Journalist is a semi-annual publication of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri USA.

The Peace Journalist is dedicated to disseminating news and information for and about teachers, students, and practitioners of peace and conflict sensitive journalism.

Submissions are welcome from all. For the October, 2013 edition of The Peace Journalist, we are seeking short submissions (300-550 words) detailing peace journalism projects, classes, proposals, academic works in the field, etc.

The Peace Journalist will not run general articles about peace, but rather invites only those with a strong peace media/peace journalism/conflict sensitive journalism angle.

Please submit your article, a 2-3 sentence biography of the author, as well as a small head and shoulders photo of the author. Please also submit photos and graphics that could accompany your article.

The submission deadline is Sept.  7. However, given the limited space available in this issue, it’s recommended that you submit your article early. Submit articles and photos to-- .

The April, 2013 issue of the Peace Journalist can be seen at:

Thank you in advance for your interest in the Peace Journalist.

Steven Youngblood, Editor, The Peace Journalist
Director, Center for Global Peace Journalism
Park University
Parkville, MO USA