Opinion: How peace journalism can challenge ‘war voyeurism’

28 Sep, 2015
AUT Professor and Director of the Pacific Media Centre Dr David Robie.
As the unprecedented human tide of refugees flows into Europe unabated, fleeing from both the ruthless military targeting by the Assad regime and the ISIS reign of terror with murder, torture, crucifixion and sexual slavery, along with the atrocities committed by other rebels such as Jabhat al-Nusra, it is time to rethink our media responses too, says AUT Professor and Director of the Pacific Media Centre, Dr David Robie.

Most of the Syrian refugees have been forced to take shelter in underfunded and overcrowded refugee camps, such as in Lebanon – where there are more than one and a half million in a country with a population similar to that of New Zealand – and in Turkey. It is little wonder that many are setting out on a long and dangerous trip, hoping to settle in peaceful Europe.  

So from a media perspective, how do we respond? Are we part of a movement that merely holds up a mirror to society with all its cynicism, or are we part of a process of empowerment and action for a better world?

As a journalist who has worked in many conflict situations, particularly in Africa and the Pacific over many years I have been interested in ‘peace journalism’ as a possible model in contrast to the ‘war voyeurism’ that characterises much of mainstream media, especially in this part of the world where we seem far removed from the crises.

The idea of peace journalism troubles some journalists – mostly due to a lifetime of relying on ‘conflict’ as a core news value. This is surprising, because in this era of ‘infotainment’ and super-hype in news media, this peace notion is much more about reasserting basic news values such as truth, context, fairness and depth.

The peace journalism model is hardly new – it has been around at least since the mid-1990s with proponents such as Johan Galtung arguing for it. Since then, many international journalists have grasped the concept. Some have given reinterpretations in the last couple of years, such as ‘human rights journalism’ - a concept that I like because it strips away the hypocrisy and faces up to the critical issues of our times like climate change and poverty.

At its simplest, as defined by Professor Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick from the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace Studies: “Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices – of what stories to report and how to report them – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict.”

So how exactly does peace journalism differ from so-called war/violence journalism?

In mainstream media, which is essentially ‘war or violence oriented’, the conflict is seen as two parties involved with the goal to win. In effect this is ‘us versus them’ journalism and involves dehumanising them, and is merely reactive to the events.

In peace or conflict-sensitive journalism, the approach is turned on its head. It recognises the complexity of all conflicts; there are multiple parties, goals and issues at stake.

Peace journalism also gives voice to all the parties – not just to us but to them as well. It also humanises all sides and is essentially proactive. Another major difference is that it is genuinely truth-oriented and is committed to expose untruths on all sides – uncovering all cover-ups.

In the case of war journalism, this is propaganda-oriented – it only exposes their untruths, and supports our cover-ups. Thus, the hypocrisy over war is rarely exposed. 

Peace journalism is people oriented – it focuses on all victims, the women, the elderly and children; while war journalism is elite oriented, it focuses on our victims and our heroes, the soldiers.
Finally, peace journalism is solutions-oriented. Peace is not merely a ceasefire. It involves both the end of violence and a creative response to seeking long-lasting solutions.

War journalism is only concerned with victory. Peace equals victory and a ceasefire, even though the truce may later fail because the sources of the grievances have not been addressed.

Note: This is an excerpt from Pacific Media Centre director Professor David Robie’s presentation on peace journalism to the World Without War conference held at Auckland University of Technology on 19-20 September 2015.
Click here to read a journal article, why peace journalism has a chance, written by Professor David Robie.

An example of ‘peace journalism’, produced by AUT international exchange journalism student Niklas Pedersen:

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