Monday, December 29, 2014

A year in review:
2014 tests peace journalism principles
Unfortunately, 2014 proved to be a year of challenges for journalists and a year that tested the principles of peace journalism.

The “Peace Journalism Insights” blog began the year by introducing a Kenyan journalist named Robert. A former student at one of my seminars, Robert became increasingly concerned about his safety. 

About Robert’s situation, I wrote, “Shadowy figures duck into businesses or scoot around corners when you approach. Later, you hear strange clicks on your phone. Are you paranoid, or is someone really following you and tapping your phone? Soon thereafter, all doubt is erased when these figures actually emerge from the shadows, and confront you in a direct, intimidating way. They know where you live, they sneer, or worse—they inform you that they know where your child attends school.
“While this may sound like a cold-war spy novel, it is, alarmingly, a slice of life for some journalists in Kenya, particularly those covering anything that might make the government uncomfortable. This ranges from routine corruption stories to reports about the proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Kenyan officials and journalists.

“One journalist committed to making officials uncomfortable is Robert Wanjala, a freelance reporter based in Eldoret in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Eldoret and the region around it was ground zero for the post-election violence that scarred Kenya in 2007-08, and have been center stage ever since for acts of intimidation against journalists. Wanjala writes about an increased level of threats and intimidation against the ICC witnesses and any other groups/individuals perceived by this government as its critics --including the press reporting on the issue. He said, “While I have not been directly involved in physical attacks, I have faced numerous indirect threats and intimidations from people well known – government operatives.”

Robert and I have corresponded during the last year. The good news is that he and his family are safe. The not-so-good news is that he is still unable to return to his hometown, and is instead working elsewhere in Kenya under a pseudonym.

In February, I wrote about the media war over Ukraine (before the Crimean annexation).  The rhetoric coming from East and West was one-dimensional and inflammatory.

“On the official website of Pravda, a semi-official Russian newspaper/website, articles about Ukraine do toe a discernible line, one that often places blame squarely on the protesters. The story “Civilians killed, death toll grows” uses the inflammatory language “extremists” and “radicals” to describe the protesters. While it does contain one sentence about “alleged” police shootings, the bulk of the story is from Ukrainian officials decrying the violence. Pravda’s coverage includes a story titled “Kiev sniper shoots 20 law enforcers.” This would seem consistent with Pravda’s effort to paint all the protesters with the same brush—murdering radicals and extremists.”

I also noted propaganda emanating from U.S. and British media. “A BBC news analysis, “Why is Ukraine in turmoil,” asks, ‘Those on the streets say they are struggling over the future development of the country—will it be a country based on the rule of law, or Russian-style oligarchy and closed interests?” In BBC news reporting, those taking to the streets are called anti-government protesters, and never extremists or thugs…CNN’s coverage has a similar tone…In an analysis piece “20 Questions,” CNN blames the unrest on “Russia’s opposition to (closer EU ties). Russia threatened its much smaller neighbor with trade sanctions and steep gas bills.”

This cold war rhetoric does a disservice to both western and Russian audiences, leaving them with a one dimensional view of the conflict (and of each other) that lacks depth and nuance. Peace journalists shun the rhetoric in these antiquated narratives and stereotypes, eschewing “popular wisdom” while seeking balance and perspective.”

In analyzing coverage of the Amanda Knox case, I noted the differences in American media coverage vs. British media coverage. 

“There is ample evidence to reach a conclusion that a majority of the U.S. media have taken Knox’s side. “To some Americans, especially those in her hometown of Seattle, Amanda Knox seems a victim, unfairly hounded by a capricious legal system in Italy that convicted her this week in the death of a 21-year-old British woman.” (AP, Feb. 1, 2014) Other headlines scream “The Italian Justice System is Insane—Amanda Know is Completely Innocent.” (Slate, Feb. 2, 2014)…Jump across the pond, where “The tone of some British newspaper coverage reflected skepticism about Knox's protestations of innocence. 'Shameless in Seattle' was the front-page headline on Saturday's Daily Mail, which referred to Knox's "brazen TV charm offensive to escape extradition…The Rome daily La Repubblica wrote Friday that the third verdict confirms that the case "from the very beginning has been judged more on the basis of sensation than actual evidence." (AP, Feb. 1, 2014).”

