Monday, March 17, 2014

Peace journalism seeds take root in Cyprus
I have taught in corn fields, in freezing cold classrooms, under trees, in sweltering meeting rooms fighting off aggressive mosquitos, and in sterile auditoriums under the suspicious gaze of official "handlers." However, until last Thursday and Friday, I had never led a seminar held in no-man's land--in a place that is, literally, neither here nor there. 

My most recent peace journalism seminar convened last week at the Cyprus Community Media Center (CCMC). The CCMC is located in a buffer zone between the Turkish-Cypriot region in the north and the Greek-Cypriot region in the south. The zone extends 180 km across Cyprus, and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers. It is as many as 2 km wide in some places, but here in Nicosia, where the CCMC is situated, the buffer zone is a little less than 1 km wide. (For more on the buffer zone, see: ).

The CCMC sits right next to a UN base here in the buffer zone. It's just a few feet from the CCMC's door to a razor wire fence that delineates the base's perimeter. (see photo above)

As I was teaching, I could help but glance to my right and see the razor wire and UN flag limply presiding over the base. This didn't make me nervous, since this hasn’t been a shooting war for decades, but it was nonetheless a constant reminder of the necessity of our peace journalism training here in Cyprus.
The CCMC seminar, with 14 participants, was outstanding, and the attendees were productive and engaged from the event's inception. Our two-day seminar brought together journalists, grad students, and NGO professionals from both the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. We had some lively discussions about the nature of the Cypriot conflict, and about the need for peace journalism here. All agreed that peace journalism would be beneficial as a counter-weight to biased, negative "us vs. them" narratives which are pervasive in media on both sides of the buffer zone.

The seminar's hands-on activity was a reporting exercise. The participants were sent out to report peace-journalism style stories about refugees, migrants, or asylum seekers. The reporters were instructed to produce stories that countered the existing, negative media narratives about migrants. What they came up with were compelling stories about a refugee and his cat; a Pakistani student discussing Cyprus and how it welcomes immigrants; an asylum seeker from Togo; and a Syrian immigrant who is working hard to assist those escaping the mayhem in Syria.

As we wrapped up the event, the participants collectively took a step that confirmed the success of our work at CCMC and earlier in the week at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus. Some participants met for a few minutes after the seminar’s conclusion and formed their own peace journalism press club. They have an interim president, a tentative first meeting date, and a list of invitees from both sides of the buffer zone. 

It’s encouraging to see peace journalism take root so soon after the seeds were planted.

As for the next step, the CCMC, Eastern Mediterranean University, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism are already working on plans for a more comprehensive peace journalism project in Cyprus. Once the plan is complete, we will pitch it to potential funders. We believe the success of this short term project will demonstrate the viability of our larger project.

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