Monday, July 16, 2018

On Language: What exactly is a massacre?
My recent presentation introducing peace journalism to the journalists at Canal Duex, a TV station in Douala, was punctuated by some thoughtful, pointed questioning about language. Latching onto an example that I used, a journalist and I had an interesting exchange about the word “massacre.”
Considering PJ and language at Canal Deux, Douala, Cameroon

I told the journalists that I thought “massacre” was a term to be avoided, since it is subjective and imprecise. It’s the kind of term, I think, that can fuel anger and exacerbates an already bad situation. The journalist challenged this thinking, saying that if authorities drag children out of their huts and shoot them (which is a real-life scenario here), that this is definitely a massacre, and that using the word only verifies the obvious. I held my ground, re-stating that what Person A labels a massacre is different than what Person B thinks is a massacre. How many people must die, I asked, to qualify as a massacre? This is where the vagueness of the term, and its inflammatory nature, must be considered.

Though we didn’t change each other’s minds, we agreed that the discussion itself was valuable, and that the important thing is that we as journalists are thoughtful and intentional about the language we use. 

Cameroon PJ seminars moved, shortened
(CAMEROON)—Our peace journalism seminars planned for the next two weeks have been moved out of the northwest and southwest regions. The participants will instead travel to attend the seminars in safer parts of Cameroon.

The move was necessitated by escalating violence in these regions, including deadly attacks against police as well as roadblocks (snarling traffic on main roads) in the last few weeks. Also, separatists are calling for general strikes (called “ghost towns” here) today (Monday) through Wednesday. All activity in the northwest and southwest regions will cease—there will be no meetings, business activity, etc. No vehicular traffic will be allowed. I’m told those who ignore the strike are violently punished by the separatists who are organizing the “ghost town.”

This is the second batch of strikes I’ve encountered this year. Opposition protesters organized similar city-wide shut downs earlier this year while I was teaching in northern Ethiopia.

Moving the seminars will mean that some participants won’t be able to attend since they can’t travel to the new, secondary site. Both of the northwest/southwest region seminars will have to be shortened to work around the strikes and to accommodate travel schedules and budgets. 

This all means that I’m going to have some unanticipated down time here during the coming weeks. 
I’ll let you know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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