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Journalism and power: The role of media in building human rights and a culture of peace

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US soldier vs MediaWar-Journalism - Living in an 'Information Age', journalism and media have become a major resource. The informational revolution was due partly to the media activity. Also known as the fourth state power, media in many ways steers the informational component of the world. Moreover, media can strengthen but also undermine democracy; The way conflict and violence are presented in the media can have an effect on the situation's outcome. Today, so-called war-journalism clearly maintains a dominant position, and it usually favors the agenda of the ruling elites.


Johan Galtung, the founder of peace studies, discusses in his theories of war and peace journalism (Galtung 1992) the following 12 points that concerns the values of what he calls war journalism 1:

  •     A focus on violence as its own cause-thus decontexualizing violence, not looking at the reasons,
  •     Dualism, always reduces to two parts, and hereof winners-losers which makes non-violent outcome ignored
  •     Manicheanism; the two parts consists of the contradictions good-evil,
  •     Armageddon, violence is inevitable,
  •     Focus on individual, avoiding structural causes,
  •     Making confusion by only a focus on battlefield and visible effects, not on underlying forces
  •     Excluding and omitting the bereaved, thus never explaining why there are actions of revenge/violence spirals
  •     Failure to explore the causes of escalation and the impact of media coverage itself,
  •     Failure to explore the goals of outside interventionists,
  •     Failure to explore peace proposals, and offer images of peaceful outcomes
  •     Confusing cease-fires and negotiations with actual peace, peace is defined as victory plus ceasefire
  •     Omitting reconciliation; and conflicts tend to re-emerge if wounds are not healed (Galtung 1992).


Consider the war on terror; the underlying causes of terror have not been given attention. After 9/11, US president George W. Bush ignored the reasons of disrespect stated by Al Qaida, and claimed that the attack on the US was because Al Qaida hates the US values of peace, freedom and democracy; one international crime became a global war. This has a massive psychological impact, and politicians/media use this fear to gain advantage in elections and justification for a range of policies. The masses can be convinced that they are not sufficiently safe in peace or war, and thus are dependent of the guidance and protection of the leaders.

Responses to so-called terrorism may threaten nations more than actual acts of terror committed. Retaliation is counterproductive. Rather than the “terrorists”, it is politicians who define the severity and the impact that acts of terror have on a country. War, as part of the national psyche, is responsible for a higher scale of destruction than terror. Moreover it sows mistrust and reduces the ability for people to 'come together' or 'unite' in order to bring about change. As will be outlined below, this is also part of the script of the political agenda.

The Information Business

The story of the violation of human needs and rights is the story of human interests. States are dependent on different types of power for survival. States remain as long as their foundations of verticality, monopolies and illicit powers are kept. War is prolonged political business; and information is the currency of the current age. Tactics for justification and consciousness formation are widely used in this special market place. The influence of power structures on the masses in the Western society has been widely portrayed, in everything from science fiction (The Matrix etc.) to literature. In his book “1984”, George Orwell described how politicians apply a mutation of the English language (called 'Newspeak') in order to shape and mold our consciousness, allowing them to justify violence and oppression.

For example, in Newspeak, words such as torture are referred to as “deep interrogation”. Mercenaries as “security people”. In addition to the misuse of words, you have the double language/manipulation of the mind for people to accept contradictions. Example in double thinking is the use of projection; where you project your own subconscious unacceptable, malicious desires on to others. Projection helps justify unacceptable behavior, distancing ourselves from our own dysfunction. One example is how “we” have weapons for purely defensive purposes, while “they” have expansionist motives and offensive weapons.

Another issue is that of how political forces shape events. Orwell notes that, instead of exercising the purpose of their profession (that is “the publishing of unbiased information” and hence constraining the ruling elite by informing the public), the media accepts the influence of the ruling elite and has in fact joined their ranks. One example of media manipulation and propaganda is the media empire of Rupert Murdoch and his support to different politicians he favors, for example in England. After being supportive of Thatcher and Major Murdoch switched his support to the Labour Party, and is secret meetings with Tony Blair came to be a political issue in Britain.

Murdoch owns the 'News Corporation', based in New York. From newspapers, magazines and television stations in recent years he also has become a leading investor in satellite television, the film industry, and the Internet. His corporate owned TV-station Fox News has a strong conservative bias, and both Fox News and all of Murdoch’s 175 newspapers favoured the Iraqi war.

How the media presents conflict is one problem. The next is when conflicts are not presented at all. I want to highlight violations of human rights which are not covered by the media. Why are some highlighted while others are not? What kind of criteria causes one news item to supersede another?

Occidental deep culture is reflected and reinforced by the media in the concept of hero/victory-defeat and linear time. Nothing attracts more attention than direct, uncensored violence. It is this violence that is a major criterion for determining the airing of the actual event. Rather than focus on the underlying contradictions, the media focuses on the attitudes and behaviours because they are more newsworthy, and thus psychologises conflict. At the end of it all stands a win-lose-discourse that leaves us unable to explore the of the situation root or to use dialogue to solve it.

