Saturday, April 29, 2017

Peace and Journalism
in Colombia

I was honored to present at a peace journalism workshop (right) Friday in Aruaca, Colombia. There was standing room only. Stay tuned for more on the workshop on Monday.

Saturday, I toured Bogota--beautiful, especially from the vantage point atop Mount Monserrate (below). Then, I toured the area around Bolivar Square, and went to two fabulous museums.

Friday, April 21, 2017

PJ may assist reconciliation in Colombia
Where can peace journalism do the most good? Certainly, countries currently torn by war (South Sudan) can benefit, as can nations where journalistic credibility and fake news are a problem (U.S.) and countries where refugees and immigrants are negatively portrayed by the media (Turkey and Germany, among others).

However, I believe that the places where peace journalism can have the most positive impact are those countries where violent conflicts have ended and reconciliation is underway. I have seen first-hand the positive influence of peace journalism on reconciliation processes in Uganda. I believe this positive role may also be possible in my destination later this week, Colombia, where the healing from a 50-year guerilla war is just getting underway.

At the kind invitation of the Colombia Fulbright Association and the Colombian Presidential Human Rights Council, I will be in Arauca, in the north, discussing peace and reconciliation journalism. In my keynote address, I’ll talk about media’s role in reconciliation. Taking a chapter (literally) from my textbook Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, I’ll outline the ways media can make a positive impact in post-conflict settings. In post conflict settings, the media can: 
  • Dissipate rumors and propaganda;   
  • Create spaces for expressing diverse (and sometimes conflicting) viewpoints;
  • Report to ensure transparency and accountability;
  • Educate the public about reconciliation processes;
  • Produce counter-narrative reporting that makes “the other side human”, thus rejecting “us vs. them” stories;
  • Produce counter-narrative reporting that offers positive examples of tolerance, cooperation, and collaboration across boundaries; 
  • Produce counter-narrative reporting that presents stories about commonalities across boundaries; 
  • Report stories that give a voice to the voiceless (victims and those seeking solutions).
Then, in a workshop with academics, Fulbrighters, students, and journalists, we’ll list the obstacles to implementing peace journalism in Colombia, as well as brainstorm ideas for specifically how PJ principles might be applied to reconciliation in Colombia.

I’m looking forward to meeting my Colombian colleagues and learning more about their unique opportunities and challenges. Also, I can’t wait to try some authentic arepas con aguacates (avocados). 

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Media's Iraq Mistakes Repeated

Unfortunately, 14 years after the beginning of the Iraq war, many of the same patterns of war-mongering traditional media coverage can be found in reporting about last Thursday’s missile strike on a Syrian airbase.

In Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, I lay out a strong indictment against “war journalism” practiced in the months before the Iraq war. Specifically, I wrote that media in 2003 was pro-war, and ignored anti-war voices; featured hyped, false stories that justified the administration’s case for intervention; depended almost entirely on official sources, giving the public a narrow, distorted view of the conflict; and waved the flag instead of critically analyzing the case for war.

While each of these elements has been present in the missile strike coverage, let’s concentrate on two—the lack of anti-intervention voices; and waving the flag.

The coverage, as anyone who watched cable TV during the last week can testify, was decidedly pro-missile strike, and largely ignored voices calling for non-violent options.  An examination of broadcast news transcripts from April 8-10, using the search term “Syria Trump missiles,” shows there has been little discussion of peace and non-violent responses to Assad’s gas attack. Of the search’s 989 hits on Lexis-Nexis, only 76 mentioned peace negotiations (7.7%) and 31 peace talks (3%). A total of 31 mentioned “compromise,” “peace agreement,” “peace deal,” “truce,” and “reconciliation” combined (3%).  Only 34 of the 989 broadcast stories mentioned “settlement” (3.4%).

