Let’s take a look at two recent developments. The Ayodhya imbroglio has just been resolved and some people have already started reviving the contentious issues of Krishna Janmabhoomi and Kashi Vishwanath temples. On the other hand, a war has broken out between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the surface, there appears to be no similarity between these two incidents. But if we look deeper, we find that religious acrimony is the common root of these incidents. In India, a fundamentalist segment of the Hindutva forces wants to somehow obliterate the mosques located next to Krishna Janmabhoomi and Kashi Vishwanath temples. Similarly, Azerbaijan is an Islamic country and it is trying to free from Armenia a piece of land where people from different communities live peaceably but Muslims are in greater number. Turkey has joined the fight with Azerbaijan only because it is an Islamic country. There are reports that Pakistan is helping Azerbaijan in the war, too. Religion is all they care about.
There are many such instances, where ideological fanaticism and dissension arising from religion are aggravating the situation. The media, of course, has the responsibility to bring all such incidents to the fore and provide information to the people in simple terms. It’s an extremely tough job. Should it report only the incidents? How should the media get down to the root of the problem and report the truth without further aggravating the conflict? The fact is the media is proving incapable of adjudicating its role properly.
In India, a very small section of the media is meeting this challenge adequately. If a mob lynching is reported anywhere in India, different media groups take opposing stands. In trying to bring out the magnitude of crime, they start promoting disharmony between the two communities. There are no attempts to indicate that they are trying to broker peace with their journalism. This is the case with not just India alone; media the world over lacks the agenda of peace.
From Pakistan to Iraq, Israel to Syria and Myanmar, from the US roiled by #BlackLivesMatter to parts of Europe where anti-immigrant rhetoric runs high, what role can the media play to find a solution to the tensions? Why is there a perception in public that the media is often adding fuel to the fire?
These questions haunt all of us in the media world because news is what has gone wrong. Ordinarily, we only dish out bald facts or figures — how many people were killed, which communities were involved or affected, how many houses were destroyed, etc. By simply putting out facts and figures when a conflict occurs, we are only doing a kind of journalism which I dare to brand as “war journalism”. We are not doing the kind of journalism that such crisis situations warrant. Then what kind of journalism should we practice? Definitely not the present form of “war journalism” or “journalism of peace”.
So what is “peace journalism”? And why is “factual journalism” or “journalism of peace” insufficient for us? Because when we practise “factual journalism”, we present facts and figures. And when we do “journalism of peace”, we restrain ourselves from making any comment or remarks that would aggravate the situation. “Peace journalism” mandates us to go to the root cause of the conflict, study all issues concerned, analyse them thoroughly and come out with a possible solution too.
The concept of “peace journalism” was proposed by Norwegian sociologist and the principal founder of the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies, Johan Galtung. Research shows that news about conflict often has a value bias towards violence. So such bias could be corrected by “peace journalism”, which, in other words, can be described as “conflict solution journalism” or “conflict sensitive journalism”. “Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices — about what to report, and how to report it — that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict,” says Jake Lynch, chair of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies (DPACS) at the University of Sydney.
In the 18th century, particularly during the pandemics, we had “disease journalists”, who reported in detail how epidemics were spreading and how people suffered, but little was known about cures and, therefore, little was reported. Today we have “health journalists” who write about current research on new cures for diseases, and healthy lifestyles that help prevent disease. Similarly, the time has come for “peace journalists” to write not only about violence or war, but its causes, prevention and ways to restore peace.
This kind of journalism is new to the world and very difficult and challenging to pursue. This concept is yet to take roots in any country. We have to see to it that it grows and becomes productive and provides solutions rather than simply putting out facts and figures.
A multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural country like India needs “peace journalism” the most. The earlier we develop it, the easier it will be for us to get out of the “conflict zone”.
The writer is chairman of editorial board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha
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