conflict & communication online, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2006
ISSN 1618-0747




Susan Dente Ross
(De)Constructing Conflict: A Focused Review of War and Peace Journalism

This overview of the media and conflict literature and case study of media coverage of peace offers a framework and guidance for peace journalism.
Many studies show media rarely report conflict neutrally. Human psychology, journalistic norms, and structural constraints draw media away from complex historical reporting of violence. Limited systematic research on media coverage of peace is insufficient to direct response to prevalent war journalism. A case study of The Washington Report coverage of Middle East peace initiatives suggests problems in media coverage of peace. It demonstrates five trends in press orientations. Peace initiatives are: 1. political maneuvering and strategic posturing, 2. rhetorical games to mask intractable differences, 3. a charade among players with little belief in their success, 4. fragile and impermanent, and 5. an exercise in doublespeak and distortion.
Peace journalists are divided between an activist, advocacy role for media and a definition of peace journalism as quality, objective journalism that includes under-represented perspectives to provide deeper and broader information. The divide reflects long-standing imprecision and ideological objectives in the fields of conflict studies, peace studies, conflict resolution, and more. Thus, economic theorists contend that industry structure and profit-motives drive media to privilege the powerful, limiting the potential for change. The propaganda model of media suggests peace journalism initiatives are impotent because media are a mouthpiece for government. Some say the realities of the post-Cold War world undermine quality journalism, and local media are an inefficient and limited mechanism to disseminate dissident ideas. Critical scholars view peace journalism as flawed, ineffectual, or certain to be co-opted. However, media texts are subject to multiple interpretations; cracks in the monolith offer opportunities for reform.
Peace journalism must transform deeply trained professional patterns, structural and financial pressures, and psychological responses that encourage reactive, nationalistic reporting. Peace journalists must listen well, hear "the other" better, and understand and incorporate that new understanding to transcend the bonds of identity and enmity. Effective peace journalism must be a journalism of symbolic rapprochement. It must recognize journalists as human beings subject to the same social, political, religious and nationalistic pressures as all people. Restructuring and retraining to insulate independent media and journalists from economic and political pressures are critical. Increased pluralism in ownership, structures, and revenue streams is key. Training must inoculate journalists against knee-jerk responses to fear and violence. Peace journalism must embrace awareness of the varied identities and realities of parties to a conflict, the subjective and contextual nature of root causes, and the trap of dualisms.


  full text in English  
On the author:
Susan Dente Ross is an associate dean at Washington State University, a Fulbright Senior Scholar, and a former journalist and newspaper owner. Her research focuses on the roles of legal and media institutions in creating, perpetuating, or resolving social divisions and conflict. An expert in media and legal practices that undermine full political participation and foment conflict, she has focused on how these institutions support intercultural conflict and the circumstances under which they encourage peace and democratic participation. Her work contributes to several multi-national projects to reform media practices and develop a university peace journalism curriculum.

Address: College of Liberal Arts, 309E Thompson Hall, PO Box 642630, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164 USA