Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Fulbright Update:
Teacher, kids have fun in elementary school session

Don’t tell, but I cheated on my fifth graders at Orizont Lyceum last week with kids from a different fifth grade class. (I've been a regular guest speaker at Orizont this academic year).

This time, I visited Vasile Alecsandri Lyceum in Chisinau at the request of my colleague Nadine Gogu from the Independent Journalism Center.

I was told beforehand that the kids would only know a little English, so I came prepared with slides in Romanian, and expected to speak mostly Romanian myself. My colleague and I were pleasantly surprised by the amount and level of English spoken by the kids. In fact, when I started our discussion speaking in Romanian, they quickly protested, instead craving a lesson delivered in English.

I have no idea what I'm doing here.

We talked about hate speech. The discussion was interesting and sophisticated. All the students hands shot up when I asked if they had seen hate speech on Instagram, on Snapchat, on Telegram (a Russian site), and on several others. I tasked the students with deciding if items on a list I provided constituted hate speech (e.g., “Moldova shouldn’t  join the EU,” or, “Boys are smarter at math and science than girls.”)

My colleague Nadine finished off the discussion by asking what the students knew about online trolls. She then distributed excellent, colorful media literacy books made for kids, along with t-shirts to the most active participants.

The kids were bright, respectful, and smart.

As I mentioned to a friend, these guest speaker gigs in elementary school classrooms are a lot like being a grandpa. You swoop in, have some fun with the kids for an hour or two, then take off, leaving the heavy lifting to the parents, or in this case, to the teacher.

At any rate, I appreciate every opportunity to connect with kids.



Thursday, February 22, 2024

Webinar series focuses on making PJ attractive to audiences
Interested in learning more about peace journalism and its impact? You have a great opportunity to do this thanks to George Washington University's Media and Peacebuilding Project, which is launching a webinar series beginning next Wednesday.

The webinars will run every week for the next six weeks, will "bring together researchers and practitioners from around the world to better understand how to make peace journalism more attractive to audiences," according to GWU.

Session 1 on Feb. 28 will center on discussions about PJ research, will feature, among others, PJ pioneer Dr. Jake Lynch. I will be presenting during session 2 ("Findings from Peace Journalism Practice") on March 6. Jamil Simon, founder of  War Stories Peace Stories, and Vanessa Bassil, founding director of the Media Association for Peace in Lebanon, will join me on the panel.

Later sessions will focus on solutions journalism, constructive journalism, and PJ in the global South.

Admission to all Zoom sessions is free. You can learn more about the webinar series here. You can register for session 1 using this link

Spread the word. Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 19, 2024

Father of peace journalism passes away, leaves powerful legacy
The peace journalism and peace studies fields lost an intellectual and moral giant last weekend with the passing of Dr. Johan Galtung at 93 years of age.

Dr. Galtung is widely credited with being the father of both academic peace studies, including the concepts of positive and negative peace, and peace journalism, which he and others launched in the 1960’s.

Dr. Johan Galtung

I was privileged to collaborate with him on several occasions. I interviewed Dr. Galtung for my textbook “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices” in 2015. We spent an afternoon eating pizza, sipping tea, and talking about peace, peace journalism, and the state of media. It's among the most fascinating three hours I've ever spent. Dr. Galtung was polite, gracious, and humble. Even well into his 80's at the time, Dr. Galtung’s intellectual light burned bright. In fact, there were times during our visit that I noticed Dr. Galtung slowing down to explain things to me, not in a condescending way, but as a colleague and friend. His observations were insightful and profound, and integral to the success of my book.

Subsequently, I corresponded occasionally with Dr. Galtung up until the last few years. I would sometimes send him questions from my students, and he would answer. (Q: “If journalists believe in peace journalism, shouldn’t they advocate more directly for peace?” A: “If they advocate, they cease to become journalists. Journalists who believe in peace can best advocate by giving a voice to peacemakers, and by practicing peace journalism.”) On Twitter, he would re-tweet my posts, and often promote my peace journalism work in the process, urging his legions of followers to read The Peace Journalist magazine, or check out my blog. Of course, I was thrilled by his kind words.

