The Role of Media in War Journalism and World Peace


By Anum Hanif

(Speech to the World Journalists Conference 2024)

SEOUL: There are many kinds of conflicts in the world today, from small-scale disagreements to full-scale wars. Conflicts persist, leaving a path of devastation and suffering in their wake.

Examples of these conflicts include the continuing civil war in Syria, the tensions in the Middle East, and territorial disputes in Asia.  Last year has demonstrated the risks of military confrontations escalating into regional warfare, as evidenced by the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s grueling battle with Ukraine.

With its 70-year history, Pakistan has seen several security, political and territorial conflicts that have become worse with time. These conflicts include, among others, the struggle between the Taliban and the state, the violence in Balochistan, And the territorial dispute with India since 1947.

Express Tribune, Pakistan’s well known publication reports in an article titled “Illusion of victory: In the eyes of the media” that the way the media on both sides (Pakistan and India) reported on the 1965 war itself and the events than followed made it possible for establishments of both countries to interpret conclusions of the war according to their own choice.

The article also compiled some headlines in the Indian newspapers. “Our valiant forces have set up a civil administration in Lahore after capturing the railway station, airport, Mughalpura, an ordinance factory …. Civilised attitude of our soldiers wins hearts of Lahoris,” reads headline of an Indian newspaper.

“Lahore captured: Our forces are moving into Kasur,” was another headline, complete with many side stories to substantiate such claims. Indian forces never entered the city of Lahore.

The Pakistani media also employed different tools. Unfortunately, conflicts and wars are all too typical in today’s global world. There is a lot of violence and turbulence in the globe, from domestic conflicts to international conflicts.

In these challenging times, the media emerges as a powerful force in shaping perceptions, disseminating information, and influencing public opinion.

Amidst these crises, the media serves as a window to the realities of war and plays a crucial role in shaping how the public perceives and understands these conflicts.

According to communication experts. when there is conflict, people become more dependent on the media, which has a stronger impact on audiences.

In 1965, Galtung & Ruge pointed out that conflict is a major theme in international news coverage. War journalism, with its thorough coverage of battles, has the ability to bring the grim reality of war into the homes of millions.

From frontline reporting to in-depth analysis, journalists risk their lives to deliver firsthand stories of the chaos and destruction caused by conflict.

However, a sensationalist or aggressive approach to conflict can result in a distorted picture of events, emphasizing on violence and gory visuals rather than the underlying reasons and human stories behind the headlines.

In the words of veteran war correspondent Martha Gellhorn; “War happens to people, one by one.” The human cost of war is highlighted by this sad insight, which is often ignored in war reporting.

Despite the challenges, journalists have a responsibility to maintain ethical standards and do balanced and insightful reporting that upholds the dignity of those affected by war.

In recent years, there has been a rising realization of the need of peace journalism, which aims to encourage discussion, understanding, and reconciliation in the midst of conflict.

Peace journalism focuses on conveying tales about resilience, grassroots peace efforts, and voices pushing for peaceful solutions. Renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour once stated, “The role of the press is to question those in power, to hold them accountable, and to give voice to the voiceless.”

Amanpour’s words highlights the importance of media in challenging the status quo and calling for peace amidst conflict. Peace journalism can be a powerful tool for promoting dialogue and reconciliation among diverse communities in the regions where tensions run high.

Pakistan has seen a fair share of internal and external crises, ranging from sectarian bloodshed and terrorism to political instability. The media has been extremely influential in influencing consequences and forming impressions in this unstable atmosphere.

While careless reporting has the power to deepen rifts and incite conflict, responsible reporting may advance communication, increase understanding, and open the door to peace. Thankfully, Pakistani media does include peace journalism, but regrettably, it also adopts positions that are opposed to peace.

During a conflict between India and Pakistan in February 2019, when Indian wing commander was captured by Pakistan after his jet was shot downed in Pakistan’s territory, the reporting in both India and Pakistan was not in favor of peace journalism until Pakistan released him as a gesture of goodwill and peace.

