Peace Journalism and Boko Haram

By Kirthi Jayakumar

04 June 2014: Kirthi Jayakumar talks about the differences between Peace Journalism and War Journalism, and how each approach affects the issues surrounding Boko Haram.

Photo credits: Xavier J. Peg Photo credits: Xavier J. Peg

When beginning writing this article, I ran a simple search on Google’s news panel with the words “Boko Haram.” In all the results that ensued, I found three common elements: propaganda, us-versus-them, and a conspicuous absence of peace efforts – three factors that feed into the very quintessence of war journalism.

War journalism is exactly what keeps war alive. It is the frontrunner element that campaigns for the prolonged business of war. For the uninitiated, as the name suggests, War Journalism refers to journalism that is focused on war, and encourages a presentation that [1]:

  • is heavily oriented towards violence and in projecting the conflict arena in a two-party and one-goal deal, confines itself to closed spaces and time, and studies the cause and effect only in the arena.
  • concerns itself only with the visible or tangible effects of violence, making the conflict opaque. The focus is on an ‘us-and-them’ rhetoric while seeing the enemy ‘them’ as the problem and dehumanising them.
  • is heavily reactive in that it waits for violence to start before it does or says anything.
  • is heavily propaganda-oriented, seeking only to expose ‘their’ untruths while helping to cover up ‘our’ own flaws.
  • tends towards the Elite, by focusing on ‘their’ violence and ‘our’ suffering, calling ‘them’ evildoers and focusing only on the elite segments of society - spokespersons and peacemakers.
  • is skewed toward victory, in that it considers peace and ceasefire as victory while concealing peace initiatives even before victory is at hand.
  • gives up on a war once it is through – not looking at the root of the issue that needs solving – and returns only if the war flares up again.
What War Journalism does is create a hype that gets everyone to say “Never Again” and employ powerful sounding hashtags – but it stops with that.
In sum, what War Journalism does is create a hype that gets everyone to say “Never Again” and employ powerful sounding hashtags – but it stops with that. Once the conflict is resolved or becomes old news, there is a massive decline regarding concern over the issue, yet nothing was done to understand the root of the problem in the first place. This leaves a sort of Band-Aid on the sore, without any concern for preventing the conflict from happening again.

On the contrary, Peace Journalism doesn't concern itself with the winner-versus-loser rhetoric, but rather zooms right into the root of the issue. It portrays conflicts in realistic terms and encourages the exploration of backgrounds and contexts of conflict formation. It presents the causes and options of every side involved, without introducing the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ perspective. It effectively serves the purpose by [2]:

  • being transparent in the representation of the causes, background and issues concerning a conflict;
  • giving a voice to the rival parties involved and their views;
  • offering creative ideas that can culminate in conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping;
  • exposing lies, cover-ups and attempts to cover-up as well as culprits on all sides unequivocally;
  • revealing the suffering inflicted on people of all parties involved in the conflict;
  • paying attention to peace stories and efforts for peace;
  • providing information on post-war developments.
 I want a solution, but I have no idea what the solution can be. I don’t know anything beyond the fact that these girls were kidnapped from a school and that the Boko Haram is a group of terrorists that are pivoted against Western Education.
Peace Journalism is about transparent journalism that relies on facts and explores the reality of the situation. In any of the reports I’ve read so far, I haven’t found a background on the Boko Haram or any description of its activities, its rationale or its motivations. In the process, I am – and I am joined by a majority of the world’s laypeople in this – only a jingoistic crusader, happily brandishing the #BringBackOurGirls tag without understanding the simmering elements to the conflict. I want a solution, but I have no idea what the solution can be. I don’t know anything beyond the fact that these girls were kidnapped from a school and that the Boko Haram is a group of terrorists that are pivoted against Western Education. There are undoubtedly scores of efforts being made globally to tackle the issue – but the mainstream media doesn't tell me about any.

Had the narrative advanced itself from a Peace Journalism perspective, we would have been able to divert our attention to realistic and valuable solutions. We would be able to work strategies that are capable of addressing the undercurrents that motivate the Boko Haram in their activities.  Proving my point is this article from The Guardian, which focuses on the coming together of Nigeria’s two main religious groups in an attempt to respond to militancy and terror. It is immaterial what their religious faiths are, as it appears, for they seem to recognise that it is the people that suffered – irrespective of their faith.

This is precisely the problem with the way the world tackles conflict. Peacebuilding is a process that starts from knowledge. First and foremost, we need an understanding of what has happened and why. Next, we need to identify the kinds of solutions that are practicable given a particular framework concerning the groups involved. The third rung in the ladder is to understand the social ethos in which the actors are operating so that the best suited solution can be identified. An external solution often times remains a mere imposition that doesn't succeed simply because the local community neither owns it, nor identifies with it. There is no use for Band-Aids as in War Journalism – what is necessary, is a look at the very root of the conflict in order to address it comprehensively.

