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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Stephen, I'm a MA in Peacebuilding student at the Canadian School of Peacebuilding. I just found your blog while doing some research. Awesome stories. Teaching Peace Journalism is so important in my generation (I'm 33) and the need to understanding it's lense is only growing globally. I'm excited to follow along and hear the impact of your teaching in the US, Canada and the developing world. Hopefully PJ grows to have a great impact in post conflict nations like Ethiopia too. I'm a missionary/pastor/Christian Peacebuilder in the Philippines. Great to find you. Hopefully our paths will cross some day.