Most likely the media fail to fulfill their intended mission, as war is more profitable (in monetary terms) than peace. Peace is more profitable for long term investments, while war benefits the short term investment of specific factions/stake holders. As mentioned these are values of the elite and politicians to remain in power. Still, manipulation by politicians and media is not the only important factor in these power structures. Power structures cannot be maintained without people acting them out (Nietzsche’s “performance of the masses”). Besides fascinating us, instills a sense of fear, keeping the 'plebs' docile. The forces that have reshaped US constitution since 9/11 can be mentioned in relation to this. The legitimacy provided by constituent power allowed President Bush to expand the power of the presidency far beyond its normal limits. Constitutional change can occur through either a legal (formal) or non-legal (informal) political process. Constitutional change in the United States has not typically happened in the former way. After 9/11, president George W. Bush’s administration asserted that the world had changed and the old rules no longer applied. But, president Bush enjoyed the immediate support of the American people, to wage war against al Qaeda.

Additionally we have the marketing aspect; Violence sells. In a typology of the goals in use of violence, Galtung 2 mentions different purposes for violence, among them the purpose of entertainment. Here, profit through violence is not a modern phenomenon: Historically speaking, this can be traced as far back as 2,000 – During Roman rule, violence meant revenue in relation to for example gladiators. A more contemporary example is that of the fight between the Spanish bullfighter and Toro. Both are examples of deep cultural values.

So in a sense, the media acts as a double-edges sword; profiteering through enacting control. As a result, in a battlefield, journalists can compete with each other in finding the most dramatic story.

Orwell describe the current situation with war is peace, ignorance is strength, and freedom is slavery.


Peace journalism

Countering the current culture of violence is a must. The current paradigm is self-defeating; in addition to morality arguments it simply will not work. Violence breeds violence. We must change from the current culture of violence to a culture of peace. We must take the profit out of violence and war. This must entail a change in personal and cultural values.

Coverage and resolutions of conflicts must take place at home as well as in the conflict area. Crucial prerequisites in the process of changing values and goals which make suffering is the awareness-building of people, carried through in for example education and journalism. Non-violence has a female, cyclical time cosmology, which never ends but is a part of our life. This makes it unsuited for media reporting, as it contains no leader, defeat, or end. Still, media must stick to their mission; to report and inform. Maybe even more important we need journalists that care and thus incorporate values of peace journalism. Journalism is not necessarily objective. “Peace journalism” has clear values- of humanitarianism, truth, holism, and empowerment. It has its orientation on peace rather than war, on truth rather than propaganda, on people rather than elite, on solution and transformation rather than victory. Peace journalism is also proactive-and asks questions of why violent acts are committed-before they are. And a core value is having a voice for all parties.

Instead of competing with each other, journalists must build a structure of peace journalism to support each other, like the organizational power structures present in politics, military and large companies.

As it is evident that mass media technologies are one of the more fundamental forces shaping our lives--journalists have a responsibility.

 

In other words--what is needed in addition to information and knowledge--is wisdom.

 

Example on violations of human rights deemed “not news-worthy”: The “Osterode” refugee camp

There are countless examples of war journalism. The presentation of the war on Balkan is one example. With the recent detention of Radovan Karadzic the Balkan war is again daily present in media and people’s minds. The war on Balkan was one of the most violent in European history. Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Kosovans, Albanians and so on, which previously had been eating around the same table, were mobilized in ethnical and religious terms and played against each other under political interests. This with Karadzic as a central manipulator with ten thousands of people killed in genocide as result.

The arrest of Karadzic is an important part of a reconciliation process of victims of his inhumanities, as it also seem to make Serbia one step closer to EU-negotiations. But this is one side of the story. While the history of the mentioned ethnic groups has been widely covered in relation to the Balkan war, the same cannot be said about the Roma people’s situation. As an example, the name Osterode Refugee Camp did not have one match when I Googled it in Norwegian. It is time to make their silenced voice heard.

The Roma people has for years been living in a camp contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, after been driven away from their homes by Albanians during the Kosovo war. The refugee camp lies in a previous area of a mine company, which in itself was closed by the UN in 2000 for safety reasons. KFOR forces were in a similar camp for a short while, but moved because of the contaminated soil, air and water. Justified by the UN administration, 500 to 600 people are now living here, in an environment totally poisoned; lead levels up to 1200 times the legal level, even the highest level of lead contamination registered in human hair! Children are playing in the most contaminated river in Europe. Illnesses frequently occur; miscarriages, brain damage, nerve, kidney, and hearing disorders and so on. They get some medical treatment at the camp, though the doctors claim they will not get better without being removed from the camp. But there are no signs that they will be removed. Neither United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), responsible for the camps, nor WHO, are claiming responsibility.

The small amount of media coverage done of the situation of the Roma people has clearly simplified its complexity.

From a human rights’ perspective: After the Roma people were driven out from their homes in the 90’s, they are still subject to racial discrimination, crowded together in unacceptable conditions, and no attempts are being made for ensuring them a better future. I will leave you with some of the many questions present in my head; why hasn’t the UN administration in Kosovo responsible for the refugee camp, or WHO, taken action? Why are the Roma people are denied sufficient medical help? What happens with the Roma people when UNMIK leaves the country?
 

References

 1) Galtung, J. & Vincent, R. C. (1992) Global glasnost: Toward a new world information and communication order? Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press

 2) Galtung, J. unpublished manuscript: “The TRANSCEND Approach to Simple Conflicts, C=1”

 

 

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