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by Jennie S. Bev

Covering conflicts, wars, and attacks must be handled carefully. The press is expected to be objective and impartial in covering such sensitive issues. However, oftentimes, the result is the opposite.

We have seen so many TV interviews in which two polarized interviewees are expected to debate fairly and squarely, yet the more aggressive and opinionated one is likely to steer the direction. In written reports, it’s not uncommon to encounter explicit and implicit biases that would jeopardize peace structure in a society.

Such media coverage creates more harm than good. For this, the press should be re-trained to properly implement peace journalism. The rule of thumb, like in medicine and psychotherapy, is: media coverage should do no harm. Journalists should not add insult to injury.

Johan Galtung, the founder of Peace and Conflict Studies, coined the term “peace journalism.” Peace journalism is the corollary of war journalism. War journalism reports conflicts that occur at present in a specific region where violence took place, is taking place, or is likely to take place.

In peace journalism, editors and reporters carefully weigh the pros and cons of reporting a story, what story to report, and how to report them in light of creating opportunities for society to cultivate responses to violence and conflict with peaceful means.

Peace itself is not the absence of conflict, but it is the absence of violence. Conflicts will continue to occur throughout the history of mankind, but they should be resolved with non-violent measures.

According to Lynch and McGoldrick in Peace Journalism, in peace journalism, insights of conflict analysis and transformation are used to update the concepts of balance, accuracy, and fairness in reporting. It further builds awareness of nonviolence in the process of story reporting. These are in contrary to “regular” war reporting which tends to take sides and usually one side’s story outweighs the other’s.

Thus, a story adhering to principles of peace journalism reflects: more than two sides, spreads peaceful ways to understand structure, culture and process of conflict, and sensitive to stakeholders’ psychological and emotional well-being.

However, peace journalism doesn’t mean censoring information to “protect” the public. It is simply a more responsible form of journalism requiring deeper and more thoughtful information processing prior to being disseminated to the public.

Galtung further compares peace journalism with war journalism. Peace journalism explores conflict formation, war journalism focuses on conflict arena. Peace journalism is win-win, war journalism is zero-sum orientation. Peace journalism explores empathy and understanding, war journalism uses “us versus them” framework and propaganda.

Peace journalism sees a conflict as a problem, war journalism sees the other side (an entity) as the problem. Peace journalism humanizes all, war journalism dehumanizes the other side. Peace journalism prevents further conflict, war journalism is reactive and waiting for new violence to report.

Peace journalism covers suffering people oriented from both sides, war journalism focuses on one side’s suffering only. Peace journalism focuses on laypeople peacemakers, war journalism focuses on elite peacemakers, such as politicians and high-profiled leaders. At last, peace journalism is non-violent solution oriented, while war journalism is victory oriented.

In the recent attacks of Indonesia-based Ahmadiyya followers of an Islamic sect in Banten and Christian churches and schools in Temanggung, TV shows have invited interviewees with polarizing ideologies, which created entertaining shows, but weren’t effective for peacemaking and peacebuilding. They even created more fear in audience, due to the magnified messages of hatred conveyed by the extremist side.

Peace journalism requires conscientious decisions with an assumption that the audience is intelligent and prefers peace to ongoing violence. The press must be aware for the possibility of being a vehicle of advancement of violence. The press must behave as powerful peacemakers and peacebuilders, not spectators of conflicts and wars.

“Bad and fearful news sells” is a mindless and heartless objective, especially in conflict-torn Indonesia. Use a long-term vision: in a peaceful society, people can work well without disruptions, which translates to better economy and higher purchasing power. There, you can still more papers and have more audience with peace.

According to Cheryl Koopman and Lisa Butler of Stanford University Psychiatry Department, films portraying violence –in this case political violence—has at least short-term effects on viewers’ moods and political behaviors and those with horrific images like experiences of soldiers in wars have considerable psychological consequences. Thus, it would wise for peace journalists to use films to invoke humanitarian responses. However, it must be done responsibly.

At last, peace is not merely a Kantian normative ideal but also a living principle with which we should base our thoughts upon. With thoughts, we can influence opinions and policies, which is not conflict-free but violence-free.[]


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