Mekelle questions challenge need for objective PJ approach
(MEKELLE, ETHIOPIA)-Three key questions emerged during yesterday’s intro to peace journalism session at Mekelle University for a crowd of about 60 participants—mostly students with a few faculty members and professional journalists sprinkled in.
1. What’s the role of culture in peace? I responded that peace journalism is one of 100 (or more) things that need to occur to achieve peace, especially Dr. Johan Galtung’s positive peace where societies are harmonious, equitable, and so on. I said that the role and nature of the cultural influence on peace varies from country to country. In Uganda, for example, they’ve found that the traditional ethic groups and their leaders can play a profound role in peace and reconciliation.
2. One questioner asked, What’s wrong with advocacy journalism? He noted that we are all want what’s good for the public, so why not advocate? I said that if we become advocates, we are no longer journalists. One important reason why so many have lost trust in news media in the U.S. and elsewhere is media's partisanship, and the increasingly blurry lines between news and commentary. I believe that peace journalists can be most effective when reporting about, rather than advocating for, peace. As for what’s good for the public, that is certainly subjective. A ruling party, for example, might have a very different opinion about what the public needs than the opposition.
3. One attendee, a university lecturer, stated that peace journalism isn’t needed because good journalism can do all the things PJ claims to do, like maintain and restore peace. This isn’t a question, really, but is certainly thought provoking. My reply was that theoretically, good journalism might be able to assist peace. However, in practice, this hasn’t happened. My book is full of examples of irresponsible traditional journalism that has fueled conflict, reinforced stereotypes, and exacerbated tensions. If good journalism can maintain and restore peace, why hasn’t it?
I added that good journalism (objective, balanced, factual, contextual, etc.) is the foundation of peace journalism. However, PJ builds on this foundation, and provides a focus, an emphasis, where none exists in traditional journalism. This additional focus includes giving a voice to peacemakers and the voiceless; leading discussions about solutions; and providing platforms for difficult discussions about cross-boundary relationships and reconciliation.
Thanks to Mekelle University and the U.S. Embassy-Addis Ababa for sponsoring what I hope was an enlightening seminar.