The Peace Journalism Option
This article is a reposting from the old POIESIS web site (which has now been replaced by some search engine site). They ran a series known as Conflict and Peace Forums and in 1997 and 1998 provided transcripts. Part 1 (1997) is provided here. It is reposted here because some articles on this site cited it. In addition, it is a useful read. You can also see the original site via Archive.org, at http://web.archive.org/web/20000822111932/ www.poiesis.org/pjo/pjotext.html
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- The Peace Journalism Option
- Orientation vs. Objectivity
- EFFECTIVENESS against MANIPULATION
- INFORMATION is never INNOCENT
- WAR STORIES
- THE NEWS VALUES of WAR JOURNALISM
- THE NEWS VALUES of PEACE JOURNALISM
- STORIES of HUMAN INTEREST
- A JOURNALISM of EMPOWERMENT
- FRAMEWORKS of UNDERSTANDING
- A TIME of OPPORTUNITY
- SOLIDARITY and NETWORKING
- OBLIVION and RESISTANCE
- THE FUTURE of JOURNALISM
- Appendix A1: a short list of tasks for the Peace Correspondent3: News communication operates under the strong influence of many factors, four of them particularly relevant:4: Northern Ireland: A TRANSCEND perspective on the conflict outcome
- Appendix B: IrelandThe peace journalism approach.News ConferenceSafeguards required in a democracy
The Peace Journalism Option
The Peace Journalism Option represents the findings of the Conflict and Peace Journalism summer school which took place at Taplow Court in Buckinghamshire, UK, over the week of August 25-29 1997. Participants comprised journalists, media academics and students from Europe, Africa, Asia and the U.S. who divided their time between lectures, workshops and debate. The resulting document is a fair representation of the findings but may not represent the whole view of any of the contributors.
- Media coverage is integral to shaping the course of events in war & peace. With technology bringing more rapid and intense coverage, the connection becomes increasingly clear.
- Given this, for journalists the illusion of objectivity is over. Everyone has an agenda from PR companies like Hill & Knowlton to the British Civil Service and including the news services themselves competing for ratings and sales.
- Nevertheless, too much journalism swallows whole and unexamined the agenda of elites in the form of official information sources. When war is on the agenda the illusion of objectivity can be a cloak for war mongering.
- This form of 'war journalism' demonises the enemy and patronises the victims. It conceals or ignores peace initiatives.
- Martin Bell's Journalism of Attachment is only half a solution. However human interest stories can easily detract from proper analysis.
- Peace journalism consciously adopts an agenda for peace believing it to be the only genuine alternative to an unacknowledged or otherwise agenda for war.
- It maps the pre-violence conflict, identifying many parties and more causes, thereby opening up unexpected paths towards dialogue and peace making.
- Peace journalism humanises all sides of the conflict and is prepared to document both deceit and suffering as well as peace initiatives from all parties.
- It devises ways to empower non-elites by tracing relations of influence between their agendas and real effects, building an alternative framework for understanding the process of change. In this way it transcends tired categories of victim journalism and vox poppery.
- This approach holds good across the spectrum of conflict reporting particularly for politics. Its adoption would be courageous at a time when audiences are increasingly sceptical of news values which unquestioningly exalt official information sources.
Orientation vs. Objectivity
For journalists, the illusion of objectivity is finished. In the past it was a cloak for a set of values and definitions underpinned by a broadly establishment world view. Now that view and the institutions which sustained it are fragmenting, it is becoming ever more clear that journalists' presence conditions the story they are covering, making objectivity impossible.
Journalists' influence on the events they cover has been a live issue ever since the first war correspondents filed their first dispatches. Phillip Knightley, in his classic history, The First Casualty, recounts how WH Russell, whose work defined the genre, "helped to topple the British government, ...and helped to keep Britain from intervening in the American Civil War."