In March, this column featured information about a peace journalism project we held at Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus. 

“The questions started even before I had finished introducing myself: How did I get involved in peace journalism? How is peace journalism different than traditional journalism? Is peace journalism biased? Objective? 

This was my kind of crowd.

The attendees of my informal presentation today were communications professors and two PhD students at Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta in northern Cyprus.
The back and forth banter between the professors and I lasted about 40 minutes—before I had even gotten to the first item on my lecture outline. As professors, of course, their questions were both pointed and informed. Our discussions about American media coverage of Egypt (and the Muslim Brotherhood), Ukraine, and the Middle East were especially interesting. They also asked me about Fox News. To the professors’ delight, I shared data from a recent study that showed that Fox News viewers are the most ill-informed American media consumers, scoring lower on a news quiz even than those who self-identified as consuming no news at all.”

In April, I wrote about media-fueled violence in South Sudan, and the importance of peace journalism. 

“Sadly, the need for peace journalism has once again been starkly demonstrated in East Africa as radio-fueled violence descended upon South Sudan last week.

The United Nations reports that “hundreds of civilians” were killed last week in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state.  The killings were “a tragic reflection of longstanding ethnic hostilities in the world’s newest country.” (

Toby Lanzer, the top United Nations aid official in South Sudan, told media that the violence was incited at least in part by calls on local radio stations for revenge attacks.  “’It’s the first time we’re aware of that a local radio station was broadcasting hate messages encouraging people to engage in atrocities,” said Lanzer, who was in Bentiu on Sunday and Monday. ( Those hate messages “urged men to rape women of specific ethnicities and demanded that rival groups be expelled from the town.” Lanzer said the “use of hate speech via a public radio station to incite violence is a game-changer." (”

A few months later, in “Iraq coverage lacks balance, context, peace voices,” I discussed the importance of practicing peace journalism during the run-up to overseas interventions and wars.
“In a media environment where peace journalism is being practiced, the current run-up period to possible renewed U.S. military intervention in Iraq (against ISIS) would be covered by the media in a balanced way that proportionately reflects voices from both sides of the intervention debate.

Using the peace journalism model, articles about further U.S. military strikes in Iraq might look a bit like this:
‘Secretary of State John Kerry floated the possibility of U.S. drone strikes in Iraq today, while opponents of U.S. intervention warned that such strikes would be destabilizing and ineffective.'
'Administration official continue to make a case for U.S. military intervention in Iraq, citing a growing humanitarian crisis in the wake of a militant insurgency. Intervention opponents acknowledge the humanitarian crisis, but question the ability of air strikes to slow the insurgency.'

Unfortunately, a quick examination of media coverage of the crisis indicates that a disproportionately small voice seems to be given to those who question or outright oppose military intervention…

As peace journalists, we are not wading into the debate about the advisability of further U.S. military action in Iraq. However, we do believe that it’s the media’s responsibility to fully inform the public about all the options, including peaceful ones, if they are to reach intelligent conclusions about the situation in Iraq. When media do the opposite, and merely parrot administration pro-war propaganda without analysis or giving voice to war opponents, the results have been disastrous.”

Next week in Part II of our look back at 2014, we’ll examine peace journalism vis-à-vis coverage of Ferguson and take a look at a peace journalism project in Kenya.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Coming Attractions
Coming soon in this very space:
1. My annual year-end extravaganza: The Year in Peace Journalism. Sadly, there was an abundance of fodder for my columns. This will be posted in two parts at/near the end of the year.
2. Turkey project: The Center for Global Peace Journalism's project, "Reporting Syrian Refugees: Building Communities of Understanding", will begin in late January. We will be holding seminars for Turkish journalists, then traveling to refugee camps to practice responsible reporting about refugees. Stay tuned to this space for more details.

