This lesson introduces a two-step model for deconstructing the polarization of conflict parties and opening social discourse to more cooperative solutions. To conclude, empirical evidence on the role of the media in the escalation or de-escalation of conflict will be discussed.
This learning activity provides you with a conceptual tool for implementing peace journalism. Furthermore, it identifies the factors that have influenced the success or failure of conflict coverage in the past.
Because polarized ideas of conflict seem so convincing and exert so much moral pressure on people to take sides, their effects continue to be felt long after wars have ended. It is particularly in long-term, intractable conflicts that distorted perceptions become established as basic societal beliefs (Bar-Tal, 1998). These include, besides widespread fear of the threatening, malevolent enemy, an overly positive national self-image, imagined national victimhood, our society's aims portrayed as just, resulting urgent (national) security needs, and peace as our country's primary aim.
As a result, implementation becomes harder in two different ways.
Kempf (2001a) therefore suggests a two-step procedure for deconstructing war discourse (see Lesson IV), escaping from war-determined distortions in the perception of conflict (see lesson III), and transforming violence-oriented war journalism into conflict-oriented peace journalism (see Lesson II). To recapitulate the models, you will find the three tables from the previous lessons appended to this exercise.
The first step is called "de-escalation oriented conflict coverage" and broadly coincides with what is usually called quality journalism. It is characterized by neutrality and critical distance from all parties to a conflict. De-escalation oriented conflict coverage goes beyond professional journalistic norms only to the extent that journalists' competence in employing conflict theory bears fruit and conflict remains open to peaceful settlement (win-win orientation as an option, questioning violence as an appropriate means of resolving conflict, questioning military values and examining the origins of conflict).
This is, of course, still a long way from peace journalism in Galtung's sense, but it clearly goes beyond conventional war reportage. Thus, prior to the ground offensive in the Gulf war, Gorbachev's peace initiative and Saddam Hussein's readiness to accept the peace plan and withdraw from Kuwait were certainly reported on in the Western media, but at the same time they were subordinated to military logic, discounted and rejected. The headlines of newspaper articles included "USA troubled over cease-fire" (Aftenposten, 21-02-91), "Soviets want to get into the arena again" (Aftenposten, 22-02-91), or "The worst possible solution" (Südkurier, 23-02-91) (cf. Kempf and Reimann, 2002). And during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina attempts at peaceful conflict resolution received hardly any support from the international press. The military intervention scenario was preferred, and even today leading representatives of the media are proud that they convinced the public (particularly the American public) to support the NATO intervention in Bosnia and, they believe, thereby helped end the war (Luostarinen and Kempf, 2000).
De-escalation oriented conflict coverage
Solution oriented conflict coverage
|Conceptualization||Investigating origins of conflict with win-win orientation, questioning force as a means of resolving conflict and criticizing military values|
|Assessment of rights and aims||Respect for opponent's rights and unbiased representation of his aims; realistic and self-critical evaluation of own rights and aims; fair coverage of peace initiatives and mediation attempts|
|Assessment of actions||Realistic, self-critical evaluation of own side's actions and unbiased evaluation of opponent's actions; critical distance from militants on all sides|
|Emotional involvement||Recognition of threats to opponent and reduced sense of being threatened|
|Identification offers||Neutral and detached|
While de-escalation oriented conflict coverage still uses a dualistic construction of conflict and only deconstructs the tension and the polarization of the conflict parties, part of this dualism is abandoned in solution oriented conflict coverage . Seen realistically, this second step of peace journalism can therefore only hope to win a majority when an armistice or a peace treaty is already in place. Nevertheless, as a consistent minority position, solution oriented conflict coverage can also provide an important stimulus during war and can contribute to the gradual deconstruction of war discourse. Since dissonant information is usually rejected, however, only individual aspects of solution oriented coverage are realizable. Just as conventional media coverage (even in peacetime, cf. Kempf, 1999a) is always one step ahead of conflict escalation, peace journalism must always proceed one step ahead of the dominant social discourse in moving toward de-escalation, conflict resolution and reconciliation.
De-escalation oriented conflict coverage
Solution oriented conflict coverage
|Conceptualization||Peace orientation (peace = freedom from violence + creativity); proactive (prevention before violence occurs); people oriented (focus on civil society)|
|Assessment of rights and aims||Focus on common rights, aims and interests and on the benefits for all sides of ending war/violence; gives the anti-war opposition a voice; focuses on peace initiatives, signals readiness for peace and mediation attempts|
|Assessment of actions||Focuses on suffering on all sides, reports on invisible effects of war: trauma and loss of reputation, structural and cultural damage; humanizes all sides and identifies all who are unjust; concentrates on reconciliation perspectives|
|Emotional involvement||Recognizes costs of war, even in the case of victory; transforms outrage at the enemy into outrage at war|
Please click on the arrow button to work on the first set of questions.
Conventional perceptions of conflicts within societies create opposing factions and pressure people to side with one party or another. Especially in the case of prolonged conflict, perceptual distortions can magnify the negative effects of societal beliefs. As a consequence, the process becomes deadlocked and thus more difficult to transform constructively.
That is correct. First, societal beliefs can represent an obstacle, because journalists' views often mirror convictions widespread in a society. If a society adopts a hostile stance toward a group, it is highly likely that its journalists will do so as well. Second, Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance predicts that information incompatible with basic societal beliefs will tend to be dismissed. This non-acceptance involves circular reasoning, as perceived information tends to confirm societal beliefs, and conversely. A two-step approach to peace journalism, however, provides the means to break out of this vicious circle.