According to my interview with Dr. Galtung for “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices,” he created peace journalism in Oslo “in the early 1960’s.” Dr. Galtung said he coined the term because he believed “journalists have to learn to write about peace and core structural issues, and to focus on common people.” He said he was encouraged to develop the concept, in part, due to a 1960’s study that showed that foreign news was largely negative; often included an actor (bad guy); featured elite people; and centered on elite countries.”

Dr. Galtung’s original concept was further developed in a bucolic setting at the Taplow Court estate in southern England in August, 1997. This estate, home of the UK cultural center of Soka Gakkai International, a Japanese Buddhist organization, hosted a meeting with Dr. Galtung, Jake Lynch, and other journalists. At the meeting, participants discussed developing “a pattern for many an attempt to bring journalism and Peace and Conflict Studies to bear upon one another.” This meeting in turn led to a project by Lynch called “Reporting the World,” which ran from 2001-2005 and launched a discussion among London journalists about conflict reporting and journalists’ role in mitigating, alleviating, and transforming conflicts. Peace journalism was off and running.

Dr. Galtung was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, and made the short list of 32 individuals who were considered for the prize (he didn’t win). His nomination, from Prof. Richard Falk of Princeton University and the Univ. of California-Santa Barbara, stated, “Johan Galtung has been the sort of dedicated warrior for peace that it seems to me the Nobel Prize was created to honor. By so doing, (this will) raise public consciousness of what must happen if we are to overcome the war system and enjoy the material, political, and spiritual benefits of living in a world of peace premised on the nonviolent resolution of disputes among sovereign states and respect for the authority of international law.

"For decades Johan Galtung has been an inspirational presence in the field of peace studies broadly conceived. His exceptional vitality and mobility has brought this message of understanding and insight into peace with justice to the four corners of the planet in a remarkable fashion that is truly unique in its educational and activist impact. It is no exaggeration to write that he invented and established the field of peace studies as a respected subject of study in institutions of higher learning throughout the world. As a consequence of his charismatic speaking ability and seminal writing Johan Galtung has reached the hearts and minds of thousands of people throughout the world, conveying the belief above all that peace is possible through the dedicated efforts of ordinary people.”

Dr. Galtung founded Transcend International, which hosts hundreds of his articles, and pieces from others, on peace journalism and other peace-related topics. A complete biography listing his many accomplishments and awards can be found on the Transcend website as well.  Also see an interesting article in The Guardian that includes his thoughts on the negativity of news. 

Thanks to Dr. Galtung, we now understand that peace is much more than just the absence of war, and that media have a role to play in mitigating conflict.

Even after his passing, Dr. Galtung's work will continue to provide a much-need beacon to light our path through these dark, troubled times.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Fulbright Update:
Media Azi leads the way on media transparency, literacy
In countries where disinformation is especially problematic, like the U.S. and Moldova, any information that demystifies and analyzes the media is a vitally necessary first step in a long process of building a media literate society.

Moldovans can find this vital information about media on an innovative website, Media Azi (Media Today). According to its website, “Media Azi  publishes relevant information in the field of media on a daily basis in order to explain phenomena, tendencies, and problems related to the information space in the Republic of Moldova to the general public. In a never-ending flow of local and international news about the press, interviews, analytical articles, broadcasts, and cartoons, we suggest creating a sufficient informational environment for anyone who is eager to get the latest news from the Moldovan press and have a well-grounded opinion.”

The site is a production of the Independent Journalism Center, and disseminates content in Romanian, Russian, and English.

Media Azi spotlights media in several areas, including “News” (e.g. banned channels, licensing issues, online harassment of journalists);  “Media in the World” (Gaza journalists killed, AI tool developed), “Opinion” (Where are the billions of NGO’s going?, and Covering elections: Mission (im)possible); “Interviews” (journalists, UN and government officials); and “Refugees in the Media” (Harmful narratives, journalistic sources).