In the modern age, everyone realises that journalists become part of their own story. Parties to a conflict behave differently because the media is there, and try to influence coverage to their advantage. An insight which entered American living rooms at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, when anti-war demonstrators, filmed being brutally removed by Mayor Daly's Chicago Police, chanted: "The whole world's watching."
With the technology driving today's rapid and intense coverage the whole world might be watching in real time or very soon afterwards. Alongside it, sophisticated methods for manipulation have evolved, attempting to control precisely what is being watched, and when.
It means decisions journalists make about where to go for their coverage, and what to cover when they get there, have become increasingly contentious: developments which have caused the supposedly neutral territory - the collection of assumptions and definitions which does not need to be questioned - to dwindle to a vestige of its former self.
Indeed, by 1968, the same events which punctured the establishment media consensus in the United States had already begun to expose the world view which masquerades as objectivity among British journalists. So, another example, which raised eyebrows then, now raises a smile. After the demonstrations against the war in London's Grosvenor Square, listeners to BBC Radio's Today Programme were greeted, by presenter Jack de Manio, thus:
"Good morning. And let us begin this morning by raising our hats to the London policemen, who once again have had their weekend ruined by a lot of silly idiots."
Bell vs Simpson
As the fanatically pro-Establishment orientation of journalists like de Manio was being exposed by events, a young reporter was covering his first overseas assignments for the BBC. The space now open to debate these issues was hugely expanded by Martin Bell and his critique of the BBC journalistic precepts of distance and detachment.
In his book, In Harm's Way, Bell recounts several episodes from the conflict in former Yugoslavia when these nostrums were clearly outflanked. That specific changes of policy are traceable to the influence of news coverage unavoidably strips decisions about what to cover and how to cover it of any illusion of innocence.
Looking further back he recalls how the decision, at the Maastricht Summit of 1991, to grant EC recognition to Slovenia and Croatia "left Bosnia in a sort of limbo to be fought for, and in effect condemned 200,000 people to death" by opening the way to a referendum and the declaration of an independent republic against the wishes of one of its peoples, the Serbs. 2
BBC coverage of the summit, with developments through the night and into the morning being reported from on the spot by Breakfast News, excitedly told viewers how "Britain" (not "the Conservative Government") had "won" the day by securing opt-outs from Monetary Union and the Social Chapter. John Major had obtained "game, set and match" - a line scripted by Downing Street and repeated uncritically by the BBC.
Reporting which thought of itself as detached and objective actually contained unexamined assumptions that Britain's national interests could be identified with a narrowly defined establishment agenda - more subtle than de Manio's, surely, but different in degree, not in kind. It obscured the question - how had these concessions been extracted? The chief opponent of the opt-outs - Germany - was keen for Croatia and Slovenia to be recognised. Britain dropped its resistance to this idea and Germany stopped opposing the opt-outs.
The facts in the BBC's coverage were reported with its vaunted objectivity. But, as journalists watching back at base were diverted by the sight of presenter Nicholas Witchell bouncing up and down in a fluorescent orange ski-cap to keep warm between live links, one question was never considered either in the newsroom or on location - "the facts" did not include any attempt to find out what the game, set or match might have cost.
Because of the partial nature of supposedly objective reporting of the summit, no-one was pressed on whether this was coincidence or not, and we still don't know. Thanks to the timing of events Breakfast News had the story first - its coverage set the tone for the media response and effectively shoved such questions down the agenda.
Certainly, John Major traded on his prowess in securing this negotiating "success" for the remainder of his premiership. During the 1997 election campaign he presented a fascinating picture of these gatherings, where concessions given are exchanged for concessions received. Bell quotes an unnamed contact who'd been involved in the Maastricht diplomacy from the start: "It would take a great deal of naÃ¯vety not to see the linkage between the two."
Bell's response was effectively to call for the BBC to come clean - for a "journalism of attachment - by which I mean, a journalism that cares as well as it knows." In the debate over whether the West should step up its involvement in former Yugoslavia, Bell declared, he found the "something-must-be-done" argument and its adherents more congenial than proponents of the "nothing-can-be-done" view.
