Friday, May 11, 2012

Why development or peace journalism? The real issue is independent Pacific journalism

IT IS astounding how misinformed and shallow the thinking of many journalists around the Pacific has been when faced with a quickfire debate on such terms as “development journalism” and “peace journalism”. Simply because one Canadian media educator trumpeted a discredited interpretation of “development journalism” - which Westerners like to project - based around the notion of a compliant form of media partnership with governments as promoted by past political leaders of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. But Café Pacific argues there are other interpretations - and the one David Robie has always supported is a form of investigative journalism that empowers citizens to make real change in their lives.

One of the best known exponents of this form of journalism is Kunda Dixit, editor-in-chief of the Nepali Times and a longtime senior editor of the Inter Press Service. His ideas were expressed in his book Dateline Earth: Journalism as if the planet mattered (republished in 2010 and in a sequel, A People War, which was reviewed in Pacific Journalism Review). There are many other advocates and it was a hallmark of the independent brand of journalism of the long missed Gemini News Service - once widely used by Pacific media  and now currently the target of a revival project.

Another prime example of this form of development journalism was through campaigning and courageous newspapers such as the original Malaya ("Freedom") while struggling against the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Such cutting edge journalism has now been carried on in contemporary times by the nonprofit Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which has led investigations against corruption, including a famous expose of how a then presidential Anti-Crime Commission tortured two 12-year-old boys suspected of a role in a kidnapping.

Some of David Robie’s concepts of “development”, “revolutionary” and “transitional” journalism - as taught for many years in the Pacific - are explained in book chapters such as his South Pacific notions of the Fourth Estate: A collision of media models, culture and values and Media and development in the Pacific: reporting the why, how and what now published in 2008. Both of these chapters explored his "Four Worlds news values" model. However, rather than using the term "development", which is generally so misunderstood and maligned in Western media discourse, "deliberative journalism" is better and far more appropriate as a concept - based on rationality, accountability, inclusion and fairness in a a strategy for media citizen empowerment. An excellent book on the topic is Angela Romano's International Journalism and Democracy: Civic Engagement Models from Around the World (2010).

About “peace journalism”: this approach has gained traction in the South Pacific in the last couple of years as represented in two conferences at the University of the South Pacific in 2010, and also through research-led initiatives by former journalist advocates, such as Associate Professor Jake Lynch at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, and political studies lecturer Dr Heather Devere of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at Otago University in New Zealand. These initiatives have been parallel to a growing awareness of conflict resolution developments in the wake of the Bougainville civil war, ethnic warfare in the Solomon Islands and four coups in Fiji.

Mainstream media is too heavily biased in favour of  “official” sources embedded in power elites and not enough attention is given to the parallel “alternative” people's sources, leaving a fragmented understanding of issues. Spectacular failures of the "Western" media model have included the reporting of both the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan – the destruction of nations to "save" them in the so-called “war on terror”. Other failures closer to home have been the reporting of the Bougainville conflict and the current one-sided reporting of post-coup Fiji.

In contrast to a negative view of development journalism and/or peace journalism, both notions are variations of “good” journalism - contextual, balanced and truthful. Peace journalism in a nutshell (as defined by Dov Shinar in Peace Journalism: The State of the Art, 2007):

1.    Presenting causes of conflict and options on all sides – realistically and transparent.
2.    Giving voice to all rival parties.
3.    Offering creative ideas for conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping.
4.    Exposing lies and cover-up attempts.
5.    Paying attention to post-conflict development.

David Robie’s own ideas about peace journalism in a Pacific context are outlined in his 2011 article Conflict reporting in the South Pacific: Why peace journalism has a chance and he talked about this in a Radio Australia interview. Also, listen to his Radio New Zealand Checkpoint interview.

Essentially David advocates a homegrown brand of vigorous, ethical and independent "Pacific" journalism - as demonstrated in his books The Pacific Journalist and Mekim Nius.
  • Issues such as journalism styles and methodologies will be discussed at the upcoming Media and Democracy conference hosted by the University of the South Pacific on 5-6 September 2012. Selected double blind peer-reviewed articles will be published in a special edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

1 comment:

flyhalf said...


While you alluded to the failures of Western Journalism in reporting in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is also a danger of Pacific media organizations blindly parroting these same reports due to some contractual arrangements with news wire agencies or simply because they lack resources to employ journalists to war torn nations. As a result, the false story is retold as fact.

There is a parallel situation currently unwinding in Syria, regarding the coverage of the alleged massacre in Houla.

There is documented proof that international news agencies like BBC have been using old images and repackaging it, to fit the current situation in Syria.

This RT story describes the BBC report.

There will be instances where AP and AFP will be guilty of doing syndicating the same BBC story to Pacific news rooms.

This is the precisely the reason why the trust in Western mainstream media is increasingly waning.

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