Public Information & Media Development: Public Information, Media Development & Peacebuilding Processes
Medias contribution to conflict is more often noted than praise is given to its role in peacebuilding processes. Media and journalists are victims of conflict, but they also at times play an active role in exacerbating tensions in divided societies. In many respects, however, the news media and journalists are also at the forefront of peacebuilding initiatives because, when they function effectively, they are crucial for the safeguarding of peace and democracy. A reliable and diverse media that can express itself freely provides early warning of potential outbreaks of conflict. Media also helps alert and mobilize the international community on a particular crisis. During a peacebuilding process, it serves multiple purposes and is an important complement to almost every program pursued in different sectors. This section explores those different dimensions.
1 Media has also been used as a centerpiece of propaganda and hate speech, even in some contexts going so far as to call upon populations to take up arms against other civilians.
The role of media in modern conflicts
Modern historians have extensively studied the role of media in authoritarian movements and violent conflicts. According to Tim Allen and Nicole Stremlau, "The capability of the media to inflame hatreds and promote violence has been relatively well documented from early studies of the role of the radio in Nazi propaganda campaigns to the more recent examples of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia."2
Link to international framework; Link to main actors: outsiders
Media as a transformative tool encouraging violenceThe media may be a useful tool for inciting conflict where it is able to influence perception and portray 'others' as responsible for their own marginalization and declining psycho-social and economic conditions. From the perspective of masses, identification of an 'other' gives logic to suffering by identifying a culprit that can be thwarted. Particularly in conflicts where populations are manipulated around ethnicity, it also frames some groups as primordially superior, allowing for the preservation of pride simply by virtue of group membership. Hannah Arendt observed this in totalitarian movements, which, she explains, "conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations."13
While leadership is a crucial component of any violent conflict, such movements are also dependent on mass perpetrators. Nazi Germany's success in the final solution relied on ordinary citizens, just as Rwandan radio called upon the general population to commit genocide. Philosopher Michel Foucault observed of such movements, "Rather than ask ourselves how the sovereign appears to us in his lofty isolation, we should try to discover how it is that subjects are gradually, progressively, really and materially constituted through a multiplicity of organisms, forces, energies, materials, desires, thoughts, etc."14 Thus, Foucault is concerned with the processes that would allow populations to be subjugated to an ideology or leader.
What modern historical cases, particularly Nazi Germany and Rwanda, exemplify is the role of media as a transformative tool; that is, in its capacity to encourage populations (masses) to follow and act in a violent movement. Peace scholar Johan Galtung has developed a typology of violence that seeks to describe this transformative capacity.
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"Wars are partly what the media make them," claim Tim Allen and Jean Seaton.19 This diagnosis reflects the general recognition that the existence of a crisis, in particular a violent conflict, is now dependent on international news media coverage. Even if, "by their very definition, the local media will always beat international organisations in spotting the potential for crises and reporting on a developing conflict; only when the story is judged big enough--perhaps when the shooting has started--will it make the international news."20 In that respect, the role of international media will always be decisive.
Media, dialogue, and public participationA pluralistic media sector may allow a range of views and voices to be opened and therefore publicly expressed. Typically, in a conflict environment, a narrow range of extremist views tends to dominate, and credible information is tremendously difficult to access.25 During the peacebuilding process, transparent media can become a credible source of information and can support the expression of competing perspectives, therefore becoming a peaceful channel for public dialogue.26 Free and open communication helps prevent the manipulation of populations.
This level of communication and transparency is actually important at every stage of a peace process, including the negotiation (peacemaking) phase. Mediators and power brokers are often reluctant to communicate during negotiations, but "securing a free flow of accurate and constructive information at this stage can help ensure sustainable agreements and prevent leaders from manipulating such negotiations to secure their own power and position."27
During the peacebuilding phase, media is an even more important tool for policy makers to get their message out.28 This is also true of all peacebuilders, insiders and outsiders alike, as they need to inform the public about what activities are underway, raise public awareness, and educate citizens, the last of which is an important factor in improving popular participation in public life. In this sense, citizens rely on the media not only for basic information but also to explain complex negotiations and frame overall issues.29 This sort of communication is also one of the most effective tools in earning and building the confidence of the population in the peace process. It helps people feel connected to the reform plans.30
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Media as a watchdogAn independent, lively, and widely accessible media can act as a third-party 'watchdog' that provides feedback to the public on local issues.31 Vladimir Bratic and Lisa Schirch suggest, "Media can bring hidden stories out into the public. Investigative reports can surface public problems."32 This helps keep the government, but also any other actor in the peacebuilding process (including the private sector or outsiders) accountable to the larger community. One aspect of this refers to financial accountability and good governance practices. In peacebuilding processes, measures are generally enforced to increase that accountability, but it is not always easy for the general public to understand issues of public resources. To address that problem, some radio stations have developed special programs on the issue. According to DFID, "Pressuring governments into good governance is an essential long term function of an independent media sector."33 Go to PALPG subsection
Media supporting human rights and civil society functions
A specific dimension of the monitoring work undertaken by the media is in regard to human rights violations. Media is a key partner for human rights organizations, even though they may sometimes be at odds with one other because they do not have the same methods. This is why it is so important to have journalists trained on these specific issues, so that they can come to understand the rationale for methods used by human rights practitioners and take these interests into account when reporting. More generally, media is a key partner for other civil society actors (of which it is part). It gives civil society organizations (CSOs) the means to monitor what is going on and contributes to CSOs advocacy functions.34 Indeed, in practice, there is significant overlap between civil society and media, particularly where media outlets take on specific advocacy functions. Many organizations, particularly international advocacy agencies such as International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, concurrently fulfill functions of civil society and media.
