Sunday, November 8, 2009

Media and Conflict Management

It just so happens that I took a skills institute this weekend that explored how media can play a key role in conflict management/ conflict resolution, and it tied in amazingly well to this weeks readings, since they are essentially about reporting on violent conflict.

In the course, we looked at different ways to report on a conflict-- one approach being more "conflict-centered" and one more "peace/democracy-centered". The latter operates under the assumption of journalists as activists who play a key role in managing conflicts, and considering a lot of what we look at in this class as far as media content flows, that is certainly a valid assumption.

Kai Hafez repeats one piont we discussed in the conflict management class-- that media often follow rather than lead. 'Internatinoal' news stories are presented in light of national or in-country interests, at least in the perspective from which stories are told. One of Hafez's conclusions is that mass media is not globalized in the sense that international coverage leaves its national interests aside. Zuckerman supports this from a political economy angle when she points out that the amount of attention mainstream media devote to particular regions generally correlates with the GDP of the regions in question.

On top of all of this is what we examined in the skills institute from an "IPCR" perspective (peace and conflict resolution): war journalism versus peace journalism, and the tendency for mass media to take a conflict-centered angle on a story rather than a contextual, conflict-management role, which is a more interventionist view of journalism. It's interesting to think about this while at the same time reading about terrorist's groups who are using the media very carefully and consciously to put out a conflict-oriented, strategic message. Perhaps more than ever this calls into question the old way of reporting on conflict-- highlighting the drama, playing up adversarial positions, leaving out important historical details that give more context. In other words, often the way conflict is reported plays right into the narratives that are pushed by terrorist networks, doesn't it?

Even more complicating is the problem of patriotism in the of journalism, and complicity with the military-- Hafez points out how national interest tinges the news, but in war coverage sometimes journalists are caught in a place where they could be seen as "aiding and abetting the enemy" for attempting to report all sides of a conflict in a balanced way. (Kate Adie spends some time on this in "Observing Conflict" 2006)

I'm not sure how much water this problem holds, though, since a truly cm-oriented report would not be favoring one side or the other, but simply giving a bit more historical context, discussing how all groups (usually more than two, and usually more than military fovernment officials) are affected by an event, the history of those groups interactions, and all conciliatory efforts being made-- not just troop movements or threats from one official to another.

As you all know, I also think only publicly funded media can produce responsible, conflict-management-oriented, "democratic" journalism. I have a hard time seeing how attention to conflict management could be incorporated into Murdoch or GE's attention to ratings and the bottom line-- their concerns regarding conflict are only for those that could affect their holdings, and despite the fact that not every story coming out of their outlets will be slanted so obviously, but I'm sure editors have very strict guidelines about what they can and cannot cover, and about how they cover it. So, basically from this weekend, I still conclude that reforming corporate media is near impossible, and democratic/peace journalism is great, but probably irrelevant for anyone working in corporate media...

* Random criticism:
Kai Hafez mentions that "the consumer tends to lack direct experience when processing direct information about other nations and cultures" but that can be true of the editors and journalists themselves, especially as more and more foreign desks are eliminated and the news sources become a smaller and smaller pool. The people cutting/editing the news stories’ might have little knowledge of the history or culture of the region on which they are reporting.

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