Food for thought
1. UNICEF video: 2014: A Devastating Year for Children
2. Reuters article: 60 journalists killed in 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Xenophobia in Nebraska

I wrote the following comment today on an article that appeared at about Park University's women's NAIA volleyball championship. The article makes what I would consider to be snide, inappropriate comments about the international student-athletes on our volleyball team. Here is my reply to this article:

As director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, I am disappointed with both the language and tone of your volleyball article. First, use of the term “foreign” to describe international students went out with the eight-track tape, and is now considered xenophobic. Second, the notation that your local college recruits only “high-character, homegrown individuals” implies that those who aren’t homegrown (and, being Nebraska, presumably corn-fed) are somehow lacking in character. Of course, the display case full of conference and academic all-America honors won by Park University athletes from the U.S. and abroad debunks this myth. The overall tone of the piece implies that there is something unsavory about fielding a team that includes international students. 

I would like to invite those who were “disappointed” to see Park’s international athletes down I-29 to see how these student-athletes, and the rest of our international students, have helped to make Park University a winner both on and off the court.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What does a Peace Journalism front page look like?

My peace journalism class at Park University and I spent a great deal of time last week critiquing newspaper front pages from last Tuesday, the day after the unrest in Ferguson. (See previous post below). As part of this discussion, I had my students design newspaper front pages that reflected the events without being inflammatory. Since I wouldn't ask my students to do something I wouldn't do myself, I designed my own front page. (pictured). 

I was careful in selecting the images I used. Nothing is sugar-coated, but nothing is sensationalized, either. I wanted the headline to reflect the emotion of the events. But unlike many mainstream media outlets, I chose not to depict anger as the only emotion present in Ferguson last Monday night. I also chose to give peacemakers a voice ("Leaders appeal for calm" is part of the sub-head).

Ferguson discussion at Park University

Park University (Parkville, MO USA) is holding a program this Wednesday at 3:00pm, in the McCoy Meetin House titled “Ferguson: A student and faculty discussion.” The event features brief presentations by Park faculty Walter Kisthardt (Ferguson context: The roots of unrest), John Hamilton (Ferguson context: The what, why, and how of police actions), and myself (Ferguson and Media). A student-driven discussion and Q&A session will follow. Everyone is invited.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson TV, Newspaper coverage produces mixed bag
Last night’s television coverage of the crisis in Ferguson was a mixed bag, occasionally offering sober commentary and context, but all too often devolving into “play by play” coverage of the unrest.

CNN and Fox had similar “play by play” coverage of what was happening on the streets. While both covered the looting, Fox showed this aspect first, and lingered longer on live shots (with commentary) of people breaking into a market and liquor store. CNN’s correspondents were plunked down in the middle of the action (so that they could be tear gassed?), while one Fox cameraman who was filming the looting had his camera destroyed. The strategy of such coverage is obviously to add to the drama of the event, to make the journalists participants in the chaos, and, ultimately, to keep viewers tuned in. How much these shenanigans really contributed to the viewers’ understanding of the situation, or to a more nuanced discussion of the issues at hand, is subject to debate.

The worst interview of the night belonged to Fox’s Sean Hannity, who called Ferguson committeewoman Patricia Bynes irresponsible for failing to more strongly denounce the violence. Bynes shot back at Hannity “is that all you’ve got” after one particularly insensitive question. To be fair, Bynes and Hannity were equally rude to one another. Far from encouraging a peaceful setting, the interview instead poured gasoline directly on the fire.

The best cable TV news moments belonged to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. In the midst of the story, Cooper calmly reminded viewers repeatedly that the unrest was confined to a small area of Ferguson. In fact, Cooper repeatedly asked his reporters their location, and their location vis-à-vis CNN’s other correspondents. His point was that Ferguson (and St. Louis) was not burning, that indeed, the unrest was not widespread, and involved hundreds, but not thousands, of protesters. This is the sort of context that is usually lacking in TV news, but is important for a more thorough understanding of the story. 
As for newspaper coverage this morning, a surprising number of front pages are serving up less inflammatory images and rhetoric. (You can peruse hundreds of front pages yourself at the Newseum’s website ).