The role of media in awareness and public information campaignsEvery aspect of peacebuilding processes needs to be supported by awareness and information campaigns, as most such processes require awareness, understanding, and a minimum of public participation. Therefore, media is used not only to deliver general information on those processes but also to support targeted civic education campaigns in different sectors of activities.
In the security sector, particularly for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), small arms control and demining, and community securing and policing, but also for some dimensions of security sector reforms, media may assist with civic education.39 The diffusion of accurate information about the security situation is also crucial in order to counterbalance rumors and fears that can persist and be easily manipulated.
In economic recovery, the repatriation of refugees and the reintegration of displaced persons significantly depend on the information disseminated among these populations, as well as to the local communities into which the populations will be reintegrated. Often, biased messages and rumors dominate on both sides. Organizations such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rely on CSOs to help spread more objective and accurate information, but they also organize 'go and see' and 'go work' trips for refugees and NGOs. Journalists can also help CSOs distribute more accurate information about actual conditions in the field. According to UNHCR, "A well prepared and conducted information campaign can build confidence and create conditions conducive to return."40 Public information on economic programs and relief aid, such as where to go to find services, is also key but often underestimated. Go to community reintegration
In justice and psycho-social recovery processes, each program relies on a public information and education component that is vital to its success. International organizations, as well as international and local CSOs, support media initiatives that disseminate information on peace processes, reconciliation, and justice initiatives, in particular human rights and transitional justice. For instance, media was instrumental in disseminating information on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These initiatives may not necessarily receive enough funds and support but they are crucial to the success of such processes.
Medias contribution to changing popular attitudesMedia, particularly those initiatives oriented toward peace, may actually support change in attitudes, helping to modify perceptions of 'others' and facilitate reconciliation between divided groups. There is a graduation between public information and awareness, and a process that would actually lead to conflict transformation. The most obvious effect of media is in its ability to increase cognitive knowledge by supplying people with information. Some also believe that specific well-crafted messages and media formats have been effective in modifying and altering attitudes.41 However, such effects are difficult to assess and measure. This is where experts have advocated for a proactive role for media in peacebuilding. Johan Galtung coined the term 'peace journalism,' an idea that advocates for conflict transformation through constructive discourse: "This kind of journalism is openly inclined to peace discourse, and cannot be achieved through the ordinary distribution of information. It requires a proactive approach to the constructs of reporting, and openly admits a bias towards peaceful ways of addressing conflict."42
This potential broader and deeper impact of media explains that some donors, practitioners, and scholars have been increasingly encouraging the development of targeted peace media initiatives. "New York University's Center for War, Peace and News Media, for example, sees the potential peace-building role for media to:
This approach extends from traditional journalism media into avenues such as popular music, soap operas, call-in shows, community radio and video projects, street theater, wall posters, and concerts. It can be highly effective, particularly in conflict-ridden areas where audiences can be more receptive to information presented in an entertaining form.46
47 As a consequence, different initiatives have been taken to ensure greater use of these technologies in support of peacebuilding. Information and communication technologies for peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) activities are very broadly defined at present, but they generally imply the use of new information and communication technologies in the vast range of activities carried out in relation to armed conflict, including conflict prevention and management, peace operations, humanitarian relief and disaster assistance, and post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction.48
Paramount in ICT4Peace is the use of mobile technology. Mobile initiatives are now considered capable of providing "greater opportunities for social impact that other information and communication technology (ICT) projects do not necessarily share. For example, physical access to mobile phones is obviously much greater compared to computers and other less readily available technologies. With rapid mobile phone penetration in many areas of the globe and growing global network coverage, access is increasingly assured."49 They also are more affordable and require less skill, and, as a consequence, less training. For instance, the use of cell phone text messaging by human rights advocates, religious leaders, and other members of local civil society was crucial in the events that followed the December 2007 presidential election in Kenya, demonstrating how this technology may be a vital tool for conflict management and prevention.
The Internet has also provided a range of media that has been increasingly used in peacebuilding contexts, improving dissemination of information and enhancing capacity for networking and knowledge exchange.50 Tremendous growth has occurred in 'citizen journalism' through user-generated media, which "begins with more independent, individualistic production of blogs, text messages, wikis, etc., but take their power from the social networking capabilities of these new technologies."51 These platforms have multiplied, including on issues directly related to conflict transformation, democracy, and peacebuilding, as shown by the experience of Groundviews and Vikalpa, two citizen journalism platforms that have been useful in countering the environment of information repression and bias in regular media outlets in Sri Lanka. These spaces can promote and strengthen voices that are not featured in mainstream media. The limit of an extensive use of such technologies is that, in many countries, access to the Internet is extremely limited beyond the capital and major cities, and the quality of the connections too poor for use beyond checking email. Yet, some feel this form of community and user-generated media may represent the next generation in programs for peace.52
1. Department for International Development (DFID). Working with the Media in Conflict and Other Emergencies (London: DFID, 2000), 10.