[1] See Lynch, J. & Galtung, J. (2010). Reporting Conflict: The Low Road and High Road [2] Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2010) “A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict and Peace” in R.L. Keeble, J. Tulloch & F. Zollmann (eds.) Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. (Peter Lang: New York)

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Comments

laura simms on June 4, 2014, 12:28 p.m.

<p>This is a brilliant and clear article.  I printed it out to bring to a workshop today working with educators moving toward violence prevention in their schools.  The language of conflict strengthens conflict: for instance, "struggling against or for a result,"  "war against drugs" or demanding change from those we are in conflict with.</p> <p>How we speak, how we communicate has everything to do with results.  Thank you so much.  When our priority becomes communication, change, actions that benefit everyone -  rather than being right - or winning...  we are reaching the source of conflicts.   What is at stake is building longterm capacities to live with diversity and change.  Peace Journalism is closer to genuine storytelling that is not about political change but inner transformation and repairing connection to ourselves and others at the core of our being rather than outer change unsupported by inner transformation.  I have to contemplate this further.  thank you again.  this is one of the most potent discussions.</p>

Eric on June 4, 2014, 12:53 p.m.

Good article by a good writer. 2 things: - the background of extremist militants is complex, yet simple, the same as always. - the solution implies not only holding the sign, but "doing the sign" like youth leaders show us: Lulu Cerone, 13, combines student photos of 200 girls + marches + philanthroparty calls asking students to invest their 100's of prom dollars into GIRLS EDUCATION abroad. View her on CNN http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1132444 and her website http://lemonaidwarriors.com and on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LemonaidWarriors?fref=ts By including concrete instant steps of action journalism becomes relevant for change; it becomes not only "solution oriented journalism" but also "positive change media culture". This is more than journalism - the reporting by people who gather facts and data, but do not know solutions. Positive change media culture implies concrete changemaking knowledge. Is it required for achieving a sustainable civilization? It would sure create one, if everpresent in media and education. IT GETS WORSE: The conventional hashtag by itself is by the way not neutral nor positive. The way the world works right now it fuels WAR and EMPIRE that the sign holders claim to oppose : Simply holding the sign naively supports the general mainstream reaction and consequences: implying a Kony style US military intervention for the steady militarization of African resources legitimized by the people and youth of the world (Bravo, George Bush would have loved having facebook selfies and twitter before the Iraq invasion); pls dont be so naive to think Michelle had any honourable reasons or was PERMITTED to do anything of her own unless supported by the American political room, which has always been and remains clearly a room of full spectrum global dominance as laid out in the PNAC guidelines)

Janet Adama Mohammed on June 4, 2014, 1:05 p.m.

As war is a phenomenon that attracts Journalism so can Peace as a Process also attract Journalism. I believe there are well meaning Journalists who can promote the agenda for peace and sustain it. As participants in the community of practice for peace we need to identify the few well meaning Journalists for Peace, encourage, motivate and support them. I hope Policy actors and funding partners can support this agenda too and not only those who tell the "Untruths" about war.

Steven L. Youngblood on June 4, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

an excellent piece. we'd love to use this in the next edition of The Peace Journalist magazine. Please see <a href="http://www.park.edu/peacecenter" target="_blank">www.park.edu/peacecenter</a>, and email me at steve.youngblood@park.edu. thank you.

Libby and Len Traubman on June 5, 2014, 4:20 a.m.

<p>What a useful article. And Laura Simms clarifies the dear need for stories of peacebuilding so alternatives will be more visible those in search of better means and models. A fine alternative and example in northern Nigeria is Usman Mohammed Inuwa. He is creating citizen-drive stories of reconciliation as illustrated at <a href="http://traubman.igc.org/vidnigerianorth.htm" target="_blank">http://traubman.igc.org/vidnigerianorth.htm</a></p>

Nidhi Shendurnikar on June 6, 2014, 7:08 a.m.

This is an extremely useful article especially for the students of media studies and peace &amp; conflict studies since it very clearly delineates the differences between the two forms of journalism. In fact, many researches on peace and conflict have successfully employed the peace and war journalism model to examine the media's role in conflict. However, though this model is substantive enough I believe that the media's role should not be categorized into only these two frames and multiple roles of the media in conflict need to be explored and examined.

peace on June 7, 2014, 1:03 a.m.

