Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How 'peace journalism' surfaced in the Pacific

SUDDENLY “peace journalism” has emerged as the flavour of the month in Fiji – and has even had a debut in New Zealand as an idea. A panel of local Fiji journalists at last week's University of the South Pacific seminar admitted they knew little about the approach. And, to be frank, were a little distrustful , as many journalists often are when confronted with a new concept and their natural skepticism pushes aside rational argument.

One journalist admitted she had asked around her newsroom (Fiji’s largest) about what peace journalism was. The answer: “Journalism about peace” - a rather unhelpful contribution from a colleague. In spite of the visit of the celebrated author and media theorist about peace journalism Professor Jake Lynch, director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies , to Suva late last month (and considerable publicity), there was little idea that the notion is about community “empowerment” and actually plain good contextual journalism. The sort of journalism that helps find solutions, rather than adds to a community’s problems.

Speaking on Radio Australia with Geraldine Coutts, Professor Lynch said:

Traditionally, the Citizens Constitutional Forum and numerous other advocacy groups would do what they call hard-hitting advocacy. And they would take a stance which was very directly critical of the government for example. Now that's one way of ventilating [civil rights and social] issues, and it would fit with expectations among journalists of the kind of role they might play given that Fiji's media probably inherited a lot of its assumptions from the British system.

But it's certainly not the only way to ventilate those issues. And what I've been encouraging them to do i
s to think how they can arrange for the kind of testimony and perspectives of people at the grassroots, people who are dealing with these issues in everyday life to be more widely known and more widely appreciated, and thereby contribute to a national conversation in Fiji about the issues on their own merits.

It doesn't necessarily have to be fed through the filter perhaps familiar to audiences in Australia, where so many issues are wrapped around a
claim by the opposition and a counter claim by the government, that kind of thing.

Barely a week later, at the inaugural Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference organised at AUT University by the Pacific Media Centre, the first-ever “peace journalism” seminar was staged in New Zealand – convened by a doctoral candidate from Pakistan, Rukhsana Aslam (pictured) and Dr Heather Devere of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University. Aslam, who has contributed a chapter on peace journalism education to a new book Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution, was well supported by Shailendra Singh of USP, One Television’s Koroi Hawkins in the Solomon Islands, and Taimi Media Network chief executive Kalafi Moala among others.

A few days later, Moala was in Suva along with Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie and senior journalism lecturer Dr Levi Obijiofor from the University of Queensland. Both Obijiofor, who spoke about a case study in the Niger Delta involving indigenous peoples and multilateral oil companies, and Robie have papers on peace journalism appearing in the forthcoming Journal of Pacific Studies. Moala gave an impassioned address about post-election realities in Tonga and how “democracy” was not necessarily a panacea and Pacific journos should not blindly follow Western news values. Robie’s message included, after an analysis of many conflicts in the Pacific region and the role played by media:
Peace journalism or conflict-sensitive journalism education and training ought to provide a context for journalists to ensure that both sides are included in any reports. The reporting would also include people who condemn the violence and offer solutions. Blame would not be levelled at any ethnicity, nor would combatants be repeatedly identified by their ethnicity. But the reporting would constantly seek to explain the deeper underlying causes of the conflict. This approach to journalism surely could offer some hope for conflict resolution in the Pacific and a peaceful future.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farewell Comrade Max Watts (1928-2010)

Max Watts. Photo: Vivienne Porzolt

By Peter Boyle in Sydney

MAX WATTS, a well-known personality on the left in Australia, particularly in Sydney, died on November 23.

Max was a left-wing freelance journalist, an occasional contributor to Green Left Weekly and its discussion e-list, and a solidarity activist with many national liberation struggles, including in Palestine, Kanaky, West Papua and Bougainville.

In the 1960s, he was a central activist in Europe working with soldier resistance to the Vietnam War within the US armed forces. Resistance inside the army (RITA) was one of his great political passions.

Max was an extravagant personality and some people may have found him difficult at times, but he was someone always firmly on the left and on the side of all struggles against oppression and exploitation. You could count on that, and he will be remembered by many comrades in the broad left movement.

Max shook his head at the persistent tendency of the left to be over-factionalised and divisive, but he was quick to work alongside those who took up serious struggle. An eagerness to understand and show solidarity with new forces in motion in any country was one of his characteristics.

Max passed away in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital from kidney and heart failure. He was with close friends Rosie, Lydia, Vivienne and Barbara at the time and passed peacefully.

I managed to say goodbye to him in hospital a few days before he died. He was quite feisty then — though somewhat confused and disoriented, probably due to medication.

After about an hour, my attempts to get him to stay in his bed earned me the following last words: “Boyle, your visiting time is up!” It was classic Max.

Max will be formally farewelled in Sydney on December 1 at 11.30am at Camellia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, Plassey Road, North Ryde. Phone (+614) 11 366 295 for more details.