The study shows that not only are peaceful options being ignored, so, too are those advocating peace and non-violence. The military terms “general,” “colonel,” and “lieutenant” were mentioned in 240 of the 989 stories, mostly to identify expert talking heads. So in about one in four reports, experts presented were military or ex-military. Contrast this to the almost complete lack of peace-promoting voices on-air. There were only a combined 17 hits for “peace activist,” “peacebuilder,” “peace negotiator,” and “mediator” (appearing in 1.7% of the total number of stories broadcast). There were 40 hits for “diplomat” (4%). Even if you add up all the peace voices, it totals less than 6% of all stories—about four times less than the military voices.

The military-heavy coverage is consistent with the flag-waving (or as some call it, cheerleading) evident over the airwaves the previous four days. On April 7, The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote, “The cruise missiles struck, and many in the mainstream media fawned.” She cited examples from the New York Times (“On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,”); CNN (“’I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,’ Fareed Zakaria declared”); and MSNBC (Brian Williams “seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word ‘beautiful’ three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons’.”) (

Indeed, the coverage, according to the same Lexis-Nexis study, skewed pro-missile strike. Of the 989 total hits, 33 used the term “justified” (vs. 4 “unjustified”); 43 “correct” (1 “incorrect”); 13 “wise” (1 “unwise”); 21 “intelligent” and “prudent” combined (14 “foolish”). There were 43 hits under “success” and 45 under “failure,” a balance that perhaps reflects on-air discussions about whether the attack was a success or a failure.

Why the cheerleading, flag-waving coverage?  What media critic Paul Waldman said about Iraq coverage in 2013 is still true today. “When there's a war in the offing, the flags are waving and dissenters are being called treasonous, the media's courage tends to slip away. Which is particularly regrettable, since the time when the government is pressing for war should be the time when (media) are more aggressive than ever, exploring every possibility and asking every question, over and over again if need be. (Paul Waldman, “Duped on War, Has Press Learned?,” CNN, 2013, March 19, 2013,

It’s distressing that the press seems to have learned so little since the run up to the Iraq war.  The news media must practice peace journalism by broadening, deepening, and balancing its coverage. Reporting shouldn’t skew either pro-missile strike or pro-peace, but must present the public a comprehensive view of all alternatives. Instead, the public is getting the same one-sided flag waving that preceded the disastrous intervention in Iraq.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Protest coverage largely ignores underlying causes
Excerpted from The Peace Journalist magazine, April 2017.

The first tenet of peace journalism implores reporters to examine the causes of conflict, and to lead discussions about solutions. How much of the anti-Trump protest reporting has addressed the reasons behind the protests?

A Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper articles using the search “anti-Trump protests” from Jan. 20 to March 1 showed that only a minority of stories—24.6%-- discussed the root causes of the protests. Of the 548 articles that came up in a search, 91 discussed racism, 21 sexism, 2 Islamophobia, and 21 xenophobia. In total, there were 135 total mentions of these grievances.

Almost identical results were found regarding broadcast news transcripts. During the same time period, for the 227 hits generated by the search, 34 stories mentioned racism, 0 sexism, 1 Islamophobia, and 24 xenophobia. There were 59 total mentions of these root causes that appeared in 25.9% of the total number of broadcast stories.

It is important to note is that in both newspapers and broadcast transcripts, for the purposes of the mini-study, I counted each mention of each word (xenophobia, sexism, etc.) as a separate “hit”, thus it’s possible, even likely, that several of these terms no doubt appeared in the same story.

Thus, no more than one in four news pieces about the protests has gone into detail about the stated grievances behind the protests. Instead, these stories have provided nothing but superficial and sensational “blow by blow” coverage. What did get covered? Most stories provided details about how many attended, whether there were any arrests, etc., along with simple, succinct, superficial quotes
from participants.

Peace journalists, in contrast, would provide depth and context, rather than just superficial and sensational coverage of events like protests, which after all are merely the visible surface manifestations of a roiling sea of underlying discontent.