Center for Global Peace Journalism 10th anniversary symposium

Center for Global Peace Journalism 10th anniversary symposium
by Allan LEONARD
14 March 2022

The Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University recently held an online symposium to mark its 10th anniversary. The agenda was to look back on the Center’s accomplishments and forward to the future of peace journalism. Leading experts from around the world attended.

Shane Smeed (President, Park University) welcomed the several dozen attendees. He spoke of the university’s tradition of transforming lives over its near 150-year history, with reference to some core values of peace journalism itself. This included civil respect, global citizenship, and integrity.

Steven Youngblood explained his role as a founding director of the center, which he described as working with academics, students, and journalists worldwide, through workshops, lectures, and a blog and printed magazine publication, The Peace Journalist, with its 20th edition recently published and which is distributed in 67 countries.

A mission is to produce counter narratives of those who are marginalized. Over the past decade, the center has operated in 27 countries, with hundreds of journalists and students, and with dozens of “outstanding organizations” and projects. For example, in Cameroon the work was to inform about responsible reporting about conflict; in Northern Ireland, about reporting trauma; in northern Uganda, about journalism as a tool for reconciliation; and in India and Pakistan, about coming together as journalists to tell stories of common interest.

Youngblood outlined ongoing and future projects, including work in India, Pakistan, Kosovo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and the US.

Jake Lynch (University of Sydney) gave a keynote address, “25 years of peace journalism”, which originated with Annabel McGoldrick and him communicating with Johan Galtung, known as the funder of peace and conflict studies. Lynch described a paradox of peace journalism, whereby the structure of news reportage serves media structures (such as news items being packaged up and sold, and that “bad news sells”), leaving little agency for individual journalists. He summarized results from a small pilot study, which suggested that respondents applied and adapted peace journalism principles in creative ways, with new awareness and reflexivity; this could impact audiences to encourage conflict and debate transformation.

Vanessa Bassil, from Lebanon, described peace journalism as a noble mission, and saw the opportunity to build capacity among young journalists. She founded the Media Association for Peace (MAP) to promote peace journalism, which included hosting an online, regular talk show, where they invite journalists to talk about press freedom and peace building. They have participants from 18 religious/ethnic groups, who discuss the challenge of reporting while looking for solutions, which includes having a common definition of “peace building” itself.

Lubna Jerar and Pratyush Ranjan spoke about their joint work in Pakistan and India, respectively. Jerar realized that Indian journalists had a mutual challenge in investigating and reporting on issues affecting women, such as legal redress, access to services, climate change; Ranjan said the same. By working with Ranjan and colleagues, Jerar said that both sides have benefited. Ranjan gave an example of Journalists for Change, with stories of mutual interest. They said that the Center for Global Peace Journalism has given them a valuable space, and both are working to instill peace journalism in younger journalists.

Rose Obah Akah said, “The history of peace journalism in Cameroon cannot be written without Steven Youngblood.” She explained how “the seed was planted” in 2016, establishing the Cameroon Community Media Network that has changed the media landscape and shifted the narrative in 8 out of 10 regions (including French-speaking). Akah said that civil society organizations see the network as part of crisis solutions, increasing the capacity of CSOs work. One way this is achieved is by maximizing the voices “of those who are bearing the brunt of the crises”. The network is developing a peace journalism manual, which will go into all media newsrooms so as to change the whole country’s media landscape.

Christina Avila Zesatti, in Mexico, addressed the cynicism that “violence is fact and peace is only an ideal”, saying there are journalists who don’t want to “reinforce the violence by only telling the violence in our work”. The objective, she argued, is to have space to report more about peaceful solutions from all around the world, “a good dose of good efforts that exist in every conflict everywhere”. For her part, she created the online platform, “Correspondal de Paz”.

Una Murphy shared her personal experience of what it was like to report on the violence in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles”, while working in mainstream media in her 20s. She described the accumulation of covering riots, funerals, and recurring violence as traumatic. After some time outside Northern Ireland, she returned for an opportunity to cover more social issue stories. She co-founded VIEWdigital, “to amplify the voices of people who are making really good contributions but whose stories are not told”. Murphy held up an issue of their magazine that covered the topics of dealing with trauma and looking at legacy issues.

Kathryn Johnston, also of VIEW Digital, gave the concluding address, speaking of the importance of global citizenship and inclusivity as a core principles of peace journalism, “especially in regards to gender and LGBT+ issues”. She described challenges of reporting on the past, with obstacles such as the Official Secrets Act, which stop the revelation of truth. A member of the Irish Executive Council of the National Union of Journalists, Johnston suggested adding a principle of “do no harm” to the NUJ’s code of conduct for its members; she referenced Irish poet W.B. Yates, who wrote in 1938, “Did that play of mine send out certain men and then get shot?”

In closing remarks, Lynch suggested an evolution of peace journalism, with an emergence of an independent, community media sector, and affordances with digital technology. He said that we should consider a consequentialist ethic (such as “do no harm”), as well as look for terrain for peace journalism to move onto, with more access and enhancement through training. Young finished by saying how inspirational the symposium’s testimonies were: “Your work makes tremendous impact and inspiration, and is invaluable to those in the field. I am re-energised.”

A recording of the symposium event is available online.

Image by Park University used by license.

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