Friends of Max have set up a Facebook group. To leave messages, photos or other material, go to www.facebook.com and search for “Remembering Max Watts”.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Asia-Pacific editor advocates paradigm shift to 'peace journalism' training - and JEAA 2010

Nepali Times editor and author Kunda Dixit surveys some of the photos for his exhibition at the Investigative Journalism conference in Auckland next weekend. Photo: David Robie/PMC

KUNDA DIXIT believes there needs to be a paradigm shift in journalism training from war correspondent to peace correspondent. The Nepali Times editor and investigative journalist is keynote speaker for the Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology conference at AUT University next weekend and his Frames of War photojournalism exhibition is also being shown. Don't miss out - register today!

The power of a war-and-peace picture – all 179 of them

By Courtney Wilson

Images of Nepal’s civil war going on show in New Zealand next weekend illustrate the aftermath of war in a way words cannot.

Kunda Dixit, Nepali Times editor and coordinator of the Frames of War exhibit, which will be opened at AUT University on December 4, says a picture does not tell a thousand words – it shows them.

“Because of Nepal’s low literacy rate, the picture is the only way to communicate,” he says.

“At many exhibition venues we saw young school girls reading aloud the captions of the photographs to their illiterate grandparents.”

The Frames of War exhibition contains pictures of the Nepali people during and after the 10-year-long People’s War, which ended in 2006. Dixit and his team – including noted Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and war photographer Shyam Tekwani – looked at more than 3000 images and chose 179 for their exhibition and their book trilogy called The People War.

The exhibition and books do not have pictures of actual battles, partly because most of them took place at night. Dixit believes war journalism is not supposed to be about pictures of battles, it should be about how war affects ordinary people.

The collaboration attempts to make up for the gap in media coverage of the Nepal war by taking the role of a “peace correspondent”, trying to focus on the human cost, the effect on civilians, the women and children.

Most affected
“In all modern wars, they are the ones who are affected the most,” says Dixit.

Dixit thinks there needs to be a paradigm shift in journalism training from war correspondent to peace correspondent.

“Reporters who go to war are almost celebrities. They cover the war as a series of battles, they count the body bags and chronicle the carnage,” says Dixit.

“War correspondents focus on the battle plans, the strategy of the warring sides, and the hardwares of killing.

“A peace correspondent tries to look at the human cost so that the politicians who lead people to war understand the pain they have unleashed, or covering stories that help in the reconciliation process rather than polarising society.”

Dixit suggests studying the roots of violence to discover the definition of peace and that journalists should be taught non-violence through leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Violence is not just war; there is violence in our speech, violence against nature, violence in the home. You don’t have to be physically violent to be violent. Peace is not automatic, one has to fight for it, struggle to nurture it.

Bias for justice
“Media should be communicating these ideas. Media should have a bias for justice and peace, while adhering to the universal values and rule of journalism and keeping our credibility intact.”

The image Dixit finds the most powerful in the exhibit is of a young woman hugging the body of her policeman husband surrounded by the bodies of his colleagues.

“There are many that are so dramatic that they still make me emotional to look at them,” says Dixit.

“It showed the cost and waste of the war, the effect on civilians even when combatants were killed.”

When Frames of War was first shown to the Nepali people, the war had only been over for a little more than a year. Dixit felt the images may incite anger or renew old pain but instead witnessed a lack of revenge.

“Even among the combatants there wasn’t much residual feeling of “enmity”.

“This was remarkably different from other war zones I have covered, and I think it will help in the reconciliation process in Nepal.”

Dixit is the 2010 Asian Journalism Fellow, sponsored by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and is a keynote speaker at the Pacific Media Centre’s first Media, Investigative Journalism and Technology Conference which will be held at AUT University on December 4-5.

The Frames of War exhibition, showing some 45 images out of the original selection, will open to the public at 6pm on December 4 at WT005 on the ground floor of the AUT Tower Building, Auckland City campus. It will run for a week.

Courtney Wilson is a final year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist on internship with the Pacific Media Centre.

Journalism education highlights
HIGHLIGHTS at the dynamic JEAA conference at the University of Technology, Sydney, conference this week included ABC managing director Mark Scott speaking on the changing nature of news, tweeting the news and what the future holds for journalism. It was a digital optimist's view.

Another optimistic view came from Sophie Black from Crikey in a following industry plenary. While many of the industry training heavyweights gave "boring" overviews out-of-touch with the critical challenges facing global journalism, Black said having an online presence was essential for journalism graduates.

One of the Reportage team covering the conference, Anokhee Shah, reports:

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, and Ginny Dougary were audio-linked from the UK to JEAA2010 for 90 minutes of wit, humour and insight into where journalism practice is heading.

The quality of our output as journalists has declined largely as a result of commercialisation- the interaction between journalism and commerce- and the impact of the internet on the relationship between journalists and the public sphere, says Davies.

Advertisers are moving away from mass-media but the problem with the mass-media on the internet is that people won’t pay to read general news if they can get the story for free.

But the public will pay for information that they do not have access to otherwise [Read on].

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