In using a Panorama programme to make and illustrate his case, Bell drew criticism from BBC colleagues who believed he had given away the very objectivity and detachment they strove to uphold.
Chief among these critics was World Affairs Editor John Simpson. As Bell's lectures on his book and the need for a journalism of attachment propelled him along his personal journey from reporter to MP, Simpson launched a counterblast in the Radio Times. The Guardian reported:
"After 31 years at the BBC his [Simpson's] views about presenting the news 'objectively' will be welcomed by the corporation hierarchy. 'Martin Bell (who advocates a more involved approach) is talking nonsense and he knows it,' Mr Simpson said. 'He was one of the most objective journalists.'"
In the Radio Times piece, Simpson added:
"In Sarajevo there was an atmosphere of such outrage at the disgusting things happening that some who covered it felt it went beyond the bounds of ordinary journalism. I didn't. It's not my job to shriek that side A is right and side B is wrong. I'm sick to death of the 'I'm going to tell you everything about me and what I think' school of journalism. You don't watch the BBC for polemic."
The World Affairs Editor's recent films for Newsnight from Afghanistan provide a useful counterpoint. One took him to the oldest mine in the world, high in the Hindu Kush, where the semi-precious stone, Lapis Lazuli, has been mined for 6,000 years. Now, the profits are being used to fund the war against the Taliban militia who are struggling for control of the country.
The local men, we were told, were "wild and frightening." The town high in the mountains and capital of the mining region was "primitive"; the more modern settlement nearby, "built with the spoils" of the lapis lazuli trade. The horses which pulled Simpson and his crew on wagons across the steppe were used "in the savage Afghan game of buvkhashi." [my italics]
Of three individuals involved in the lapis trade, the (Afghan) mine manager and the (Pakistani) wholesaler were challenged on camera over their profits and the morality of their business. The (English) buyer, Guy Clutterbuck, who came to the source to obtain stone to sell in Europe, was not.
To adapt an aphorism of the Oxford English professor Terry Eagleton: "He who professes a hostility to 'attachment' is really professing a hostility to other people's attachments and an oblivion of his own." 3
The Home front
The BBC can remain oblivious to Simpson's attachments only for as long as they are confined to his usual milieu of overseas dispatches. In different surroundings, they stick out like a sore thumb, as for instance when he covered John Major's 1992 campaign in the election before the one which brought Bell to Parliament.
Simpson joined the trail on day five, a Sunday, when journalists were taken by coach to a village hall in Major's Huntingdon constituency. Surrounded by party members and their friends, Major perched on a stool answering unrehearsed, but definitely friendly questions.
Simpson described the occasion as "desperately tame, to be honest" and offered the opinion that "Mr Major's handlers" would have to redouble their efforts if they were to revive his fortunes. Before the end of the teatime bulletin, the handlers at Conservative Central Office rang editor Mark Damazer to complain.
Damazer placed an avuncular arm around Simpson's shoulders and led him towards a quiet corner of the newsroom for a confidential chat. By the later bulletin, transmitted at about 10pm, the unflattering judgements were gone and Simpson's second piece occasioned no further complaint.
Simpson professes himself sick of the 'I'm going to tell you everything about me and what I think' school of journalism. In his Afghanistan piece, as in his John Major coverage, he told us what he thought - in one case it passed without comment, in the other it caused uproar.
What is required is a journalism which is aware of its own orientation and yet does not lapse into simplifications like, in Simpson's words, 'Side A is right and Side B is wrong.' One which is prepared to discuss the framework within which judgements are made, and thus renders them visible for the audience's inspection and assessment.
EFFECTIVENESS against MANIPULATION
Even the doughtiest exponents of detachment and objectivity, like John Simpson, can find their reporting locates them precisely at the contradictions inherent in those ideas. Time and again they have proved ineffective as defenses for journalists against manipulation.
