Dov Shinar and Wilhelm Kempf (eds)
Peace journalism: The state of the art
This is a wonderful text that captures both the strengths and weaknesses of the current debate over peace journalism. The range of themes, practical strategies and theoretical approaches explored is particularly impressive. Annabel McGoldrick begins by examining ways in which prevalent conventions of journalistic objectivity, in fact, predispose coverage of conflict in favour of war. Only through a commitment to the principles of peace journalism (embedded in the liberal theory of press freedom) can the mainstream bias towards war journalism be challenged, according to McGoldrick.
Theorising from a radical, alternative perspective, Robert Hackett usefully suggests that one broad strategy for peace journalism is to reform journalism from within. Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (1988) stresses the role of the corporate media in forming a single propaganda system in which ‘money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalise dissent and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their message across to the public’. But Hackett argues that this model fails to explore adequately ‘the openings for oppositional interventions within and against the propaganda system’ and ‘does little to identify the scope and conditions under which newsworkers could exercise the kind of choices called for by PJ’ (p. 79).
Hackett, therefore, draws on the ‘hierarchy of influences’ model of Shoemaker and Reese (1996) and Bourdieu’s analysis of the media as a relatively autonomous institutional sphere (1998) to theorise the activities of newsworkers within the corporate media to promote peace journalism. Shoemaker and Reese identify five layers of influence within the media field –the media workers themselves with their professionally related roles and ethics; the daily work routines within the newsroom; the organisational imperatives of profit oriented, hierarchically structured media institutions; the extra-media influences such as governments, market structures and technology; and finally ideology.
Bourdieu, on the other hand, while suggesting that journalism is a distinct field with its own ethos, also acknowledges that individual journalists are ‘active and creative agents’. Thus Hackett concludes that the hierarchy and field models both suggest some degree of agency for newsworkers. ‘There is indeed a necessary role for dedicated journalists to take the lead’ (p. 93).
Samuel Peleg applies the insights of peace journalism to an exploration of conflict theory, with its focus on the structure and dynamics of conflict and on the ways in which disputes are comprehended by their participants. Drawing on an analysis of the coverage of the Northern Ireland war, the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the movement in the Basque country in Spain for independence, Peleg suggests that peace journalism could help de-escalate the crises. A balanced account, a more sensitive approach to all parties and broad, contextual writing may reduce the penchant for ‘taking sides’ and ‘observing the conflict as a whole – not as a match to be won but as a menace to be contained’ (p: 52).
In a section focusing on the teaching of peace journalism, Jake Lynch, whose seminal writings over the years have helped define some of the central issues in peace journalism, offers the outline of a self-contained module for use in higher education programmes. An important feature of the unit is the analysis of current conflict coverage. Interestingly, Lynch provides the transcript of a report of bombing in Manila following the conventions of war journalism – and follows it up with the same incident reported according to peace journalism principles. In the first version, ‘terrorists’ are the problem while the ‘solution’ presented in the piece is for an intensification of military action to remove, neutralise or punish them.
In the alternative version ‘there is at least an inkling of the conflict as an overarching, shared problem’, partly attributable to underlying structural problems with people seen proposing legal and political remedies. Lynch comments: ‘Once the basic war journalism/peace journalism model has been introduced, students can be sent away in groups to find examples of reports of conflict, identify their war journalism characteristics and suggest effective tactics to re-conceive, re-source, re-construct and re-write them as peace journalism’ (p. 183).
One of the most serious limitations of the text is its emphasis on professional issues. Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick, in their seminal Peace journalism (2005) rightly highlight the corporate media’s over-reliance on elite source and its focus on events rather than process. Building on the critiques of dominant news values by Galtung and Ruge (1965) and Galtung (1998), they even suggest that the peace journalism approach brings us ‘to the point of a journalistic revolution’. And yet they fail to carry this ‘revolutionary’ point to its logical conclusion.
They are not alone. Most of the contributors to this text concentrate on professional issues, only occasionally acknowledging any ‘alternative’ outlet. Susan Dente Ross, for instance (pp. 53-74), ends an extraordinarily detailed and exhaustive review of the PJ literature with a passing reference to ‘independent, self-critical media’ (such as www.IndyMedia.org) and an emphasis on the ‘norms of professional ethics and objectivity’ (ibid: 74). She calls for a ‘journalism of symbolic rapprochement’ involving a transformation of ‘the images of the self and the others’ to end intractable, essentialist, cultural conflicts. But no ‘revolutionary’ changes are needed. She concludes that ‘peace journalism does not involve any radical departure from contemporary journalism practice. Rather peace journalism requires numerous subtle and cumulative shifts in seeing, thinking, sourcing, narrating and financing the news’ (p. 74).
In the final chapter, Dov Shinar (pp 199-210) outlines the conclusions of a two-year project by the peace journalism group of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research. His priorities are largely professional. Listing ‘four promises of peace journalism’, his first is ‘professional improvement’. Peace journalism, he says, ‘might change the seemingly inherent contradiction between the nature of peace stories and the professional demands of journalists’ (p. 201). His fourth promise is to widen ‘scholarly and professional media horizons’ away from ‘functionalism, hard core Marxism and technological determinism’.
Peace journalism theory can provide a useful critique of the corporate media’s promotion of militarism. But, as here, it is too often elitist in its definition of journalism. And too utopian in its suggestion that improvements in professional routines and reforms in journalism training can bring about significant changes. Change will, in fact, only come if based on a radical political analysis of the media and society. This will incorporate an awareness of the possibilities of journalistic activities both within and outside the corporate media and as part of a broader political project to democratise the media and society in general. The strategy will also ultimately involve a radical broadening of the definition of journalism to include intellectuals, campaigners and citizens – all of them articulating their ideas within the dominant and alternative, global public spheres.
Professor Richard Lance Keeble,
University of Lincoln
© the war and media network, 2009