Thursday, April 24, 2014

S. Sudan hate radio underscores need for peace journalism
Sadly, the need for peace journalism has once again been starkly demonstrated in East Africa as radio-fueled violence descended upon South Sudan last week.
The United Nations reports that “hundreds of civilians” were killed last week in Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state.  The killings were “a tragic reflection of longstanding ethnic hostilities in the world’s newest country.” (

Toby Lanzer, the top United Nations aid official in South Sudan, told media that the violence was incited at least in part by calls on local radio stations for revenge attacks.  “’It’s the first time we’re aware of that a local radio station was broadcasting hate messages encouraging people to engage in atrocities,” said Lanzer, who was in Bentiu on Sunday and Monday. ( Those hate messages “urged men to rape women of specific ethnicities and demanded that rival groups be expelled from the town.” Lanzer said the “use of hate speech via a public radio station to incite violence is a game-changer." (

Last week’s hate radio incident in South Sudan is eerily reminiscent of Radio Mille Collines’ on-air incitement during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Messages broadcast on Radio Mille Collines 20 years ago included, "These Tutsi killers who invaded our country continue to prepare themselves to plant their flags on both sides of the border ... You know the cunning of those people ... They come with guns, they come to kill us." Other broadcast messages talked about “taking out the weeds” as they further demonizing Tutsis. “…They will vanish from this country ... They are disappearing little by little thanks to the weapons hitting them, but also because they are being killed like rats."  (BBC, 21 June, 1999)

Unfortunately, there are other incidents of radio fueling violence in East Africa, including hate speech broadcasts that poured gasoline on the fire in post-election Kenya (2007-08), and incitement by Uganda’s CBS radio that sparked riots in Kampala in 2009.

Despite the toxic history in the region, and the awful news from South Sudan last week, East Africans have demonstrated that hate speech on the radio doesn’t have to be the norm in their region. Instead, many have embraced peace journalism, and the notion that media outlets must consider (and be responsible for) the consequences of what is said on the air.

In Uganda, a comprehensive peace journalism project in 2010-11 undertaken by the Center for Global Peace Journalism and the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa helped to prevent any media induced or exacerbated violence during and after the February, 2011 presidential election. Other peace journalism projects have followed in Uganda, each building off of the success of the 2010-11 effort.

In Kenya, media correctly recognized their role in post-election violence in 2007-08 that claimed 800-1,000 lives (estimates vary). In 2013, spurred by a nationwide call for more responsible journalism, and aided by trainings and seminars in peace journalism, media in Kenya did not incite or exacerbate election related violence during the last election. Indeed, Kenyan media worked hard to do the opposite—to prevent violence and conflict after the election.

Using these successes as a foundation, an initiative to spread the good word of peace journalism to South Sudan is urgently needed. East African journalists, media NGO’s, and financial supporters of media development projects must immediately finance and produce trainings, workshops, university courses, and in-house media mentoring programs to ensure that the kind of radio-induced violence that occurred last week never again occurs in South Sudan.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Does KC shooting coverage give voice to hate, extremism?

Peace journalism is about much more than peace and war.

That lesson is being underscored this week in Kansas City, where we are in mourning over a series of shootings that killed three people last Sunday.

Peace journalists always consider the consequences of their reporting, and, at minimum, pledge to avoid exacerbating an already bad situation—to not pour gasoline on an already raging fire.
The balance, the fine line, between giving the public the information they need and fueling the fire has been on display the last few days here in Kansas City.

From a peace journalism perspective, or the perspective of journalism in general, there’s no question that this story had to be covered. Peace journalism, contrary to some misperceptions, doesn’t ignore or soft-peddle violent acts. 

On Monday, the day after the shootings, The Kansas City Star ran a banner headline that read, “Black Sunday.” The front page featured an article about the shooter titled, “Racist views, a prison record.” The following day, The Star’s front page showcased a large photo of the shotgun-wielding shooter framed by KKK flags.

Was the Star’s coverage appropriate, or did they sensationalize the crime and give voice to hate and extremism?