The inaugural Conflict and Peace Journalism Summer School (25-29 August, 1997) heard from Maggie O'Kane, whose investigation into media manipulations leading up to and during the Gulf War of 1991 won the Cameron award when published in the Guardian as Bloodless Words, Bloody War and was broadcast on Channel Four, who screened it as Riding the Storm: How to Tell Lies and Win Wars. 4
Reporting of the UN weapons inspection crisis of late 1997 has suggested how the same techniques are still being used, with a stance of objectivity providing no defence.
Take, for example, a story in the Sunday Times from November 9th. On its front page the paper said Iraq had adapted a plane designed for agricultural use in Poland into an unmanned "drone" aircraft capable of projecting biological weapons such as anthrax spores and killing "tens of thousands of people if dropped on an urban area." It quoted Ken Munson of Jane's dictionary of unmanned aircraft: "If Saddam could get such a plane over the target area, he could well just use the chemical hopper" to disperse the lethal cargo. The reporters did not quote Munson's assessment of the likelihood that Saddam could get a converted Polish crop-sprayer "over the target area" and indeed, he confirms, they didn't even ask. In fact the aircraft, an M18 Dromeda, has a range of only 335 miles, and although designed for low-level flying Munson believes there is "a fair chance" that it would be picked up by surveillance systems before it got very far. Iraqi airspace, as we were reminded by television pictures from aboard the USS Nimitz, is patrolled and monitored round the clock.
This story - attributed to "Western and Iraqi intelligence sources" - comes from the manual of media manipulation. By leaving these elementary questions unaddressed the implication is left dangling that our own homes could be menaced by deadly spores at any time. Once in possession of facts the "intelligence sources" did not supply, such a scenario is incredible. But when armed intervention is contemplated, inconvenient facts tend to be excluded.
The drone belongs to the same compendium of "justification" tactics by proponents of military intervention which brought us the entirely false reports, in 1990, that Iraqi soldiers were killing babies in Kuwait City by switching off hospital incubators brought to us by Washington PR firm Hill and Knowlton. Maggie O'Kane recounted her meeting with nurses at the hospital who were utterly mystified by these stories.
The source turned out to be the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington, who was presented to the US Congress as a nurse but, in fact, had not been to Kuwait in years. As O'Kane says: "There's always a dead babies story." The effect is to demonise the enemy and create a sense of urgency which admits no time for diplomacy.
Why is it so easy to plant these stories? The Sunday Times has a long and discreditable record of regurgitating material supplied by the security services - remember the smearing of Carmen Proetta, an inconvenient witness to the shootings of three unarmed IRA members in Gibraltar who was interviewed for the Death On The Rock programme by Thames TV.
But the drone quickly began cropping up in other papers where it enjoyed the status of a fact which need not be questioned - even accompanied in some cases by an assessment sourced to American intelligence of the likely impact on Washington DC of such a weapon being deployed there - thousands of miles beyond its range.
Threats and Ambitions
The drone story also appears to emphasise the "threat" posed by Iraq, along with Saddam Hussein's "ambitions" - both assumptions which, again, belong to the realm of "common sense" which objective reporting supposedly inhabits and are therefore seldom if ever analysed.
During the Gulf War, the "ambitions" were talked up when US Intelligence sources claimed to have satellite pictures of 265,000 Iraqi troops massing on the border between occupied Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was the time when Saddam began to be likened to Hitler and the focus switched from the action required to eject his troops from Kuwait to the force necessary to block his alleged plans to take over the entire region.
As Maggie O'Kane's investigation records, the pictures have never been published. The only independent evidence, from a commercial satellite company, showed the bunkers the troops were said to be using to be empty, and the road they would have taken to reach their positions covered with several days' worth of undisturbed sand. The story featured in a Florida newspaper, the St Petersburg Times, but was not picked up by other media.
Meanwhile we've still never heard from April Glaspie, the US ambassador to Baghdad whose alleged advice that Washington would not object if Iraq grabbed a couple of Kuwaiti oilfields was said to have misled Saddam into thinking he could invade the Emirate with impunity.