It was encouraging to see front pages from Oakland, Tampa Bay, LA, Kansas City (pictured), Cleveland, and elsewhere shun the low hanging fruit—pictures of the burning cop car, or of shattered glass, or of armored vehicles. Instead, these newspapers took a more thoughtful approach, one that captured the sadness and disappointment of many without highlighting the anger. The best such front page belonged to the Boston Herald (pictured).

Not surprisingly, the worst front page belonged to the New York Daily News (pictured), which  demonized the protesters while simultaneously sensationalizing the unrest. Hey Daily News: Did Ferguson—all of Ferguson, as you imply-- really burn, as your sub-headline said? Naturally, the truth is different. Of course, exaggeration and sensationalism are what the Daily News, and unfortunately too many other media outlets, do best. 

It was disappointing to see the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s front page today, half of which was filled with an image of a burning cop car. 

Readers and viewers in St. Louis, New York, and everywhere else deserve thoughtful coverage that doesn’t exacerbate an already volatile situation and that gives peacemakers a more prominent voice.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ferguson and media: A second chance to get it right

It’s not often that we have a second chance to “get it right.” However, the press may have that very opportunity in the wake of the upcoming Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decision.

Last August, as the shooting and subsequent unrest unfolded, the media, like a plague of locusts, descended upon Ferguson, leaving in their wake a barren field of distortions and inflammatory narratives that exacerbated an already bad situation.

In the October edition of The Peace Journalist magazine, I argued that the coverage in Ferguson was “ironically reminiscent of traditional war coverage that centers on the ‘action,’ who bombed whom, while ignoring or marginalizing the underlying causes of the conflict and on finding peace. (A) Lexis-Nexis search (of Ferguson-related stories) uncovered only two stories under ‘Ferguson, Missouri and peaceful solutions,’ zero hits for ‘Ferguson, Missouri and finding peace,’ and zero hits for ‘Ferguson, Missouri and finding peace’.”  In addition, I noted that “The coverage of (Michael) Brown typifies the media narrative of young black men as criminals and thugs, a narrative borne out by researchers (Opportunity Agenda, etc.), and illustrated by the press’ treatment of the convenience store robbery video.”

Since I wrote those words, the protests have continued in Ferguson. These protests have been peaceful, yet ignored by the media. A Lexis-Nexis news database (conducted 11-20-14) and narrowed to September and October (after the initial violence but before the grand jury hype) showed 718 stories about “Ferguson, Missouri”, and 115 stories about “Ferguson protests”—less than 1/3 of the overall coverage of Ferguson indicated in my August Lexis-Nexis search. More telling, my current search shows no hits—zero—for “Ferguson peaceful protests” or “Ferguson peace.”

If it doesn’t bleed, not only does it not lead, it’s apparently not even covered.

Of course, that situation has changed drastically as we await the grant jury decision. Faced with a second chance to cover Ferguson, the media now have the opportunity to improve on their dismal record from the first go-round.

Unfortunately, the media are not off to a good start. The Ferguson coverage this week on cable news has been nearly breathless in its speculation about the potential for violence. The same old talking heads are attempting to feed the limitless appetite of the 24-hour news beast with their same old speculation.

If violence does break out, the press must move beyond play-by-play coverage and offer more. As media expert Mallary Tenore ( wrote, “Move beyond breaking news coverage by helping people see the bigger picture…When we see front-page photos of tear gas being fired into the air, it’s hard not to envision Ferguson as a war zone. Stories about the tear gas and arrests are important, but it’s worth asking: To what end? At what point do we as journalists shift our focus from “what’s happening in Ferguson?” to “what’s possible in Ferguson?

