Peace journalism is key for ensuring that conflict is accurately and appropriately reported, with its genesis and circumstances fully explained, and that local peacebuilding ideas and solutions get the visibility they deserve.
By Kirthi Jayakumar
That war is business is not news. The world has sufficient money to end global hunger and poverty, and yet we unhesitatingly siphon more and more into the process of keeping conflict alive. War propaganda becomes a very significant element, therefore, in every profiteering initiative, because war is good for business. News-houses enjoy focusing on the death-tolls and the countless instances of violence. In the process, a fear psychosis develops from the continued “us-versus-them” rhetoric: driving consumerism, hatred, distrust and among those that are at a distance, a general state of apathy at the “way of the world”.
It is hard to find one linchpin in this arrangement to blame simply because it is a cycle of sorts. War fuels a state of inflation and monetary disarray with a broken economy. Corporations benefit from resource exploitation that is easier through channels of corruption that prevail unhindered in war. In these routes, common man is exploited, left to suffer and forced to live under many constraints.
Case in point number one – the Democratic Republic of Congo, where continued corruption and unhindered warfare has allowed for the mining of conflict minerals while men and women are exploited to ensure that these minerals are mined and extracted. News on the real face of conflict never comes out: to the many news outlets, numbers, incidents and figures are just statistics to buttress their claims. Depending on the kind of allegiance the outlet has, information is presented either in a skewed manner, or information is suppressed and cast aside as insignificant.
Case in point number two – Palestine. One seldom hears of the Palestinian voice – Israel shouts louder from international media podiums, silencing Palestine or out-voicing them at the very least. And then there is the “helpless” rendition of events where the global community’s wringing-of-hands-and-watching-on is detailed and presented as a case of abject helplessness, for what can the world do in the face of a certain conflict.
Case in point number three – Syria. A country ravaged by civil war in the face of brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests, the world community did next to nothing to attend to the country’s needs. Red lines drawn were not credible threats. Who issues threats against the use of chemical weapons, when the regime has clearly killed many more, without using chemical weapons?
Finally, there’s the overt emphasis on bringing out the violence rather than peace. Case in point: Ukraine. Over the eighty-eight days that constituted their protest, there were only a few isolated incidents of violence caused either by a very minor radical flank, or at the behest of the security sector’s crackdown in response to the protests, at the very most.
No matter what one might say about individual nations’ political decisions being a product of their own assessment of issues around them, it is the skewed reporting that keeps war-mongering policies alive. There are countless mainstream media outlets that indulge in relying on violence, us-versus-them, tangibles of war and death tolls in their reporting. One seldom hears of peace processes and the complexities in the origin of a conflict that need addressing. Sustainable peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather the result of the obliteration of the root cause of the conflict. It need not be something that a leader might be able to see: but a non-partisan reporter or an academic might be able to spot a simmering undercurrent, which if addressed, can actually help solve a conflict. Instead, the heavy reliance on violence, on the statistics, on the death tolls and on the corruption underlying a conflict is only keeping war alive, through propaganda. Such reporting continues because of the competition that thrives among the news agencies: each of whom want to be the first to present something to the world.
This is not to mean that war reporting should stay away from hard facts. Violence must not be ignored, certainly. Statistics are important, of course. But the emphasis and the direction of the emphasis need to be different. The human face of war is forgotten. We lose touch with the fact that the people on a battlefield – the average civilians – are the ones that are most affected by war. In losing touch with that fact, we begin to believe that as outsiders, we can “go into” these battle zones after a conflict or during a conflict, and sell our own ideas of appropriate solutions to restore peace. How often has that worked out? Not too many times, yeah.
The key to ending any conflict is for the end to come from within. Whether as a political solution or a compromise, or a one-side-trumps-the-other-battle, the sustainability of peace in the aftermath of a conflict is heavily reliant on the ownership of the solution. It is as simple as this. If I down own a solution, I don’t take care of it, because it is thrust on me. If I don’t take care of it, it won’t last because I won’t do what it takes to make it last. For local solutions to be given their rightful place, it is important that reporting on conflict is not only accurate and appropriate, but explains the genesis and circumstances culminating in the conflict, without indulging in propaganda, bias or a presentation that beatifies one side and bastardises the other. The key, therefore, is peace journalism.
Kirthi Jayakumar is a Lawyer, specialized in public international law and human rights. A graduate of the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, Kirthi has diversified into research and writing on public international law and human rights. She has worked as a UN Volunteer, specializing in human rights research in Africa, India and Central Asia and the Middle East. She also runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on international law, called A38.
(Used as background reading)
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