This thesis, of the client in Baghdad checking with his sponsors what he could get away with, has the merit of fitting with a great deal of the available evidence. Not for nothing did the CIA thwart several assassination attempts against him, or British ministers break their own laws to supply him with arms, during the war with the greater perceived menace of Iran.
Ms Glaspie could help us judge which is more likely - that Iraq is constantly seeking to build its military might towards an attack on its neighbours, or that it knows there is a mark which the bellicose bluster common to all totalitarian regimes must not overstep. Only then can we assess the "ambitions" casually referred to by so many reporters covering the weapons inspection crisis, and thus the appropriate response.
Further assumptions which pass unexamined by supposedly objective reporting - the routine distinctions between Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" and our "deterrent." No doubt the Iraqi regime wants such weapons for many reasons - to quell and intimidate its own population, as witness the chemical attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988, being one.
But let us not forget the Gulf War proved our preparedness to use weapons such as napalm bombs (admitted by the Pentagon) and shells tipped with reduced uranium (exposed by O'Kane) on Iraqi territory. Does this not begin to resemble the logic which other states follow in equipping themselves with a "deterrent" of their own? Journalism which thinks itself objective excludes all the above facts, without discussing its decision to do so. But in making that decision it inescapably takes on an orientation of its own.
INFORMATION is never INNOCENT
Chief among the assumptions inherent in journalism which thinks itself objective is an unexamined hierarchy ofinformation sources. At the top - governments, with information from official British government sources reportable as fact, even when, as with the Iraqi troop build-up, the evidence refutes it. The shortcomings of this approach are becoming increasingly obvious.
Guidance for the Government Information Service calls for media briefings on ministers' be-half to be "objective and explanatory." A phrase likely to raise a hollow laugh from reporters told initially that Labour had received no donation from Bernie Eccles-tone, or that a meeting between backbench MPs and the Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman had passed without criticism of government policy. Or from anyone who featured unwittingly as a dupe of Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's spin-doctor, in the Network First documentaries on Channel 3 which established him as a media star in his own right.
In fact the fear and loathing which have gripped the service since May 1 serve as a useful corrective to any lingering notion that information even from this supposedly Delphic source can any longer be taken at face value.
The lid was removed by the leak of memos written to government press officers by Downing Street Press Secretary Alastair Campbell. One advised them to "raise their game" in placing "government policy stories, initiatives, relaunches, etc" in the press. There were, according to the memo, "holes in the papers which are being filled with damaging (and usually incorrect) stories, which then have to be corrected on Sunday."
Ewen MacAskill, Chief Political Correspondent of the Guardian, writing about the review of government information provision launched after the leaked memos affair under Campbell's tutelage, quoted an anonymous Labour source: "Whitehall has to wake up to the real world. The idea that you can cut off politics from the officials does not work. Let's stop pretending."
There are larger forces at work here. Britain is no longer a deferential society. The institutions which encoded and transmitted establishment values and notions of hierarchy have been penetrated by the market forces which now increasingly shape social relations. In the process many of those institutions have been discredited, delayered or even destroyed.
The preparedness of journalists to internalise an unexamined hierarchy of information sources made them handmaidens of these institutions. The journalism they produce has become less recognisable to the audience when set alongside the impression many readers, listeners and viewers have of the forces shaping their own lives. Tim Gardam, head of News and Current Affairs at Channel Five, recalls that in the 1980s, "news focussed on the institutions of power because that was where our everyday lives seemed to lead - if not to the Pentagon and the Kremlin, then to Congress House and ACAS."
He identifies a turning point in opening up a new agenda, requiring a new understanding of the issues preoccupying the audience and therefore a switch in the focus on established institutions. It came with two stories in 1992 - Black Wednesday, which made macroeconomics seem "unhelpful" in understanding the world, and the killing of James Bulger, which highlighted the importance of "relationships".
Gardam's vision had to wait four years for an outlet, provided by the advent of Channel 5 and a newly competitive marketplace for news - today, Gardam says, "we are seeing a series of different newses for different people."
