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.

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