Excerpts from Peace Journalism

Peace Journalism is when editors and reporters make choices – of what stories to report, and how to report them – which create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.

Peace Journalism: Uses the insights of conflict analysis and transformation to update the concepts of balance, fairness and accuracy in reporting. + Provides a new route map tracing the connections between journalists, their sources, the stories they cover and the consequences of their journalism – the ethics of journalistic intervention.

Builds an awareness of non-violence and creativity into the practical job of everyday editing and reporting. Peace Journalism can be seen as a set of tools, both conceptual and practical, intended to equip journalists to offer a better public service.Peace Journalism is often misunderstood as ‘advocating peace’. Not so – ‘giving peace a chance’ by ensuring that non-violent responses to conflict get a fair hearing would be a better way to think of it.

War Journalism is the dominant discourse in the reporting of conflict. This is not by happenstance. Three conventions of Objective reporting, in particular, are predisposed towards War Journalism.

Their ‘natural drift’, as it were, is to lead us – or leave us – to overvalue violent, reactive responses to conflict, and under-value nonviolent, developmental ones: A bias in favour of official sources A bias in favour of event over process. A bias in favour of ‘dualism’ in reporting conflicts.

The case for Peace Journalism is remedial: a deliberate, creative strategy to seek out and bring to our attention those portions of ‘the ‘facts’ routinely under-represented; the significant views and perspectives habitually unheard.

Peace Journalism makes audible and visible the subjugated aspects of reality. When covering conflicts, Peace Journalism proposes, we can tread down to find solid ground beneath our feet, by studying and applying what is known and has been observed about conflict, drawing on the overlapping fields of Conflict Analysis and Peace Research.

Key findings include: Violence is never wholly its own cause, Conflict is made up of structure, culture and process – the context, without which no explanation for a violent event is complete or, indeed, correct.

Non-violent responses are always possible: There is always more than one way of responding to conflict. Many people, in many places, are devising, advocating and applying non-violent responses. More than two parties – there are always more than two parties to any conflict – some, whose involvement is obscure, require identification; others, with internal divisions, dis-aggregation.

Every party has a stake – parties to conflict should be seen as stakeholders, pursuing their own goals, needs and interests – some openly acknowledged, but almost invariably some hidden as well. The key distinctions between War Journalism and Peace Journalism: newspapers take a strong ‘line’ one way or another on conflicts, there are problems. Seeing the Sun trying to find good news from Iraq has had a sort of black humour in recent months. The affair of Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction raised searching questions in newsrooms on both sides of the Atlantic as it should have. Research findings showing that most of the British television audience believe it is the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are ‘occupying’ territory should set alarm bells ringing.

But the solution surely is a better application of known methods, not an attempt to reinvent the wheel. What we need is a fuller context in the reporting of events, using objectivity and impartiality to discover the truth. One respondent to an earlier piece I wrote on this online pointed me to the book Truth and Truthfulness by the philosopher Bernard Williams, who defines truthfulness as ‘a readiness against being fooled and eagerness to see through appearances to the real structure and motives that lie behind them’ – about as good a definition of the reporter’s craft as there is.

Both the reporter and the audience need to know that there is no other agenda than explaining what is going on – that what you read, see on the screen or hear on the radio is an honest attempt at objectivity; that reporters treat any and every event with an informed scepticism, rejecting any attempt to co-opt them into involvement in bogus things like Peace Journalism. Conflict resolution is something we report on, not something we engage in.

In the world of press conferences and media opportunities which surround us, the only reporting that matters is off piste – finding out what is really going on. And there is simply not enough of it around. The business of reporting foreign news is under threat from many sources. The deep dives in commercial revenues and a drive for audiences make it harder to report a wide agenda on mainstream outlets. The collapse of serious documentary-making cuts away another prop for those who want to understand world issues.

The tyranny of the satellite dish tends to encourage quantity, sometimes at the expense of quality, on live 24 news channels. These are the real challenges facing journalism, best faced by clear, consistent accurate reporting that attempts to be agenda-neutral, rather than having other expectations, such as conflict-resolution, loaded on board. Peace Journalism’s ethical checklist would fence us in to the detriment of understanding.