2. Tim Allen and Nicole Stremlau, Media Policy, Peace and State Reconstruction (London: Crisis States Research Centre , 2005), 2.
3. Hannah Arendt, The Totalitarian Movement, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1968), 43-44.
4. Vladimir Bratic, Examining Peace-Oriented Media in Areas of Violent Conflict, International Communication Gazette (forthcoming): 6.
5. Allen and Stremlau, Media Policy, Peace and State Reconstruction, 6.
6. United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Status of Cases; United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Fact Sheet No. 1: The Tribunal at a Glance.
7. Ahmed Buric, The Media War and Peace in Bosnia, in Regional Media in Conflict: Case Studies in Local War Reporting, ed. Alan Davis (London: Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 2001), 64.
8. Bratic, Examining Peace-Oriented Media, 8.
9. Buric, The Media War and Peace in Bosnia, 67. See also, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Media: The Extension of Politics by Other Means, in Beyond Yugoslavia: Politics, Economics and Cultures in a Shattered Community, ed. Sabrina Petra Ramet and Ljubisa S. Adamovich. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1999).
10. Mark Thompson, Forging War: The Media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina (London: Article 19, 1994).
11. Marjan Malesic, International Peacekeeping: An Object of Propaganda in Former Yugoslavia, International Peacekeeping 5, no. 3 (1998): 82-102.
12. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 153.
13. Arendt, The Totalitarian Movement, 51.
14. Michel Foucault, Two Lectures, in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. C. Gordon (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1988), 97.
15. Peter Uvin, Development Aid and Structural Violence: The Case of Rwanda. Development 42, no. 3 (1999): 50.
16. Ibid., 51.
17. Bratic, Examining Peace-Oriented Media, 10.
19. Allen and Seaton, The Media of Conflict, 3.
20. Alan Davis, ed. Regional Media in Conflict: Case Studies in Local War Reporting (London: Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 2001).
21. Beatrice Pouligny, La communauté internationale face aux crimes de masse: Les limites dune communauté dhumanité. Revue Internationale de Politique Comparée 8, no. 1 (2001): 97-78.
22. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 154.
23. Gordon Adam and Lina Holguin, The Medias Role in Peacebuilding: Asset or Liability? (paper presented at the Our Media 3Conference, Barranquilla, Colombia, 2003).
24. Pouligny, Peace Operations Seen from Below, 154.
25. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Access to Information, in Governance in Post-Conflict Situations (New York: United Nations, 2004), 7.
26. Yll Bajraktari and Emily Hsu, Developing Media in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2007).
27. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), The Media in Conflicts: Accomplices or Mediators? (Paper presented at the FES International Conference, Berlin, Germany, May 11, 2000), 33.
28. Vladimir Bratic and Lisa Schirch, Why and When to Use the Media for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (The Hague: Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict, 2007), 10.
29. Kalathil, Langlois, and Kaplan, Towards a New Model, 20.
30. Fortune and Bloh, Strategic Communication, 21.
31. FES, The Media in Conflicts, 33.
32. Bratic and Schirch, Why and When to Use the Media, 9.
33. DFID, Working with the Media, 26-27.
34. Bajraktari and Hsu, Developing Media in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations.
35. Ibid., 8.
36. Kalathil, Langlois, and Kaplan, Towards a New Model, 23.
37. Kenneth Roth, Testimony on the United States and the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy (presented before the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, 22 May 2008).
38. Ross Howard, Media + Elections: An Elections Reporting Handbook (Vancouver: Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, 2004), 12.
39. Kalathil, Langlois, and Kaplan, Towards a New Model, 20.
40. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities (Geneva: UNHCR, 2004), sec. 4, 14.
41. Bratic and Schirch, Why and When to Use the Media, 14.
42. Ibid., 17-18.
43. DFID, Working with the Media, 23.
44. Howard et al., The Power of the Media.
45. Yehezkel Landau, Healing the Holy Land: Interreligious Peacebuilding in Israel/Palestine (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2003).
47. Adam and Holguin, The Medias Role in Peacebuilding.
48. Daniel Stauffacher, William Drake, Paul Currion, and Julia Steinberger, Information and Communication Technology for Peace: The Role of ICT in Preventing, Responding to and Recovering from Conflict, United Nations ICT Task Force Series 11 (November 2005), 6.
49. Sheila Kinkade and Katrin Verclas, Wireless Technology for Social Change (Washington, DC: United Nations Foundation/Vodafone Group Foundation Partnership, 2008), 9.
50. Stauffacher et al., Information and Communication Technology for Peace, 10.
51. Sheldon Himelfarb and Megan Chabalowski, Media, Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding: Mapping the Edges (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2008).
52. Communication with Lisa Schirch by email (November 1, 2008).