The methods demanded by this market are playing their own part in undermining the traditional primacy of official information sources. Nik Gowing, presenter on the BBC's World Service Television News, told a Radio 5 Live talk show about his recollections of the night of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The time of the event, in the early hours, meant Gowing was effectively bringing the world its news - just like Breakfast News with the Maastricht summit years earlier. At the time, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was on an overseas tour in Asia, where it was the middle of the day. Briefed by his officials, Cook gave a statement regretting that Princess Diana's car had been surrounded by "intrusive journalists and photographers" when it crashed.
Gowing recalled reporting this statement not as a claim but as fact - and his subsequent realisation that the impression given by Cook's words was wrong, as further evidence quickly emerged about the precise circumstances of the crash. He attributed this to the pressures of 24-hour live broadcasting, prompting demand for a Foreign Office statement before the true facts emerged and bringing further evidence to light before the programme went off air.
The lesson, Gowing said, was that journalists, in future, should regard such a statement, even from a senior Government minister, as a claim to be sourced, reported and assessed along with any other, rather than as fact.
It was the highly competitive 24-hour market for news which formed the background to this episode. Market forces caused government information to be given in such a way as to call its traditional primacy into question. Alastair Campbell's press officers had evidently raised their game to get Cook on - behaving as actors in a market for stories, filling airtime and newsprint before their competitors got in.
In the information business, war is a continuation of politics by other means. The same information officers now competing to sell stories to journalists are the ones charged with giving the official version of eventsin a period when armedintervention is on the agenda.
Never is it more clear that illusions of objectivity are finished than in a period like the Iraq weapons inspection crisis of October and November 1997, when official information reaches us according to an agenda based on legitimising the option of force.
At such a time, the only choice is which orientation to adopt - in favour of war or peace. War journalism reports that Tony Blair intends to "stand firm" with the US President over military action against Saddam Hussein (Press Association and UK newspapers); peace journalism highlights the agenda-setting taking place by at least pointing out (the more wary Reuters reporter) that this was based on just one sentence which was all Downing Street released from the PM's letter to Bill Clinton.
Official sources behaved as if it were essential to gain legitimacy in a debate conducted through the media for a violent outcome to the conflict. Hence the unceasing efforts in London and Washington to establish that "there was no sign of a climbdown from Baghdad" (Sunday Times.) The Sunday Telegraph was equally certain that Saddam was "displaying little interest in defusing the crisis" over the weapons inspections.
In fact on the Friday night before these editions appeared, the head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, had given a news conference in New York in which he detailed the myriad pettifogging ways the Iraqis had found to frustrate the work he and his team were trying to carry out - switching off remote cameras, moving equipment and so on. But he also described the many conciliatory moves Iraq had already made in order to restore normality to the commission's work - switching cameras back on, putting equipment back in its proper place.
Only in the report on Sky News which ran throughout Saturday did any of these remarks by Butler find their way to a UK audience, although they were the unmistakable beginnings of moves to achieve a political settlement. Not that this stopped official information sources, a fortnight or so later, claiming it was the credible threat of military intervention which had extracted the eventual diplomatic resolution.
The same Sunday newspapers quoted from Saturday's edition of al-Qassidiya, the Ba'ath party propaganda sheet: "Our heroic eagles are on full alert to confront any aggression or fresh stupidity the American administration may commit." But as British readers were seeing this on the Sunday, there was a new line in Baghdad: Iraqi anti-aircraft guns were "on the alert" against "any hostile target, whatever its kind and nationality."
A specific threat against the United States had given way to a general, rather anodyne statement which was not so very dissimilar from one issued in Britain about Tornado jets being "ready" to support armed intervention.
Prospects for a diplomatic settlement grew when Le Figaro quoted from Tariq Aziz, who'd been visiting Paris, Iraq's offer to have US weapons inspectors back if they were in proportion with representatives of other UN Security Council countries. Reuters, reporting from Baghdad, noted that this was "not really new."
