Friday, March 21, 2014

What’s a peace journalist to do?
As peace journalists, we’re used to often being a lone voice in the wilderness. At no time is that more true than today.

Yesterday, a man who is arguably the most hated person in the country died. 

I refuse to even write his name to avoid giving him even one more byte of publicity. Of course, I am alone in not further inflating this man’s infamy. Unfortunately, his death has given media one more opportunity to revisit his legacy and teachings-- one more chance to unintentionally spread his gospel of hate. On the day of his death, his demise was the lead story on, and was displayed prominently on as well. I heard it twice on NPR. The following day, his death was on the Kansas City Star’s front page.

As a peace journalist, my stance is clear: I will not further acknowledge the deceased. Journalists have a choice to ignore nut jobs, bigots, and haters. Is this man’s death really news? Front page news? One could argue that he led only a tiny fringe group, and that his Neanderthal attitudes are hardly new, novel, or even interesting. 

While I think it is okay as an opinion columnist or blogger to use this opportunity to attack the deceased’s vile beliefs, I believe that news media should have ignored his death in the same way that they have justifiably ignored his life (and the lives of his followers) for much of the past decade.

Cyprus leftovers
 I have posted a photo album from our recent peace journalism mission to Cyprus. Enjoy.For more on the Cyprus trip, see posts below.

While in Cyprus, I had the opportunity to appear on MYCY radio to discuss our PJ project. The show is posted here. Bon apetit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Peace journalism seeds take root in Cyprus
I have taught in corn fields, in freezing cold classrooms, under trees, in sweltering meeting rooms fighting off aggressive mosquitos, and in sterile auditoriums under the suspicious gaze of official "handlers." However, until last Thursday and Friday, I had never led a seminar held in no-man's land--in a place that is, literally, neither here nor there. 

My most recent peace journalism seminar convened last week at the Cyprus Community Media Center (CCMC). The CCMC is located in a buffer zone between the Turkish-Cypriot region in the north and the Greek-Cypriot region in the south. The zone extends 180 km across Cyprus, and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers. It is as many as 2 km wide in some places, but here in Nicosia, where the CCMC is situated, the buffer zone is a little less than 1 km wide. (For more on the buffer zone, see: ).

The CCMC sits right next to a UN base here in the buffer zone. It's just a few feet from the CCMC's door to a razor wire fence that delineates the base's perimeter. (see photo above)

As I was teaching, I could help but glance to my right and see the razor wire and UN flag limply presiding over the base. This didn't make me nervous, since this hasn’t been a shooting war for decades, but it was nonetheless a constant reminder of the necessity of our peace journalism training here in Cyprus.
The CCMC seminar, with 14 participants, was outstanding, and the attendees were productive and engaged from the event's inception. Our two-day seminar brought together journalists, grad students, and NGO professionals from both the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. We had some lively discussions about the nature of the Cypriot conflict, and about the need for peace journalism here. All agreed that peace journalism would be beneficial as a counter-weight to biased, negative "us vs. them" narratives which are pervasive in media on both sides of the buffer zone.

The seminar's hands-on activity was a reporting exercise. The participants were sent out to report peace-journalism style stories about refugees, migrants, or asylum seekers. The reporters were instructed to produce stories that countered the existing, negative media narratives about migrants. What they came up with were compelling stories about a refugee and his cat; a Pakistani student discussing Cyprus and how it welcomes immigrants; an asylum seeker from Togo; and a Syrian immigrant who is working hard to assist those escaping the mayhem in Syria.

As we wrapped up the event, the participants collectively took a step that confirmed the success of our work at CCMC and earlier in the week at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus. Some participants met for a few minutes after the seminar’s conclusion and formed their own peace journalism press club. They have an interim president, a tentative first meeting date, and a list of invitees from both sides of the buffer zone. 

It’s encouraging to see peace journalism take root so soon after the seeds were planted.

As for the next step, the CCMC, Eastern Mediterranean University, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism are already working on plans for a more comprehensive peace journalism project in Cyprus. Once the plan is complete, we will pitch it to potential funders. We believe the success of this short term project will demonstrate the viability of our larger project.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A few more photos from Famagusta, N. Cyprus/E. Medit. Univ

Roman Ruins (Salamis)
Roman Ruins (Salamis)

Prof and student Sarah Stout at PJ faculty lecture.
Student seminar participants

PJ Faculty Lecture participants

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Surprises abound at EMU-Cyprus lecture
The class for my lecture today at Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Cyprus was full of surprises.

My first surprise was the composition of the class, which I had expected would consist of Turks and Turkish Cypriots. I was delighted to learn that EMU has an international student profile similar to

Park University, where I teach and direct the Center for Global Peace Journalism. The EMU students gathered to hear my lecture were from all over the world, including Nigeria, Iran, and Cameroon, just to name a few. As one might imagine, this diversity set the stage for some interesting discussions.