<p>Good insight. War journalism often survives not because it is a good solution to conflict, but it is an imperative for the war industry. Hope, you will shed more lights on this aspect in future.</p>

Abdul-Gafar 'Tobi' oshodi on June 14, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

<p>Thanks for this piece Kirthi Jayakumar. It's quite informative and your attempt to explicate the dangers in what you consider, in a way rightly too, the dominant narrative in the reportage of Boko Haram crisis both within and outside Nigeria is straight on point. But my interventions would be focused on the ecology of reportage in Nigeria and this is based on my experience as a Nigerian journalist and lately a member of the academia. In arguing that the dominant narrative has been slanted towards war journalism - as against peace journalism - is to fail to appreciate two key points. (1) There is the failure to appreciate the history and traditions of journalism that have developed over time in different parts of Nigeria. For instance, and in its simplest sense too, there is what we refer to as the Ibadan-Lagos press, which perhaps might be more critical and in your words "... heavily oriented towards violence and in projecting the conflict arena..." The Abuja axis, in their reportage of the crisis, is however more conservative and, to a large extent, assumes some features of your listed character of peace journalism. Even this divisions is not neatly the case as I can confirm that peace journalistic pieces are obtainable in both cases. (2) There is the failure to understand that reportage of the Boko Haram crisis has advanced in different phases. Journalists have transited from being mere reporters of happenings to victims with journalists killed and offices bombed. This point becomes clearer if you begin to analyse the content of newspapers reports at the time when Mohammed Yusuf was killed up until the UN and Mamballah bombings. Aside, the changing perception(s) of journalists and the traditional media by each of the warring parties - i.e. government and BH - had also impacted the manner in which the crisis was/is reported. Beyond these, you would agree with me that peace journalism still remains a nascent field - in practice and theory - that has continued to face a number of challenges. One of the challenges in this context is the fact that Nigerian journalists, like majority of their colleagues elsewhere, are grounded in traditional reporting which is not too interested in sourcing for 'dog-bite-dog' but rather seek oddities such as 'man-bite-dog' stories. This reality, or what has been referred to as the "CNN-factor" in the reportage of terrorism which is sometimes motivated by market logic, is also a problem. New media has also not always been help as it has increasingly provided a platform to promote the hate as well as the reporting of oddities in the crisis rather than looking for a solution. However, I can tell you that a number of journalists have been committed to peace journalism. Even before the crisis got to this point, the Nigerian press had organised the first retreat on terrorism and violence in Nigeria where the "roots" of todays tragedy was laid bare. As a rapporteur for the retreat, I can say that the press has kept to some of their promises as made in that retreat. But unfortunately, it seems a long way before peace journalism becomes the norm rather than the exception. Thank you for your piece which I have sent to a few of my friends who are still in the news room. Thanks Jayakumar.      </p>

Kirthi on June 15, 2014, 6:01 p.m.

Thank you all for your kind words and intriguing feedback - all of which have contributed to my own learning immensely!

Christian Vogel on July 3, 2014, 3:57 p.m.

Dear Kirthi Jayakumar, thank you very much for your article on Peace Journalism and War Journalism. I think that the evolution of our global reality is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are following the informations, impressions and images media like newspapers, TV or the internet provide us with. The more negative our impressions get and the more negative our expectations of our future get, the worse our future reality will be. I see War Journalism like War PR and War PR like War Marketing......... It is so sad to see how a culture of war and violence is influenced by the media, even if perhaps about already – 70 % or 80 % of mankind is already able to live nonviolent and nearly all violence is planned, commanded and executed by men ? So there is one more question to answer: „Where does male violence derive from and how can we end this sustainably and forever ?“ Without violence we would not have war at all and women and children where also protected against rape and abuse. I see war as a kind of organised violence and nearly all wars are organised and executed by men who think to have to show qualities like power, assertiveness or heroism. It is a shame, but those men are absolutely unsuitable to lead nations or even any other group because the only quality they really show is FEAR. It is mad, but deep in us we as men seem to be more afraid of love and peace than of violence and war. Love and peace is like being outsourced to women and it is again media to be coresponsible for the images and ideals assigned to men and women. Finally it is a social and cultural, but also a gender decision which qualities we tend to identify ourselves with and which qualities we want to assign to other people or the otherf gender. I think it would be very helpful to foster peacebuilding with nonviolence building and teaching, NVC for example must become a standard at our schools. The majority of mankind is peaceful and nonviolent. How can you as a woman live in such a world with leading jerks like Putin or Obama without getting mad? I think we need a global discussion that organising, excuting, even talking of all violence is a crime against human(ity). We must demand more self control of politicians, while appearing in public media and talking and threatening with armed forces and striking etc. I'm not a journalist, i do marketing and sales, but it is not 4 weeks ago that i asked a friend who is a journalist for a local newspaper, if there was no such organisation like „Journalists for Peace“ to find some people who are pretty aware of the problem of a distorted reality, caused by distorted or negative media informations, and who are willing and wanting to use their influence and networks to spread more Peace Journalism, for example by talking, writing, posting, commenting, supporting the IDP on 9/21 into more media attendance in big newspapers and on TV. He didn't know, but now i found you. What do you think Kirthi ? Do you see a chance to activate more journalists to get war and violence out of media and conflict resolution, love and peace into media ? https://www.facebook.com/pages/World-Peace-Cafe-Berlin/386057338107547?ref=hl https://www.facebook.com/welikenonviolence?ref_type=bookmark