I was honored to be asked to write two pieces for the “Refugees in the Media” section.

In the first column, I discussed how “Media are stuck on traditional narratives about refugees.” I wrote, “Moldova currently houses more refugees per capita than any other country, according to the International Centre for Migration Policy Development. With a population of 2.6 million, the country is home to 119,000 refugees as of 3 October, 2023. Border crossings from Ukraine since 24 February 2022 number 952,819, according to UNHCR. 

“For humanitarian NGO’s and social service providers, the implications of this large migration are obvious. Equally challenging are the implications of mass migration for media houses and journalists. For journalists, the challenge is to break out of traditionally negative narratives about refugees, and offer compassionate counter-narratives that debunk negative stereotypes while building bridges between the refugees and their host communities,” I wrote.

In my second article, I laid out how “Peace Journalism offers the key to responsible refugee reporting.” I presented several suggestions about PJ and refugee reporting, including considering the consequences of one’s reporting; giving more leeway in granting anonymous or first name only interviews; avoiding using language or images that rely on or reinforce stereotypes, racism, sexism, or xenophobia; showing compassion; offering counter-narratives that challenge traditionally negative narratives; partnering with fellow journalists who are themselves displaced or migrants; and humanizing individuals and their stories, looking for examples that illustrate larger statistics or trends.

Media Azi’s tagline is, “For Journalistic Integrity.” There is no better way to reach this goal than through an open, analytical discussion of the issues facing media practitioners today, whether it’s in Moldova, the U.S., or anywhere else. Media Azi is a great place to engage in this discussion, and a model for proponents of media transparency and literacy to emulate.



Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Video: Peacebuilding Journalism and Gaza
In a short video produced by Peace News, Founding Director of the Media Association for Peace (Lebanon) Vanessa Bassil and I discuss coverage of the war in Gaza, and how peace journalism might be used to enhance that coverage. Vanessa's comments are fascinating, and insightful.

Alexander Ghetan, with Orizont 5th graders
Fifth graders analyze video for stereotypes about Americans
It was great to get back into the classroom again with my fifth graders at Orizont Lyceum in Chisinau.

As part of my Fulbright Scholar volunteer activities, I’ve been visiting with these 25 energetic, funny, smart kids since last September, talking about everything from hate speech to media literacy to life in the U.S. to my age. The student who guessed that I am 75 years old has been justifiably expelled, by the way. 

Our lesson last week expanded on the discussion of hate speech, and included a special guest, Alexandru Ghetan, program manager for the Centrul Media pentru Tineri (CMT), a youth media education organization here in Moldova.

We began by defining stereotypes, and giving examples from the U.S. and from Moldova. This latter included negative stereotypes about Russians and Russian language speakers (pro war, pro Putin, aggressive); Roma (thieves); and Moldovans who live in the village (poor, work 24 hours a day).

My guest Alexandru then engaged the kids in a discussion about stereotypes of Americans held by Moldovans. Then, we engaged in a bit of child abuse: we made the kids watch my “acting” performance in a serialized YouTube program produced by CMT called “Singura Acasa.” In the episode we watched, I play an American professor in Moldova who is subjected to stereotyping by a Moldovan man and his friends. 

Kids watching my bad acting in "Singura Acasa"

The students reacted with squeals when they saw their American visitor on the screen, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the program, and to absorb its anti-stereotyping message. We talked about the scene, for example, when I turn down a hamburger and instead ask for zeama, traditional (and delicious) Moldovan chicken soup, rebuffing the stereotype that all Americans eat are burgers. The students also pointed out a stereotype that my character perpetuated—that everyone from Transnistria must be a communist. I hadn’t even thought of that when I uttered the line “esti comunisti?” upon meeting a Transnistrian.

The session ended with Alexandru telling the students a bit about CMT and its activities for youth. I know the kids are interested in participating.

As always, it was an entertaining, fruitful discussion, made even better by Alexandru, who naturally and effortlessly connects with kids of all ages.

I’m grateful to teacher Lucia Jardan for arranging the visit. I can’t wait to return.