“The public deserves to hear stories that paint a more accurate picture of Ferguson and that show what it can learn from other communities.” (The Peace Journalist, October, 2014).

Also, the press must be proactive, and facilitate dialogues before violence occurs by offering a platform to those who feel marginalized. Media should bring police and government officials together with community leaders and opinion makers now to foster such dialogues, which not so incidentally would make for compelling stories.

The media would also be well served to embrace many of the principles of peace journalism. These include providing contest as well as offering a more critical analysis of official statements, avoiding “us vs. them” and “black vs. white” characterizations, reporting about the invisible effects of the unrest in Ferguson, using non-inflammatory and non-sensational language, reporting counter-narratives that offer a different perspective on the protesters and the community, and reporting that gives peacemakers a more prominent voice. (The Peace Journalist, October, 2014).

As with the August unrest in Ferguson, the media are in a position to either pour gasoline on the fire or report in a more responsible way that, at minimum, does not exacerbate or inflame an already tense situation.

--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn--

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Photo Essay: Peacebuilding Symposium at JCCC

For more information about the symposium, see previous posting below. Pictured below are Sarah Stout, Park University peace journalism student and presenter at the symposium, and Steven Youngblood, keynote speaker and director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Park students shine at peacebuilding symposium
Should Joseph Kony be forgiven by Ugandans, and should Osama Bin Laden be forgiven by Americans?

These controversial questions were among those I posed during my keynote address Saturday, Nov. 1 at the symposium “Culture of Forgiveness: Peacebuilding Lessons from Uganda.” The event, held at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in the Kansas City area, was co-sponsored by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University.

The forgiveness questions were part of larger discussion about the media’s role in the reconciliation process. My belief, I told the 80 or so attendees, was that media in Uganda and elsewhere have a responsibility to give a voice to peacemakers, to lead discussions about difficult issues (like forgiveness), and to not inflame or exacerbate otherwise volatile situations. For most of the audience members, this was their first exposure to the principles of peace journalism, and judging by their questions, they were intrigued by the concept.

In the afternoon, the symposium featured a number of informative break-out sessions, including several that presented details about the exemplary humanitarian medical missions (via the Medical Missions Foundation) that have been undertaken by nursing students from JCCC and other area universities. 

Three Park University students participated in a breakout session titled, “Students Making Peace.” Bailey Puckett told the gathering about her thousands of hours she has spent working with newly arrived refugees from around the world at Jewish Vocational Services. Doreen Nakagiri, who is from Kampala originally, gave an informative presentation about several youth peacebuilding initiatives in Uganda. Sarah Stout talked about how peace journalism students have contributed to peacebuilding initiatives in Uganda and Cyprus, where Stout worked with local journalists last March.

After the seminar, an attendee told me, “You are really lucky to have students like these at Park.” I told him that I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kenyan journalists consider their role in reconciliation

A group of journalists from the southwestern region of Kenya gathered at Rongo University last week for a three-day peace and reconciliation journalism seminar.

The key focus of the seminar, one I hadn’t really explored in my 100 or so previous peace journalism workshops and seminars around the world, was reconciliation. The radio journalists agreed that there is certainly a need for reconciliation here in Kenya between ethnic groups, regional interests, political parties, etc. We also agreed on the vital role of media in helping to tell stories and foster dialogues that encourage reconciliation.

Toward that end, the journalists split into three groups, and produced peace and reconciliation-themed radio stories. (Click here to listen). One group’s story was about efforts to reduce tensions between tax collectors and businesses, while the other two spotlighted how one local radio station is giving a voice to those advocating reconciliation and the role of the university in bringing together those with different ethnicities. 

Each story demonstrated the journalists’ mastery of the principles of peace journalism.
The journalists in the workshop were active and engaged, and seemed genuinely interested in using the principles of peace and reconciliation journalism to professionalize their work and to help foster the healing process in their communities. I encouraged them to take what they had learned, and spread the word to their colleagues throughout the region.