conflict & communication online, Vol.10, No. 2, 2011
ISSN 1618-0747




Jake Lynch & Johan Galtung (2010). Reporting conflict: New directions in peace journalism. Australia: University of Queensland Press.

Jake Lynch and Johan Galtung, indisputably the leading experts in peace journalism today, clearly define the focus group and the ultimate goal of their masterpiece, Reporting conflict, by dedicating it to peace journalists who report on the world in an effort to make it a better place.  They cover the broad theoretical foundations of peace and war journalism, address controversies between such concepts as objectivity and balance, and reflect on the press coverage of major terrorist attacks and military responses in the 21st century. Thereby they go much deeper than just discussing ways of reporting conflicts to stop cycles of retaliation and start searching for solutions to conflict.  Consequently, this text is recommended not only for those who are actively engaged in the social construction of reality, but also for those who want to reflect on personal judgments of past conflicts and what the media have told us about them.  Readers who are searching for rational analyses of the relationship of US and Islamist fundamentalism that would explain the underlying processes and the roles of the media in 9/11 and the consequences for the 21st century would find this book especially enlightening.
The first of the book’s eight chapters lays a solid theoretical foundation for conflict reporting that can follow either the low road or the high road, depending on whether the focus is on violence and war or on conflict and its peaceful transformation.  To illustrate the low road of conflict reporting, the authors metaphorically compare it with reporting on sports events, where in a competition between two teams there can be only one winner.  The authors compare the high road with reporting on health, where in the struggle of the human body against different pathogens sometimes one side wins sometimes the other, but the task of journalism is to report on this struggle objectively.  However, since conflicts with only two parties are abstractions and reality is different, Lynch and Galtung discuss the practical distinctions between war and peace journalism and elaborate the news filters of the four-factor news communication model.
The second chapter deals with the question of the emergence of peace journalism in theory and its implications for the practice of reporting conflict from the perspectives of communication and peace and conflict studies.  Thus drawing on real-world examples, Lynch and Galtung discuss structural and cultural influences on the way journalists do their job; encoding and decoding mechanisms of news production and reception; framing as an analytical tool for operationalizing peace journalism; interconnections between violence, conflict causes and parties; and, finally, distinctions between structural and cultural violence.
The third chapter deals with controversies over the concepts of objectivity, balance, truth and ethics.  Agreeing that objectivity refers to the factual basis of reporting, the authors admit that balance is more problematic.  Comparing these concepts to ‘mom, the flag and apple pie’, the authors offer one possible formula for balance.  Then they criticize it and conclude that it is more important and more positive to balance violent action with peaceful action, similar to balancing disease with health.  In discussing ethics, Lynch and Galtung analyze the ethics of intention, that is, the actual consequences of a style of reporting, not what may have been intended.  The conclusion? – ask the authors: “There is work to be done, some of it uphill.  But the present situation, reinforcing violence by giving more celebrity to the violent than to the peaceful, is simply unethical.”
What work do they recommend to further peace journalism?  Who should do it, and how shall they do it?  Lynch and Galtung address such questions in the fourth chapter. They offer a manual for peace journalism, supported with three case studies of media reporting, Korea, Yugoslavia and the Gulf War.  Starting almost every other paragraph with an imperative, the authors set milestones for peace journalism that are applicable to reporting on many kinds of conflicts. Focus not only on the differences, but also on the commonalities; focus on the obvious; tell the story from all sides; get access to events, people, issues; do not overuse elites as sources; seek out stories from ‘ordinary people’; also tell the ‘blood and guts’ stories; offer background stories; watch out for manipulation by newsmakers and news media; and, finally, report on and explore peace initiatives.
The fifth chapter is dedicated to deepening the analysis of media influence on political decisions.  Thus, the authors explore reporting on the 9/11 and 10/07 terrorist attacks and explain the discourses of US and Islamist fundamentalism with a rational analysis of peace action based on two simple ideas.  “Where there is violence there is an unresolved conflict underneath and, since violence introduces a new conflict between perpetrator and victim, violence breeds more violence in retaliation cycles.”  Lynch and Galtung propose a remedy for terrorism and state terrorism with a focus on reconciliation which is the same as one approved by the overwhelming majority of people polled in 33 countries immediately after the 9/11 attacks – international courts – but also mobilization against fundamentalism, changes in policies and a rejection of violence.  How did US media respond?  US mainstream journalism, driven by fundamentalist US discourse, was blind and incapable of contextualizing what was happening.  The claims by Bin Laden that his nation had experienced this kind of humiliation for more than 80 years – subtracting these 80 years from 2001 would bring us to the Sykes-Picot treachery of 1916 – attracted little or no detective work by journalists.  If we consider the 3,000 killed in the 9/11 criminal outrage in the context of 67 US interventions after World War II (with Afghanistan 68, Iraq 69, Haiti 70) and 12-16 million killed, we can start to obtain a context for the violence of 9/11, but this discourse was also absent from the US media.  To illustrate that the world press also focused on moralizing rather than on the well-informed commentary so necessary for peace journalism, Lynch and Galtung present a unique collection of 40 excerpts from highly-regarded newspapers from all continents that were published from September until November 2001 in regard to 9/11.  Thus, a mega-event landed on top of the media, with no media on top of the event.  Anticipating criticism, the authors emphasize that explaining is not justifying. Moreover, neither will the autistic US policy undergo any paradigm shift from security to peace nor will US journalism change from war to peace journalism, because change has to come from outside.
Discussing democracy, the war in Iraq and the British media in the sixth chapter, Lynch and Galtung refer to a number of empirical studies to illustrate how British media used the techniques of war journalism and propaganda to influence public opinion to favor the war in Iraq.  Although the key pro-war arguments in the British media were mainly related to weapons of mass destruction and were not about the need to secure access to oil reserves, two opinion surveys made in late 2002 found that 22 to 44 per cent of the British respondents were convinced that it was all about oil.  Even after British businessmen publicly aired their concerns about the British government’s failure to back the UK oil industry enough in the international scramble for Iraqi oil development, the British media failed to ‘get’ the point.  With this and other examples, the authors demonstrate a serious democratic deficit in reporting on conflicts and illustrate how Tony Blair succeeded in ‘managing’ both public and political opinion.
In the seventh chapter, Lynch and Galtung focus on defining media monitoring as a public process that should improve media performance and provide feedback. Since research shows that conflict reporting tends to ‘disconnect’ audiences from an understanding of the wider world, it is vital for the authors to address the issue of moving media evaluation towards a global standard.  In this regard, they offer a number of examples of empirical efforts to explore the potential for media monitoring with sufficient reliability to make and sustain useful distinctions across media milieus, through time and about any story.
Lynch and Galtung start their final chapter by quoting the popular author and journalist Mark Steyn, who repeated a familiar, cynical formula for the importance accorded to different disasters by American editors: “One dead American equals 10 dead Israelis equals 100 dead Russians equals 1000 dead Africans.” Demonstrating with this example that news about conflict has traditionally been aligned with national interests, the authors trace the history of this alignment to the emergence of the modern nation-state. They argue that its hold on the definition and representation of issues in conflicts has been gradually weakening.  Offering many eye-opening examples from past conflicts, in this chapter the authors reinforce their main argument and underline the chief goal of the book: We must continue to advocate, debate, explore, practice, teach and train journalists in peace journalism, and peace must be given a chance to make the world a better place.


Irina Wolf




About the author: Irina Wolf earned the title of Dr. rer. Soc in Psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany. Her areas of specialization include quantitative and qualitative methods of media content analysis, conflict research and political Islam.


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