The second surprise was that the students were direct and open with me—again, in a way that reminded me of my Park students. (At many of my overseas lectures, students have been timid about questioning me.) The EMU students didn’t hesitate to challenge my theories of peace journalism, questioning among other things how it is possible to be a peace journalist without openly advocating peace, and how a peace journalists can claim to be objective. One sharp young lady even asked why peace journalists should “re-invent the wheel.” Interestingly, these are the exact words used by some of peace journalism’s most ardent critics in the UK. 
I was also surprised by the question from one young man who wanted my opinion on what he said was U.S. government policy that he claims favors violence and instability in the upcoming Nigerian elections. I said that I am not a diplomat or a representative of the U.S. government, and thus have nothing substantive to say about any State Department policies. I encouraged him to send me the evidence of America’s supposed pro-violence policy in Nigeria. I eagerly await his email.

What did not surprise me was the quality of the discourse during my two-hour lecture. The students were engaged and thoughtful, and seemed to quickly absorb (and at times question) the key principles of peace journalism. My only regret is that I won’t see these students again, unless they decide to study abroad at Park University.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My kind of crowd at Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus

The questions started even before I had finished introducing myself: How did I get involved in peace journalism? How is peace journalism different than traditional journalism? Is peace journalism biased? Objective? 

This was my kind of crowd.

The attendees of my informal presentation today were communications professors and two PhD students at Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta in northern Cyprus.

The back and forth banter between the professors and I lasted about 40 minutes—before I had even gotten to the first item on my lecture outline. As professors, of course, their questions were both pointed and informed. Our discussions about American media coverage of Egypt (and the Muslim Brotherhood), Ukraine, and the Middle East were especially interesting. They also asked me about Fox News. To the professors’ delight, I shared data from a recent study that showed that Fox News viewers are the most ill-informed American media consumers, scoring lower on a news quiz even than those who self-identified as consuming no news at all.

Once I got into my lecture outline, we discussed some PJ basics, and some ideas about teaching peace journalism. I also presented examples of successful peace journalism projects, including the Center for Global Peace Journalism’s projects in Uganda, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan. Finally, I shared some excellent peace journalism resources ( ).

I enjoyed connecting with my peers, and hope that this presentation will mark the beginning of a long professional collaboration between EMU and Park University.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Peacekeepers, checkpoint: Reminders about our mission

While Cyprus is certainly beautiful (see photo), we were reminded yesterday that we’re not here on vacation.

Our hotel, near Famagusta, Northern Cyprus
As we boarded our plane in London, we were greeted by about 30 UN Peacekeepers (Argentinians) who were also bound for Cyprus. The peacekeepers will patrol a buffer zone that lies between Greek and Turkish Cyprus. Later, on the way to our hotel, we passed through a checkpoint when leaving southern Cyprus (the Greek part) and entering northern Cyprus (the Turkish part). There was nothing menacing about this checkpoint, as opposed to the shake-downs at the end of a barrel that are common at similar checkpoints elsewhere in the world.  

The checkpoint and the peacekeepers were a reminder of what my peace journalism student Sarah and I are doing here—to help promote peace journalism, and its ability to help journalists create an atmosphere where peace can become possible.

Our work starts tomorrow with lectures at Eastern Mediterranean University.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Coming soon: Peace Journalism in Cyprus
The Center for Global Peace Journalism will be in Cyprus next week. I will be lecturing at Eastern Mediterranean University, and conducting a seminar at the Cyprus Community Media Center. I will be accompanied by a peace journalism student from Park University. Regular updates will be posted on this space and on Twitter @PeaceJourn.

Rhetoric on Ukraine escalates alongside crisis

As my previous article (below) points out, the cold war propaganda machines have kicked into gear as the Ukrainian crisis escalates.

In my peace journalism class at Park University today, we’re going to take a look at coverage of the crisis from Pravda, a Russian government-controlled media outlet. Their coverage of Russia’s absorption of Crimea reveals a different reality than the one being portrayed in Western media (AP, BBC, CNN, AFP, etc.).  One needn’t even look past the headlines to divine the slant of Pravda’s coverage: “Can Russia save Ukraine?”; “Will Russia go to War to win Ukraine”; “Ukraine: Another Yugoslavia”; “Maidan Destroys Ukraine’s Cultural Heritage”; “Russia and Ukraine will never to go to war against each other”; “Russia to recall ambassador from USA after Obama’s insulting statement.”

BCC and CNN headlines reveal a different reality. These include “Russia demands Crimea’s surrender”; “How close to war”; “Russian TV rhetoric”; “Putin testing Obama”; “Why Ukraine matters to the global economy”; “Russia demanding Ukrainian military leave Crimea”; “Ukrainian interim Prime Minister says "Nobody will give Crimea away”’ “Armed men have blocked 10 Ukrainian military and naval bases in Crimea, official says.”

As I mentioned previously, peace journalists seek balance and perspective in their coverage about Ukraine. This is, of course, a tall order in Russia, where media freedom exists only on paper. In the West, however, we have no excuses. Ideally, coverage in our media should reflect multiple perspectives, including what the Russia government is saying through its media. As media, we owe our readers and listeners more than merely parroting government propaganda and perpetuating stale cold war narratives.