It was the responsibility of media on both sides to realize the risks of escalating the tensions further. As renowned journalist Walter Cronkite famously remarked, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”

Indeed, the media’s commitment to truth, accountability, and peace is paramount in the pursuit of a more just and peaceful world. The media must accept its role as a catalyst for peace and promote solutions that put mutual respect and human dignity first in the effort to bring about world peace during conflicts.

As Steven Youngblood, a writer, peace journalism instructor, and director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism in Parkville, says “it’s hard not to be impressed by those actively working to build bridges across conflict-reinforced divides. (I happened to meet Youngblood in Nepal in 2022 during a peace journalism workshop). Johan Galtung (1930-2024) is the founder of the discipline of peace studies. He founded the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (1959 and is the author or co-author of more than 160 books on peace journalism.

Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, coauthor of books on Peace Journalism, with Johan Galtung and Annabel McGoldrick.

In their book titled “Reporting Conflict: New Directions in Peace Journalism”, Galtung and Lynch established four main principles that can serve as main guidance for peace journalism: Explore the formation of conflicts: who are the parties involved; what are their goals; what is the socio-political and cultural context of the conflict; what are the visible and invisible manifestations of violence; avoid the de-humanization of the parties involved and expose their interests; offer nonviolent responses to conflict and alternatives to militarized/violent solutions; Report nonviolent initiatives that take place at the grassroots level and follow the resolution, reconstruction and reconciliation phases.

In the context of social responsibility, we as journalists, must take steps in making this world a peaceful place amidst conflicts and there is a lot need to be done to bring peace. In the words of Johan Galtung on Talk Nation Radio, “war is a crime against humanity, but much more must be done to criminalize war.”

Many of us would argue that peace journalism is a preferable strategy while reporting on war. It is harder as well. While discussing the importance and need of peace journalism, we must not forget the challenges associated with it. Otherwise, it will remain a theoretical rather than a practical approach. I believe our next discussion should be specifically on challenges associated with embracing peace journalism.

Based on the discussions with veteran journalists, books on peace journalism, participation in the workshops on safety of journalists in conflict zones and my years of experience in news media, I want to highlight the most important challenges that journalists—both in newsrooms and on the ground—face when covering war stories.

Safety: Most importantly, protect yourself. You can get the best story, but if you go any further in conflict zone, you might die; you only have two options: protect yourself or acquire the story. Always choose to protect yourself. Journalists’ lives are important. One journalist can tell stories of many.

Access to the area: We see photographs and recordings from the combat zone, but it is difficult for non-local (even for local) journalists to gain access to such places. How can journalists gain access to the conflict zone for coverage? Who will take them to those areas?

The inability to gain access to combat zones reduces the quality of stories by limiting journalists’ capacity to provide in-depth and well-sourced information. Gathering the information and verifying facts: In their book The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote that the essence of journalism is a ‘discipline of verification’.

But that’s easier said than done (Jonila Godole, 2005). How can journalists, particularly those who rely on field reports in their newsrooms, ensure that they get all the facts regarding the conflict? They are fully reliant on local journalists.

How on the ground reporters can get information because there are security issues and they may not be able to roam as freely as they would on a normal day? How do journalists can verify all the gathered information? How to get the fixer?

Fixers provide critical support to foreign correspondents in crisis zones, serving as the backbone of war and conflict reporting. But the real questions are how to find one? Is he/she reliable? How to make sure your fixer is unbiased and do not have any kind of affiliations that can have an impact on your reporting?

Human angle: How do you obtain stories with a human angle? How do you communicate with individuals while acknowledging their trauma? By highlighting the human side of conflict and amplifying voices for peace, the media can play a crucial role in shifting the narrative from one of violence to one of hope.

Media: mouthpiece or watchdog? The last but certainly not least difficulty facing journalists is avoiding acting as a spokesperson for the government or any other strong authority.

Every government will have its own agenda or policy during times of conflict. What options do journalists have when pressure from the government and other interest groups forces them to report in a way that suits their needs?

It will be impossible to achieve the goal of constructive approach of peace journalism during conflict reporting if these challenges remain unaddressed. Greater dedication to the practice of peace journalism and an understanding of its purposes are need of the time. I firmly believe that hope and peace can be brought to the societies through peace journalism.

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