Is PJ possible on state run radio and TV?
(Hawassa, Ethiopia)—It was a discussion I’d been waiting to have for months.
|PJ seminar, South Radio/TV, Hawassa|
I finally had that dialogue, about peace journalism and state media, yesterday at the South Radio and Television Services, a state run media house in Hawassa, a regional capital in south-central Ethiopia.
At the end of my introduction to peace journalism lecture, I left a few minutes to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of PJ for state media. Here in Ethiopia, state media dominate the media landscape, seeking to balance serving the public interest with serving the interest of the ruling party and sitting government leaders. Critics here are quick to point out that state media do much more serving the party and government than the people.
Against this backdrop, I asked the participants if there may be any benefits for peace journalism in a state media structure. The 17 journalists gathered listed several advantages that state journalists and media houses possess:
Access to many different people and cultures
Access to government leaders and decision- makers
Better resources than private media
Government commitment to peace and diversity (government opponents would debate this)
The discussion got really interesting when we talked about how state media might provide an obstacle for PJ. The journalists listed probably 10 items to start with, all valid. However, they did not discuss what I called the “elephant in the room”—the inability of state media to criticize the government. Many of the journalists agreed with this obstacle, though several said that criticism is sometimes allowed under certain circumstances. These are the disadvantages that they said state media pose for peace journalism:
Inability to criticize the government (my suggestion, supported by some journalists)
Interviewees reluctant/afraid when dealing with state media
Negative attitude of public towards state media
Can’t balance stories with opposition voices
Skill and training of state media journalists
There was one point of contention among the participants. One journalist said that a disadvantage is lack of clear policies at state media outlets. Several journalists nodded in agreement as we discussed this. However, two managers present strongly disagreed. In their minds, the policies are present and clear, and the problem is that the journalists don’t apply the policies as written.
I left the discussion encouraged by the candor of the journalists in discussing the pitfalls of state media vis-à-vis peace journalism. It’s clear at least some of the journalists feel frustrated and stifled, though it also evident from the discussion that they believe that at least some elements of PJ can be implemented at the state media in Hawassa. These PJ elements include giving a voice of the voiceless; responsible refugee and IDP reporting; media as reconciliation tool; and avoiding inflammatory reporting.
I''ll stay in touch with my colleagues at South Radio and TV, and we'll see if and how these principles might be applied.
My day in Hawassa began with a three hour presentation to about 75 journalism students and a handful of professors at Hawassa University. Our discussion there was also lively. The best question of the day: How can we report in depth, as PJ recommends, when the funds to do such expensive reporting are shrinking? It’s a good, and valid point. PJ does ask a lot of media outlets. Funding peace journalism, just like the need to fund all journalism, is becoming increasingly problematic. As many experts have written, traditional journalism needs to creatively discover new revenue streams, or risk marginalization or even extinction.
|PJ seminar, Hawassa Univ.|