Media Can Serve
the Cause of Peace
With new suicide bombings
reported in Israel, more violence threatens. Can this conflict be reported differently?
Can the media play a more pro-peace role? I was asked to write about that possibility
for the Palestine-Israel Journal, jointly edited by Israelis and Palestinians
and published in East Jerusalem. Thanks to Common Ground, here's a summary of
my piece from a just published issue that looks at Media and the Second Intifada.
For more information, write email@example.com.
Every time I see Jerrold
Kessel I know what he's going to tell us. He is the "breaking news" bearer of
bad tidings. He gets automatic face time on CNN every time there is a suicide
bombing. You can close your eyes and hear him cite the body count, and then describe
the retaliation already underway, as in "Israeli Defense Forces are already responding
with tanks and planes and armed intervention."
The media focus on these
incidents, on the bloodshed, just reinforces the sense of tragedy and futility
of two peoples pictured only as hating each other.
The cumulative impression:
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond redemption, beyond solution.
Around & Around
Every side in this conflict
charges the media with bias. The Palestinians and the Israelis have media watch
groups looking for signs of favoritism and distortion, and there is plenty to
find as long as the story is covered only as the play by play of discrete events,
Yes - the Palestinian
media focus on the pain and grievances of its community, with little compassion
for the victims of attacks that can always be easily rationalized as understandable
or legitimate pay-back to crimes they have suffered, ditto for the Israelis who
argue that they are besieged by journalists who fail to condemn terrorism or understand
their legitimate security needs. Paranoia and hostility to the media follow.
What Could Be Done
Few media outlets have
created initiatives or sponsored programs to bring people together across the
various divides, to promote tolerance, and give voiceless people a platform to
explain their views in a way that Americans can understand.
Even media projects that
were set up to do so are retrenching. After the Oslo agreement, Sesame Street
began to do children's TV programs in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. The puppets
from each community increasingly interacted. That's been stopped now. Israel's
Sesame Street is for Israelis; the Palestinian version is for Palestinians. Children
on all sides are today offered few examples of how peaceful co-existence could
I asked a Sesame Street
producer if they were simply mirroring the conflict or seeking to transcend it.
Were they leading as a force for change or following in a polarized climate? Her
response was agonized. She admitted that leadership was no longer high on their
agenda, and feared that the show would have its run ended if they took that risk.
One initiative would be to challenge this type of censorship and suppression.
Organizations like Seeds of Peace, the multinational youth group, are creating
media. They need support from media companies to promote conflict resolution themes
Next, we need to do a
better job of disentangling propaganda from news, and then discredit it when we
see it. A media war is at the heart of the conflict, and it is no surprise that
propaganda battles are sharpening.
In the past weeks I saw
two examples. A pro-Palestine media watch documented what it claims was unbalanced
coverage by the Associated Press and called for a letter and phone call campaign
of protest. A pro-Israeli media watch exposed what it calls hate programming on
government-run Palestinian Authority public television.
Overcoming the "Noise"
Israeli writer David
Grossman calls all of this "noise," "a noise we are used to, and are strangely
comforted by because it is familiar, predictable and no matter what side you are
on, easy to indulge in."
"Few of us, Israelis
or Palestinians, can be proud of what we have done during these past few years,"
he writes, "of what we have collaborated in whether actively or in passive acceptance
of the noise (…). I often feel suffocated, claustrophobic, caught between the
deceptive deceitful words that all interested parties - the governments, the army,
the media - are constantly trying to impose on those of us who must live in this
disaster area. Yet if we reformulate a situation that already seems beyond hope
and set in stone, we are able to recall that there is in fact no divine decree
that dooms us to be the helpless victims of apathy and paralysis."
And this goes for the
media too. We have to stop promoting the conflict by only showing its violent
side and never showing the work for peace that is underway. We need to examine
the myths on both sides. We need to puncture the stereotypes. Our vocabulary has
to change. The focus on violence has to stop. We need to shed light on the cultures
of these two communities - seek and help to promote a sense of common ground.
We have to report on fears and hopes.
Concrete Tips for Reporters
Here are some concrete
tips from TV reporter Jake Lynch of the London-based organization Reporting the
World about how reporters can promote peace instead of war:
1) AVOID portraying a
conflict as consisting of only two parties contesting one goal. The logical outcome
is for one to win and the other to lose. INSTEAD, a Peace Journalist would DISAGGREGATE
the two parties into many smaller groups, pursuing many goals, opening up more
creative potential for a range of outcomes.
2) AVOID accepting stark
distinctions between "self" and "other." These can be used to build the sense
that another party is a "threat" or "beyond the pale" of civilized behavior -
both key justifications for violence. INSTEAD, seek the "other" in the "self"
and vice versa. If a party is presenting itself as "the goodies," ask questions
about how different its behavior really is to that it ascribes to "the baddies"?
3) AVOID blaming someone
for starting it. INSTEAD, try looking at how shared problems and issues are leading
to consequences that all the parties say they never intended.
4) AVOID waiting for leaders
on "our" side to suggest solutions. INSTEAD, pick up and explore peace initiatives
wherever they come from. Ask questions from ministers, for example, about ideas
put forward by grassroots organizations. Assess peace perspectives concerning
issues the parties are trying to address. Do not simply ignore them because they
do not coincide with established positions." See Reportingtheworld.org for more.
These are concrete proposals
from an outsider. I am sure media workers in the region have plenty of their own,
as well as suggestions for how to improve coverage.
American news is becoming
more superficial, more sensationalistic and more aligned with government policies
and pressure from interest groups. If you want to influence how the conflict is
perceived, you have to do more to educate the journalists who come to your countries,
monitor what they write, and then press the press to live up to professional ethics
and values. TBS
Danny Schechter, a former
ABC News and CNN producer, is the founder and executive editor of Mediachannel.org
where he writes a daily blog on news coverage. His latest book is "Embedded: Weapon
of Mass Deception: How The Media Failed to Cover The War in Iraq."