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The second part of this exercise focuses on a model developed by Kempf (2001a). It is a two-step procedure meant to overcome implementation problems. As mentioned in the text, this two-step model aims at deconstructing war discourse, correcting war-determined distortions in the perception of conflicts, and transforming conflict oriented approaches to journalism into peace journalism. Because the model comprises two components, the exercise will start with the first step.
Very good! The text states that the first step is very similar to what is usually called quality journalism. [If you were surprised by the last statement, please keep in mind that quality journalism can be identified by its neutrality and critical distance from all parties to conflicts.] However, even though the first step implies principles very similar to those of quality journalism, the two concepts are not identical.
The first step of the suggested model aims at deconstructing the perceptual distortions dominant in conflict-torn societies. That is why it is called "de-escalation oriented conflict coverage."
6. Outline the obstacles impeding a straightforward implementation of the second step.(This is an open question. Your answer will not be checked).
Solution oriented conflict coverage — the second step of the model — rejects the dualism still accepted in the first step. Dealing with social conflicts on a cooperative basis, however, presupposes (to some extent) the existence of mutual trust. This means that the second step can only be realized on a large scale when peace is on the agenda. In spite of the problems which solution oriented conflict coverage faces, one should keep in mind that it can still contribute to the gradual deconstruction of war discourse even if it is only a minority position.
You have reviewed the components of the model in questions 1-3 for the first step and 4-6 for the second. The next question seeks to ensure that you understand the differences between the two steps. It is based on the tables in the text.
Please click on the arrow button to proceed to the next section, which will present some insights from empirical studies.
The previous parts of this lesson introduced a two-step procedure for implementing peace journalism, a concept which contributes to the constructive transformation of conflict. Peace journalism considers how media affect the escalation or de-escalation of conflict and analyzes professional journalistic norms. The model is composed of two stages: de-escalation oriented conflict coverage and solution oriented conflict coverage. The last part introduces examples of constructive contributions, as well as discussing some cases of less constructive conflict reporting.
Empirical studies of the media in El Salvador after the civil war and the peace treaty of 1992 (Nuikka, 1999) and of German press reports about France after the end of the Second World War (Jaeger, 2002b, 2005) show that media can only perform this function productively when peace is really on the political agenda. Thus Nuikka (1999) shows that journalism really can promote the democratization process by providing a platform for reasoned discussions which enable violence to be gradually renounced as the dominant means of dealing with conflict. Jaeger (2002b, 2005) shows further that the selection criteria for the choice of journalists' topics do not reflect invariant natural laws. In both the period immediately after a war (1946-1950) and at times of well-established German—French cooperation (1966-1970), German press reporting on France emphasized positive events. With the advance of German-French reconciliation, reports about non-elite topics increasingly found their way into the German press. This was due, among other things, to increasing contacts with French culture and life-styles which helped German readers perceive France as a cultured nation and no longer as just the (former) enemy.
Studies of German newspaper coverage (Frankfurter Rundschau and Berliner Zeitung) of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between 1993 and 1997 (Annabrig, 2000), on the one hand, and of the Northern Ireland peace treaty of 1998 (Hamdorf, 2001), on the other hand, reveal obvious deficiencies. Thus in the Frankfurter Rundschau's reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process the news selection criteria did not change much, and negative contexts prevailed over positive ones. There were more reports about Israeli society (elite country) than about Palestinian society (non-elite country), and the reportage clearly gave elites on both sides preferential treatment. Segments of the civilian population that favored reconciliation were almost completely ignored. Only in two areas could an attempt to support the peace process be found. There were obvious efforts to build trust in the Palestinian elite, which was almost exclusively represented by Arafat, who was presented in positive contexts almost as frequently as in negative ones, and, in an obvious attempt at neutrality, the Israelis (elite society) did not appear any more frequently than the Palestinians (non-elite society) in the reportage.
As a kind of side-effect of this half-hearted attempt to display unbiased neutrality, in order to go along with the peace process without really supporting it, Palestinian society was, so to speak, split into an elite (Arafat), with whom trust was built up, and a population that remained foreign, unacknowledged, and possibly threatening and prepared to use violence. Over the years the Frankfurter Rundschau clung to the expectation that at any moment the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could break out again with full force.
Similar deficiencies show up in an article on the Northern Ireland Peace Treaty in the Berliner Zeitung of April 11, 1998. Although fully sympathetic to the peace treaty, it is clearly dominated by escalation oriented aspects, and important information that could give a positive perspective on the peace process is not discussed. Important questions about the conflict are hardly examined, the civilian population (and their eagerness for peace) is not given any attention at all, and to a large extent the hard-earned achievements of the negotiators are questioned. The subheadings of the article already indicate an ambivalent attitude towards the peace process and encourage readers to have doubts about it.
Although the headline emphasizes the peace treaty as a possible solution to the conflict, any win-win orientation is absent in the subheading — printed in boldface — that follows:
"The Northern Ireland wall is shaky but still standing".
After the first paragraph praises the peace treaty as an historic event and a new opportunity for the region, a subheading follows:
"Not a handshake".
This conjures up the antagonism between the parties in the Northern Ireland conflict and sets the tone for the rest of the article, which is finally summarized in another subheading after paragraph six:
"Deep mistrust remains".
Summarizing the research findings quoted above makes it seem that, to support the beginning peace and reconciliation processes, the media in conflict regions were themselves more willing to change their attitudes than the international media which, at best, stick to their sceptical wait-and-see position. Empirical research on media reportage during peace processes is, however, only just beginning, and it is still not yet possible to reach a final verdict.
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The empirical evidence suggests that media can support peace processes. However, as explained, this presupposes that peace is really on the political agenda. Various examples demonstrate that, all too often, conventional approaches to conflict reporting actually do not contribute to the de-escalation of conflicts.
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