Monday, July 24, 2017

Discussion, radio show focus on PJ in Cameroon
LIMBE, CAMEROON-One of my favorite parts of our peace journalism project here are the “in house trainings” that we’ve been conducting over the last several days. Today, we visited Eden Radio and Newspaper and the Cameroon Association of Media Professionals and Advocate Newspaper in Limbe, on the Atlantic coast.

At Eden radio/newspaper, journalists talked about the need for short courses in peace journalism, as well as to question whether PJ is objective. My response is that PJ is objective since it doesn’t advocate for peace or for any given solution, but instead is about exploring and leading a discussion about various positions and options.

We also discussed how to put PJ into action in Cameroon. I told the journalists that since I’ve only been here a short time, that they were the ones to decide which of the principles of PJ are implementable here.

The discussion was followed by a 30-minute radio program on Radio Eden about PJ. Alexander Vojvoda of the Cameroon Media Network sat in on the interview, which featured a robust discussion about the nature of peace journalism, as well as its applicability in covering the 2018 elections and the refugee crisis in Northern Cameroon (Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram).


I look forward to more in house visits to radio stations in the coming days.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Journalists: Threat of election violence is real
BAMENDA, CAMEROON--Journalists at our one day peace journalism workshop today in Bamenda, in English speaking Cameroon, left me with one overriding concern: violence in the 2018 Cameroonian elections.
PJ seminar, Bamenda, Cameroon

When I asked about the possibility of election violence at my seminar a few days ago in French speaking Yaounde, the capital, the journalists were split three ways. One third predicted there would be no violence, one third said that there might be, and one third said there would be. Here, the journalists unanimously predicted that there would be violence during at least one of next year’s elections. (Separate elections on different dates are held for different offices). This is predictable given the ongoing crisis in Anglophone Cameroon which includes deadly protests, strikes by teachers and lawyers, and the incarceration of eight journalists. Emotions are running high here, understandably, so while their prediction was no surprise, it was unnerving nonetheless.


Bonus photo: One cool sight on the way to Bamenda!
It’s my hope that journalists can apply some of the lessons of peace journalism proactively to ease the tension and circumvent violence in the country’s Anglophone regions. If not, 2018 could be a long, and sad, year for Cameroon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Language issues explored in Yaounde, Cameroon
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON--It's interesting, and instructive, to fall prey to the very media practices that I'm here to combat.

Examining a story: Is it PJ?
To set the stage, Cameroon is officially a bilingual French and English country, though, in practice, this is a matter of contention. There has been an ongoing dispute (or as they call it here, “crisis”) involving the Anglophone (English speaking) community. Seven were killed and dozens injured in Anglophone protests that led to violence in northwestern Cameroon late last year. The protesters were rallying against what VOA News called "the overbearing influence of French in the bilingual country." According to those attending my peace journalism seminar this week, the English speakers feel marginalized by a government that doesn't recognize their rights or serve their needs.


As I read about this, before I came, the international media framed this story in a way that pitted Cameroonian Anglophones vs. Francophones--a framing that made me mistakenly believe that these two groups were at odds, even violently battling. However, according to both the French and English speakers in my workshop, this framing is incorrect. Instead, they insist that the proper framing, and the real conflict, is between Anglophones and the government. In fact, many Francophones understand the conflict, and even sympathize with the protesters.
At the Ebert Foundation, host of the PJ seminar

With a more correct framing now in focus, the 20 journalists and I talked about how they might cover the crisis using peace journalism principles, beginning with the correct framing, and including reporting contextually, reporting counternarratives, and reporting in an unbiased fashion.

We also discussed how their reporting might assist in reconciliation in Cameroon. Toward that end, the reporters ventured out to do some reconciliation themed reporting. 

The journalist/participants divided themselves into seven groups, and produced seven excellent stories. Perhaps the most interesting was a TV story titled, “Bilingualism as a tool for reconciliation.” The story featured interviews with many everyday citizens, as well as footage of the signage at the reunification monument celebrating rapprochement between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon. Ironically, all the signs at the monument site were only in French.

Another fine story was one about food as a form of unity…about how restaurant patrons who love the food from the “other” language community had to learn to communicate with one another across languages and cultures.

The best discussion was about a story highlighting how Christians and Muslims are living together “sans probleme” in Yaounde. One participant challenged the story’s use of the phrase “learning to live together,” which may imply that they haven’t gotten along well in the past. She suggested instead framing the story as a fight, joining Christians and Muslims together, against the Boko Haram terrorist group.


Our work continues in western and southwestern regions in Cameroon later this week. Since these are Anglophone regions, it will be interesting to see how these sensitive issues of language and culture are perceived differently  there.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Goodbye Ethiopia; Hello Cameroon
I just finished a fantastic week in Jimma and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I met with journalists, academics, and students about peace journalism, and was greeted with enthusiastic interest. (See the previous two posts, below). Along with my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy, who sponsored the trip, we’re already thinking about ways to sustain the momentum we created this week. I hope to return soon to continue this work.


Now, I’m headed West across Africa to Cameroon. I’ll be teaming with the Cameroon Community Media Network over the next two weeks. I’ll be traveling to small radio stations, presenting lectures, and giving two workshops for journalists about peace journalism. Stay tuned to this blog for details.

