conflict & communication online, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
ISSN 1618-0747




Wilhelm Kempf (ed.), The Peace Journalism Controversy. 2008. Berlin: regener.

The long-running controversy over the concept of peace journalism was enriched last year by a stimulating new contribution. In his 2008 book, The Peace Journalism Controversy, Wilhelm Kempf gives two prominent critics and two committed advocates of peace journalism –- with respectively one journalist paired with one social scientist on each side of the issue – an opportunity to openly discuss their positions on the concept of peace journalism. An interdisciplinary exchange appears all the more urgent because both the opponents and the advocates of peace journalistic concepts usually only discuss their positions with their own supporters, and in the rather infrequent cases when they meet the exchange is dominated above all by polemics and mutual misunderstandings. The Peace Journalism Controversy was already published in 2007 in the online journal conflict & communication online (Vol. 6, No. 2) and was expanded for the print version with the addition of three papers on the basic principles of conflict reportage (Kempf) and peace journalism (Galtung). In his foreword, Kempf expresses the hope that the volume will help to clarify some of the misunderstandings about the concept of peace journalism and lend new impulses to the search for quality in conflict reportage.
Journalistic quality is also one of the key terms that sparked the debate. David Loyn is an experienced BBC foreign correspondent and eloquent opponent of peace journalistic approaches. Already on the first page of his contribution he presents the provocative thesis: "The opposite of peace journalism is good journalism." He thereby draws on a definition by Lynch & McGoldrick (2005) that peace journalism is the result of a decision by editors and reporters to tell stories in ways that enable broad segments of society to consider and to highly value violence-free conflict resolution. According to Loyn, the role of journalists is, however, that of "observers not players." It is not the reporter's task to create peacemaking politicians. To the contrary, a "new orthodoxy" tends more to narrow than to expand the latitude for qualitatively high-value reportage. It can lead to role confusion and undermine not only the professional integrity of journalists, but also of good journalism overall, in that it imposes on journalists a duty to achieve a societal effect – going beyond their duty to report with professional skepticism toward all sides. Even if not everything about conventional journalism is perfect, the solution is to improve the employment of traditional methods in an effort to determine the truth through objectivity, to strive for a maximally accurate, agenda-neutral reportage - not a peace journalistic "ethical checklist" overloaded with aims and expectations.
Thomas Hanitzsch is a communication and media scientist at the Institute for Journalism Studies and Media Research at the University of Zürich who worked with Wilhelm Kempf to develop the concept of The Peace Journalism Controversy. In his paper he tries to integrate peace journalism into the system of journalism. Employing the axes of factual versus fictional content and external versus internal communication aims, Hanitzsch makes it clear that the approaches circulating under the generic concept of peace journalism range from peace propaganda and the "journalism of attachment" to simply "good" journalism still more earnestly calling for the professional norms of objectivity, neutrality, precision, impartiality, etc. The latter is, however, just old wine in new wineskins, even if it has a worthwhile aim - why would we need manuals for peace journalism, if a consistent, systematic employment of recognized quality standards already suffices as an alternative to traditional war reportage?
For Hanitzsch the concept of peace journalism is not bad per se, but it lacks more than just an epistemological foundation. Protagonists of peace journalism also exaggerate the influence of journalists and the media on political decision-making. The public is understood as a passive mass that must be enlightened by means of peace journalism. In the field of journalism, individual actors' influence and freedom to act are thereby considerably overrated, as if reportage alone were dependent on their goodwill and competence. To the contrary, there are excessive structural pressures and constraining routines in the process of news production. It is thereby naive and illusory to represent the practice of peace journalism as a question of personal freedom. In order to make a serious contribution to war reportage and critical reflection on it, peace journalism must also take into account the structural conditions of journalism, and the concept must be linked to journalism research. Ultimately it is not the journalist, but rather the culture that must change if peace journalism is to have a chance, for "what kind of society do we live in that allows and creates a sort of journalism that has no sense of peace?"
Jake Lynch is a longtime foreign correspondent, editor of numerous contributions on the topic of peace journalism, head of international training workshops for journalists and Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. In his paper, he replies to the criticisms of Loyn and Hanitzsch. Loyn's arguments show a lack of critical awareness of the structural peculiarities of conflict reportage. One could not meaningfully discuss the role of the media in conflicts if one did not also talk about propaganda. Journalists should report as accurately and comprehensively as possible on the facts they discover. Peace journalism goes beyond these tasks, however, insofar as it not only calls for a critical examination of sources, but also of the possible consequences of reportage. Contrary to Loyn's representation, sources are not passive, and a journalist who quotes them does not merely disclose an already existing reality. To avoid becoming an unintentional accessory to the individual interests of the parties involved in conflicts, one must always be aware that sources are active, "trying to create a reality that does not yet exist," above all in ongoing conflicts. But which among the many alternative representations of reality should one accept? Lynch suggests, as a way out of the dilemma in disagreements about realities, to take a critical-realist approach: "We do not have to claim that journalism 'reflects' a logically prior reality … When covering conflicts, we can tread down to find solid ground beneath our feet, by studying and applying what is known and has been observed about conflict, drawing on the overlapping fields of Conflict Analysis and Peace Research. We can use this knowledge to help us decide for ourselves what is important, and to identify what is missing from what we are told by interested parties." Precisely because it draws its analytic methods from the scientifically-based findings of peace and conflict research, peace journalism makes possible a representation of what is happening in the conflict area that is more accurate, richer in perspectives, more comprehensive, more critical and simultaneously more aware of its responsibility than what conventional war journalism can offer. According to Lynch, Hanitzsch ignores the findings of peace and conflict research, on which peace journalism is based in the first place, and is thereby misled into unreflectively adopting particular positions as fixed parameters. Even if there are structural constraints, in journalism the behavior of the protagonists is never completely determined. To the contrary, through the mobilization of social forces peace journalism could contribute to a structural transformation of the conditions of news production.
