Friday, February 27, 2015

Operation or war? Terrorist or freedom fighter?
(Dead Sea, Jordan)--Was the war in Gaza last summer an “operation?” Are those who attack the innocent freedom fighters, terrorists, extremists, or Islamic fundamentalists?

These questions about the use of language by media were on center stage today at a Conflict Reporting session that I moderated here at Gather +962, a meeting of peacebuilders sponsored by Seeds of Peace.

I told the attendees that peace journalists are always cognizant of the impact of the language they use. For example, I pointed out that media in Lebanon typically will not use the word Israel, substituting instead the term “the enemy,” a practice which is corrosive and counterproductive.

We also discussed a word introduced by one of my co-presenters. He used the term “operation” to label last summer’s Gaza war. I pointed out the connotations of the term operation—precision, surgery, sanitary, necessary. Does the word operation accurately describe the Gaza war, or, instead, is it a euphemism or even propaganda designed to sanitize what happened? These vital questions about the meaning of the words we use are central to any discussion about peace journalism.

Yossi Zilberman
My presentation concluded with a quick overview of the Center for Global Peace Journalism’s current project in Turkey, “Reporting Syrian Refugees: Building Communities of Understanding.” This project, I said, demonstrates the power of media as a tool for building bridges between communities.

The second Reporting Conflict panelist was Yossi Zilberman, until recently a presenter for Channel 2 News in Israel. Zilberman talked about objectivity and fairness in reporting, and how difficult both are for Israeli journalists. For example, he told a story about covering a provocative flag waving march by right wingers in an Arab city in Israel, and a subsequent clash between police and local Arabs. How does one assign responsibility in such a multi-layered incident without appearing biased?

The final panelist, Pakistani professor Muhammad Ali, presented his study of 9/11 coverage in Pakistani and British newspapers. The findings: The coverage was one sided in both countries, and biased (anti-war in Pakistan; pro-war in the UK). This study, Ali concluded, pointed out the need for peace journalism in both countries.

At the end of the session, one questioner correctly pointed out the obstacles to implementing peace journalism in the region and indeed the world.  I agreed with his assessment, while noting that, based on the use (or mis-use) of language alone, there seems to be little debate about the need for the peace journalism approach, regardless of how difficult it will be to put into place.

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