Please give, share to Restore Gloria's Vision
Time is running short for my peace journalism colleague Gloria Laker, who is losing her eyesight to cataracts. But you can help. Please give, but even if you can't, please share on social media. See https://www.youcaring.com/glorialakeraciro-831841?utm_source=frlive&utm_content=cf_cp_01 for details.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ethiopians generate challenging questions about PJ
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA—The last two days here, I’ve given four presentations to the public, to journalists, and to a mix of academics and students at Addis Ababa University. The common denominator has been the excellent, challenging questions being directed my way.

Wednesday, at the American Corner, was streamed live
While today’s questions were delivered the old fashioned way, many inquiries yesterday were generated online, through the U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa’s Facebook page. (The embassy and State Dept. are sponsoring my visit here). In fact, the embassy streamed the event live on their Facebook page, and got over 19,000 views. Those two videos of my presentation are still posted on their page. Just go to Facebook, type in U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa, and you should be able to find them.

The most frequent inquiries from my Ethiopian friends—all good questions—are:

Isn’t peace journalism just good journalism?
Peace journalism’s foundation is certainly good traditional journalism, featuring balance, objectivity, verified facts, fairness, and so on. I believe peace journalism builds on and transcends this foundation, however, with its emphasis on giving peacemakers and the voiceless a voice, and leading discussions about solutions. But I told my audiences, if you want to call peace journalism good journalism, that’s fine with me.

Does peace journalism ignore stories that are violent, could fuel conflict, or upset people?
No. News is news, and peace journalists must report it, even if it makes people uncomfortable or causes turmoil. The example I used during my lectures was a terrorist attack. We must report it, but as peace journalists, why can’t we report it in such a way that it’s less sensational, less bloody, and creates a little less panic among the populace?
Thursday, at Addis Ababa University. I have no idea what's
going on here.
What if the government kills peaceful protesters like the case in Ethiopia? How can journalism be peaceful? (From Facebook)
This is similar to the response for the previous question. This is news, and must be reported, so the question becomes, how do we report it? Do we report it in such a way that it fuels the fire, or do we report in a more matter-of-fact way that doesn’t make angry people even angrier. Compare these two sentences: 1.  Bloodthirsty government thugs brutally slaughtered two protesters today in the city square. 2. Two protesters were killed today by government troops in the city square. The second sentence doesn’t ignore what happened; it just doesn’t make it worse.

A peace journalism story on this incident would also dig into the causes of the incident, as well as report on possible non-violent responses to what happened.

Does peace journalism conflict with developmental  journalism?
Developmental journalism is seen by some here as journalism that exists to support the government’s development policies and agenda. In my view, no journalism that is really journalism exists to support any government or governmental policy. Rather, we exist to provide accurate, useful information to the population. Thus, if a government sponsors a roads project, then it’s a peace journalist’s job to analyze that project, and report what’s going well, and also what’s going not-so-well, and what impact the project’s success (or failure) has on average citizens.

Thanks to all the program participants in Jimma and Addis Ababa for your keen interest and for your tough questions. I look forward to continuing the discussion online, and, I hope, in person sometime in the near future.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Academics, students discuss PJ at Jimma Univ.
Is PJ possible in Ethiopia?
JIMMA, ETHIOPIA—In an environment where government media dominates, and where press are not free, how can reporters practice the principles of peace journalism?

This question was front and center today as I visited with two groups here in Jimma.

The first group, academics and students from Jimma University, engaged in a lively discussion about media reporting on terrorism here in Ethiopia. The good news—according to the participants, Ethiopian media are much less likely to lean on the “Muslims as terrorists” stereotype as western media. However, the participants said that terrorism coverage here is framed as more of a political battle rather than as a clash of civilizations. Several participants believed that Ethiopian media sometimes exaggerate the threat from terrorists, though copying news from international outlets might partially explain this, they said.

An elderly professor leads a discussion about PJ
In the second session, attended by journalists from the region, we discussed the coverage of civil unrest last year in Ethiopia. They said the coverage was biased and unbalanced, and presented only one point of view. They also observed that the government media downplayed the rioting, and avoided analytical coverage of the underlying causes of the unrest.

In both sessions, I commented that peace journalism may offer a means to improve reporting about terrorism, civil unrest, refugees, and reconciliation. 

For all the day’s participants, this was their first exposure to the concept of peace journalism. I believe they were intrigued, though skeptical about how or if it might be implemented in Ethiopia. I commented that the media environment here does make implementing PJ difficult, but that I’ve seen it practiced elsewhere (like South Sudan) under challenging conditions. The best advice I could give was to select those elements of peace journalism that might help them improve professionally, and to incrementally attempt to implement those. I concluded with the cliché about every journey beginning with a single step.

Tomorrow, I’ll resume my lectures and meetings in Addis Ababa. The Jimma and Addis workshops are both sponsored by the U.S. State Dept and the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ethiopia, Cameroon prepare for
Peace Journalism workshops

I'll be in Ethiopia next week and Cameroon the following two weeks working on peace journalism projects. In Ethiopia, I'll be the guest of the U.S. Embassy, and be talking with diverse student, community, and professional groups about PJ. Then in Cameroon, I'll be holding two workshops for journalists, and visiting small community radio stations throughout the country (including the one pictured) talking about the benefits of PJ.

I'll be posting regularly, so stay tuned.

Update: Restore Gloria's Vision
As of Thursday afternoon, we're almost at the 1/4 mark-- $1849 raised out of $8000 needed. Please help, and just as important, please share the YouCaring link on social media:

https://www.youcaring.com/glorialakeraciro-831841