Thursday, December 26, 2013

Year in Review Part I: PJ in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, The Bronx

--Part 1 of 2 parts. Part 2 will be published in early January--

It’s been another interesting year for advocates and practitioners of peace journalism. As I look back on a year’s worth of blogs and articles, the only real pattern I notice is the wide applicability of peace journalism principles across a variety of disciplines, ranging from crime and electoral coverage to hip-hop culture.

In January, I discussed my own cowardice in not pressing a discussion of homosexuality during my many forays to Uganda to teach peace journalism. I wrote, “When, when my current peace media and counterterrorism project is complete, I will to seek another grant for a project emphasizing peace media and tolerance in Uganda, and perhaps elsewhere in East Africa as well. This project would be centered on using the power of media to empower the voiceless and marginalized (women, children, homosexuals) in Ugandan society.” I have followed through on this promise, and am seeking grant money to do this very thing.

In March, I wrote about the peaceful Kenyan election, and the role of peace journalists there in keeping the election peaceful. My blog said, “Of course, the headline on CNN is “Sporadic violence mars Kenyan election”. This is the opposite of peace journalism, since it highlights the violent and sensational. Given what happened in 2007, the headline should be “Miraculous election turnaround for Kenya” or “Kenyans succeed in conquering violence.”

I wrote “Media fuels misperceptions about Lebanon” during my visit there in May. I penned, “When I told my friends, family, and colleagues that I was heading to Beirut, Lebanon, the reaction was shock and horror. How could I go to such an unstable, dangerous place? I must admit to some pre-departure trepidation myself, given the reputation of Lebanon and Beirut in particular. Now, after having spent about two weeks here, I am ashamed at my hesitation in coming here. Indeed it is ironic that I am here teaching peace media, including examining stale media stereotypes, while I myself had been fooled by western media’s hysteria about the Middle East.”

During May, I also visited Kyrgyzstan in central Asia. I asked, “How are religious labels used by leaders (and media) to divide populations and inflame passions? What role do stereotypes have in laying a foundation for hate speech? These were two key questions discussed during the last day of “Generation Peace: New Media Technology for Central Asia,” a conference I’m teaching at this week at Issyk Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan.”

In June, during a visit to the Bronx, NY, I wrote “Peace journalists ponder hip-hop culture.” I commented, “Hip-hop, the students agreed, is often misogynistic and promotes violence. Many hip-hop artists, the students said, aren’t really living the street lifestyle, but are instead presenting themselves as gangsters for public relations purposes—to connect with their audience and thus sell CD’s. So, why should peace journalists care about any of this? The students and I agreed that anything that promotes stereotypes and distortions about any one group can undermine understanding and peace. Thus, it is the journalist’s role to expose anything—music, movies, TV programs—that creates a false negative stereotype. If our commitment as journalists is to the facts, and to facts presented in context, then let’s consider reporting about African American males (for example) that goes beyond the words and images in hip-hop music and videos.”

In July, I was pondering the birth of the new British royal baby when I wrote, “I'm thinking about Ugandan, Syrian, Congolese, and yes, American babies who aren't fortunate enough to be born into royal privilege. I'm especially worried about Congolese refugee children barely scraping by in western Uganda, and Syrian refugee children living in squalid camps in Lebanon and elsewhere. As peace journalists, our role is to tell their story, and keep telling their story, so that these babies might get what they need to survive. I only wish the story of the world's most vulnerable refugees could somehow command just 1/50th of the coverage of the royal baby.”

In the second half of our year-in-review (to be published in early January), we’ll discuss how journalists should cover terrorist attacks, and respond to critics speaking out against peace journalism.

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