Monday, January 15, 2018

Looking for real s***holes. Hint: They're not in Africa
Donald Trump is right—there are s****holes in this world. What he’s wrong about is what constitutes a s****hole.

I think what makes a place great, or a s****hole, isn’t poverty, but instead the spirit and goodwill of its people. Using this definition, the characterization of an entire continent, Africa, as a s****hole is fundamentally flawed.

As director of Park University’s Center for Global Peace Journalism, I have had the privilege of living and working throughout Africa. Although generalizations about such a large and diverse place are problematic, I can say without fear of contradiction that the wonderful  Africans I’ve met make the continent anything but a s****hole.

In Uganda, where I lived 11 months, I met Betty, a fellow journalist, at a workshop I presented. Betty, like most Ugandans, isn’t materially wealthy, but her generosity of spirit is noteworthy. Betty single-handedly rescued six orphans from the bush, and probable death, and has taken care of them since 2010. Her community, Fort Portal, definitely not a s****hole, has pitched in to help the kids, too. I am proud to call dozens of similarly-minded Ugandans my friends and colleagues, and prouder still of my smart, sweet Ugandan goddaughters Stephanie (named after me) and Cindy who have helped lead a drive to assist refugees living in Uganda.

In Kenya, I know a journalist, Robert, who has literally risked his life to report about government and electoral corruption. Robert also isn’t monetarily wealthy, but we can all learn something from his devotion to his community, Nairobi, which is also not a s****hole.

I taught throughout Cameroon last summer. Tiny Beau, Cameroon may be poor, but it is decidedly not a s****hole thanks to its warm-hearted residents, especially my colleagues at CBS radio, who work hard every day under difficult circumstances to make their community, and country, a better place.

In fact, I am on my way to Ethiopia, also not a s****hole, to teach peace journalism in the spring, 2018 semester. In my previous trip there last summer, I was impressed by the determination of Ethiopia’s journalists to make their country a better place, despite any number of obstacles. In May, at the conclusion of my State Department-sponsored project, I’ll no doubt have a long list of Ethiopians who make the country anything but a s****hole.

So if the spirit and goodwill of its people means that Africa isn’t a s****hole, then where can we look to find one? One might start by examining  the antithesis of the African spirit, which I would characterize as racism, greed, xenophobia, ignorance, and selfishness. This negative spirit includes a lack of compassion for one’s fellow man and any basic human decency. Wherever one finds people embodying these characteristics can truly be called a s****hole.

Given these criteria, a cynic might argue that the most obvious s****holes in America might just be a 58-story skyscraper in Manhattan or a members-only resort in Florida. Now, this is probably unfair since  not all those who frequent these locales embody these selfish characteristics. Still, this characterization is at least partially accurate since we know of at least one frequent visitor to these places who does.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Standing Up to Press Oppressors
I’ve met with hundreds of journalists around the world the last 10 years discussing peace journalism and how and if it can be practiced. As journalists discuss obstacles to implementing PJ, the most frequently and universally mentioned impediment is government restrictions on free press.

Just in the last year, I’ve traveled to countries where anti-terrorism laws are used to silence journalists (Cameroon) and where a nation’s “powerful military pressured media outlets and journalists to disseminate positive coverage of its operations against militant Islamist groups” (Pakistan, according to Freedom House). I’m headed to Ethiopia next week to spend a semester teaching peace journalism. In Ethiopia, there are concerns about the government restricting access to the internet and social media, and 16 journalists were jailed for doing their jobs, according to Freedom House.

We Americans used to smugly think that undermining press freedom was an issue only in the developing world. Of course, we’ve been disabused of this notion by Donald Trump, whose anti-press rhetoric, which includes talk of tightening libel laws, seeks to undermine press freedom.
In fact, Trump has been bellowing recently about presenting his own awards for “fake news” to smear and discredit those who report negative information about his administration. As a counterweight to this foolishness, the Committee to Protect Journalists has devised its own Press Oppressors Awards list to recognize “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”

CPJ’s awards categories include most thin-skinned (Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump), Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press, Tightest Grip on Media, Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom, and Overall Achievement in Undermining International Press Freedom. To no one’s surprise, Trump is the winner in the last category. According to the CPJ, “Trump…has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as (China’s) Xi, Erdoğan, and (Egypt’s) Sisi. Authorities in China, Syria, and Russia have adopted Trump's "fake news" epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists.”

It’s important for CPJ, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and others who embrace the vital role of free press to remain vigilant against attacks against media by governments worldwide. I’ll continue doing my own small part a few journalists and students at a time in Ethiopia and elsewhere in 2018.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Planning for Ethiopia
I'm honored to announce my selection as a U.S. Department of State as the U.S. Senior Subject Specialist for Peace Journalism in Ethiopia. In this capacity, I'll be spending the spring, 2018 semester in Ethiopia working on various peace journalism projects.

My partners and I are still ironing out some details. In early January, I'll write with more details about what I'll be doing, where, and why. Of course, I'll be blogging regularly from Ethiopia, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Center for Global Peace Journalism: Map of activities
As the year winds down, I thought it would be interesting to see where peace journalism has taken me. I'm sure I missed a place or two, but you get the idea. I'll be adding a few new spots in 2018.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Journalists, professor ponder journalism ethics
When does a journalist cross the line that divides telling an important story and exploiting a victim?

This essential question was front and center yesterday as I met with the staffs of the Global Sisters Report (GSR) and the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) here in Kansas City.

One young journalist told of her recent reporting trip to Uganda where she reported on South Sudanese refugees.

While the journalist saw the need to interview and tell the story of this refugee, she wondered aloud if she had instead traumatized the refugees by asking them to retell their harrowing stories. We discussed, collectively, whether one article about one refugee can make a difference in their lives, and if it can’t, should we be asking them to relive their traumas?

I responded with similar concerns I had while reporting the story of a South Sudanese journalist who had fled his home with his mother and sister. I played my audio report about this man, and asked rhetorically if I had behaved ethically.

We followed this up with a discussion about potentially exploitative images. Should journalists have used the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey? In another example, should Turkish journalists have used a heart wrenching photo of a toddler with his hands in the air, raised because he mistook the journalist’s camera for a gun? The consensus on the toddler photo is that it would’ve been ethical to use it, as long as the photo included an accompanying contextual story.

These important discussions occurred during my presentation on the fundamentals of peace journalism. Before my talk, as I researched both publications, I discovered that they have a lot to teach their fellow journalists. In fact, much of their content (like stories on how Catholic sisters are working on environmental, migration, and trafficking issues; and reports about the pitfalls of capitalism, net neutrality’s impact on faith communities, and on advocacy for Haitian immigrants) already reflect peace journalism best practices.

I hope to continue working with, and learning from, my GSR and NCR colleagues.