Samuel Peleg is Professor for Political Communication at Tel Aviv University in Israel and Scientific Director of the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya College. He has published numerous books, writes for the Israeli press and is active in peace organizations. His contribution is a passionate plea for socially responsible journalism. He places the arguments of the critics in two camps: 1. Peace journalism is incompatible with journalism in the true sense, which demands that journalists merely serve as witnesses to the truth and maintain a radically neutral standpoint. 2. Because nothing more than good or improved journalism is understood under the concept of peace journalism, the latter is redundant and thereby obsolete. To the first camp, Peleg responds that like all other societal actors, journalists always also have a social responsibility for their actions, and therefore it does not suffice merely to observe and to describe conflicts, war, violence and injustice. Conventional reportage is incompatible with the de-escalation of conflict. Peace journalism, to the contrary, offers a dynamic and creative possibility to guide events in a better direction. Going beyond mere "good" conventional journalism, peace journalism is enriched by a specific normative agenda that obligates it to conscientious, conflict-analytic and fair reportage and that rests on the unique and innovative premises that conflicts can be avoided, de-escalated and even resolved. Conventional journalism neither wants to nor can achieve this, due to constraints that are structural, psychological and controlled by routines.
The introductory contributions are followed by the replies of the four discussants. The authors thereby have the opportunity to respond to the previous speaker, rebut criticisms and objections, correct what they view as inaccurate evaluations, and supplement and accentuate their arguments. They use the space in various ways. All too often arguments on the factual level are linked with what are to some extent quite personal attacks. Already in the first part critiques of opposing positions did not exactly go to great lengths to be tactful. Given the disappointed hopes for a constructive synthesis of the various ideas, in his assessment Peleg rightly comments: "It seems that we are captured in the heat of combat." At the latest in parts of this section the overall rhetorical fireworks ignited by the ambitious pairs of Loyn, Hanitzsch, Lynch and Peleg spin off into polemics. - This is not without concrete reference to the arguments presented and is intellectually no doubt stimulating and quite suitable for further clarifying some positions. The problem is just that if one assumes that at least two of the authors are familiar with the foundations of conflict dynamics, how could a harmless scientific discussion on the topic of peace journalism escalate into intellectual "head-bashing" (quote from Peleg) in which passing comments by the opposite side are gleefully shot down?
With reference to the discussion, Wilhelm Kempf tries to find the least common denominator in the form of a position-transcending synthesis. As the volume editor, he again emphasizes the heterogeneity of all the approaches that are conventionally pursued under the generic concept of peace journalism. Peace journalism combines good journalism with an external goal: peace. Some representatives of peace journalism may thereby underrate journalistic values like objectivity, neutrality and impartiality. They thereby nudge peace journalism closer to advocacy journalism, as, e.g., epitomized by the journalism of attachment, and thereby to public relations. Through a dangerous mixture of neglecting the tools of qualitatively good journalism and advocacy journalism, however, the worthwhile aim of peace is exposed to the threat of misuse for one-sided reportage. If journalists start a "crusade against conventional reportage," they become all too vulnerable targets and risk likewise being co-opted as recruits for a propaganda war. Peace propaganda is still propaganda and consequently does not deserve to be called journalism. However, peace journalism understood as "good" journalism is insofar not "old wine in new wineskins," as it combines professional standards with specific conflict competencies whose acquisition should not be left to chance. Peace journalism, as a more accurate, more comprehensive form of journalism, definitely has a chance to spread and contribute to greater quality in crisis and conflict reportage. For this it requires, however, an intensification of peace journalistic basic research, as well as a healthy awareness that it should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" in its criticism of conventional journalism. If we – like some representatives of peace journalism – radically turn away from the norm of objectivity, we will not only endanger the acceptance of peace journalism in journalistic circles, but also undermine the confidence of recipients in peace journalistic reportage.
The Peace Journalism Controversy is, as its name promises, as well in this volume a dispute among scarcely reconcilable opposing positions that can only be somewhat softened by Kempf's synthesis. The editor's hope to contribute to the clarification of misunderstandings through the stimulation of a discussion process among the opponents and supporters of peace journalism is fulfilled to the extent that the misunderstandings become more transparent through the discussions, and the disputed points gain fuller contours. To be sure, both advocates and critics largely share the aim of objective reportage: truthful, many-sided, authentic and non-partisan journalism. Differences between the camps arise above all where the one camp calls for more awareness of the possible consequences of journalistic action or even explicitly calls for bias in favor of peace and against war, and the other camp, to the contrary, rejects all responsibility for the potential risks and side-effects of their reportage, which is produced according to professional quality standards, or suggests that consumer needs, societal pressures and structural conditions are all-powerful.
Despite the introductory chapters on basic principles, the volume presupposes that readers have a certain previous familiarity with the field of peace journalism, without which some of the verbal fencing may seem like intellectual hairsplitting. Overall, the book can be highly recommended for anyone who wants further orientation in the peace journalistic universe and enjoys academic wars of words and rhetorically brilliant, provocative discussion contributions.

Susanne Jaeger




On the author: Susanne Jaeger, Dr. des., b. 1966 in Würzburg (Germany), received her diploma in psychology at the University of Konstanz in 1996. She is currently working as a research assistent at the University of Ulm, Zentrum für Psychatrie Weissenau.

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