The Star’s coverage of the victims was outstanding—thorough, thoughtful, respectful. Profiles of the victims were prominently displayed on page one on Tuesday, as they should have been.
The difficult question for the Star and others covering this was how to handle the alleged shooter. This is the same dilemma faced when covering other hateful acts. The Boston bombing anniversary, for example, has sparked new stories about Dzokhar Tsarnaev and questions about whether he deserves even one more word of press coverage.

In the KC case, Peace journalism asks, what is the consequence of giving voice to the alleged shooter’s extremist, racist views? What impact does showing a KKK photo have? Does any of this coverage give credibility, gravitas, to the alleged shooter or his racist cause?

I agree that the alleged shooter must be covered, but I disagree with the Star’s decision to cover him on page one, particularly on Tuesday, where the shooter’s profile was carelessly laid out alongside profiles of the victims. (Click here to see .pdf of Tuesday's front page). Some might believe that this implies some equivalency between shooter and victim. As for the front page photos of the shooter (mug shot on Monday; shotgun-toting KKK flag shot Tuesday), I challenge the decision to run these on page one. Does featuring a prominent front-page photo of the alleged shooter that is much larger than the tiny photos of the victims imply that the alleged shooter is of primary importance? That certainly wasn’t the Star’s intention, even though the way the page is laid out might leave some with that misimpression.

To their credit, The Star ran a thoughtful, introspective column by reporter Dave Helling in Tuesday’s paper titled, “Reporting on Extremism: Ignore it or expose it?” In this piece, Helling wrote, “It’s unlikely daily front-page coverage will stop the damage from the worst people out there. It could make it worse.” I agree. Will the kind of celebrity now enjoyed by the alleged shooter encourage others to act on extremist views? 

Helling is also correct when he wrote, “The journalist’s usual answer is balance—expose what you can without overexposing the rantings of an anti-Semite.”

It’s encouraging to see Helling’s analysis of the impact of the Star’s reporting. It is this kind of reflective, deliberate decision making about coverage, as opposed to the press’ usual reflexive sensationalism, that gives me hope that journalists can operate more professionally and responsibly. 

--Follow me on Twitter @peacejourn --

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Lebanese peace journalists face dilemma 
If you’re a peace journalist, how do you report about a hated, sworn enemy?

Vanessa Bassil on Skype, speaking to the Park PJ class
This is a challenge facing peace journalists in, among other places, Lebanon. This quandary was a chief topic of discussion today as Vanessa Bassil, founder/director of the Media Association for Peace in Lebanon, met via Skype with the peace journalism class at Park University today.

Bassil said that on one hand, she is a patriotic, and does not want to see war raged against her country. She said she understands why Lebanese media use the term “the enemy” instead of the more neutral label “Israel.”  Bassil told the class that she understands that using “the enemy” is not peace journalism, but also that, at this time, the use of a more neutral term is just not possible in today’s Lebanon.

When asked about this dilemma, she was honest in saying that this is an issue that she is still wrestling with. How can she promote peace journalism, and objectivity, in an environment where there is nothing but animosity against Israel?

The discussion left me asking, as I did last summer when I visited Lebanon, how even a modest peace proposal could ever get off the ground in a society so weighed down by animosity against “the enemy.” (For more on my 2013 PJ trip to Lebanon, click here.)

University for Peace 
During her Skype visit, Bassil also discussed the University for Peace, in Costa Rica, where she is studying a master’s degree in Media, Peace, and Conflict Studies.

UPeace’s mission is "to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace and with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The new Peace Journalist magazine has arrived!

The April, 2014 edition of the Peace Journalist magazine has been published. Click here to get the lastest peace journalism news from Northern Ireland, Fiji, Pakistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Colombia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. 

The Peace Journalist is dedicated to disseminating news and information for and about teachers, stu­dents, and practitioners of peace and conflict sensitive journalism.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. The next edition of The Peace Journalist will be published in October, 2014. Submissions are welcome from all.