In fact the suggestion had originally been made a week earlier. Peace journalism would consciously pick this up, keep mentioning it and press for responses to it so as to fix a non-violent resolution within the spectrum of options for policy-makers. Most coverage in the British media buried this line to the extent that the Express could declare, in its main headline in the middle of the week, "We're Ready For War."
THE NEWS VALUES of WAR JOURNALISM
Reporting, like coverage of the Iraq weapons inspection crisis, does not happen by accident. This is War Journalism, a condition diagnosed by Professor Johan Galtung, founder of Peace Studies as an academic subject. The phrases in bold here and in the next section are mostly taken from his critique which is included as the Appendix to this report.
Stories about elite people in elite countries, which deal with negative events in individuals' lives, are newsworthy. Stories which deal with structural change, especially if positive, which concern non-elite people in non-elite countries, are not newsworthy - a model suggested by Professor Johan Galtung, in his book Global Glasnost (1992), and part of the wider unacknowledged orientation of the supposedly objective journalism which predominates in Western media. 5
This leads to the "Small Earthquake in Chile, Not Many Dead" syndrome. Or, again, the old newsman's maxim that one Briton dead in a plane crash carries the same interest as 100 Frenchmen and 1,000 people from any developing country. One example - the 1997 Colombo bomb, which, judging from headlines in London newspapers, only killed British tourists.
- Among the elements which seep unacknowledged into the mindset of war journalism from official sources is a general zero-sum analysis. Peace is defined as victory plus ceasefire. It does not allow for the possibility that a violent outcome may leave a conflict unresolved, to recur in the future - clearly a mistake in reporting the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
- War journalism tends to focus on violence as its own cause and is disinclined to delve into the deep structural origins of the conflict. (This is a matter of professionalism - what doctor would look at a swollen ankle and diagnose an ankle disease? S/he would examine the cardiovascular system in the search for origins.)
Hence chronologies of the Iraq weapons inspection crisis, a common feature in Western coverage, identified the beginning as the expulsion of US inspectors by Iraq - without mentioning the use of napalm and radioactive shells on Iraqi territory by the Gulf War allies.
Official information sources attached great importance to the message of "surgical strikes" during the Gulf War, even to the extent of preventing a single image of an Allied serviceman in action being published - the purpose of controlling access through the pooling system.
The aim was to focus the attention on the precise targets for Western weaponry. To consider the wisdom of pursuing a violent outcome in the context of its wider effects throughout the region and the consequences for world peace and security was anathema to war journalism and the information sources who's agenda it internalised. It would have entailed journalists assessing the impact of any bomb that dropped not on its surgically selected target, but on the culture and structure of the Middle East, and on debates about the legitimacy of violent resolutions of future conflicts.
- After an episode of violence, war journalism concentrates on visible effects - those killed or wounded, or visible material damage, not damage to psychology, structure and culture. For example - when the Peruvian authorities deployed troops to lift the siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, killing all the terrorists inside, it was greeted by many reporters as resolving the conflict.
But the message to the hostage-takers was that their restraint - ie not killing hostages - gained nothing, so what will the tactics be next time? Questions which peace journalism must raise before any act of violence is committed and in assessing the merits of a violent outcome while it is being considered.
Us and Them
- War journalism reduces the number of parties to two, so anyone who is not my friend is automatically my enemy. Throughout the weapons inspection crisis Washington was seeking to establish that Saddam Hussein had confronted the international community as a whole. At least until the divisions in the UN security council became too obvious to ignore, this was accepted uncritically by the British and American media. Even after this, French opposition to the use of military strikes, for example, was described as "foot-dragging".
During the Gulf War, Galtung argues: "Many people, perhaps most people in the world, belonged to a third camp - against both the war that started 2 August 1990 and the war that started 17 January 1991." This found little or no echo in news coverage. 6
- Instead war journalism draws us/them polarities. As suggested above, stories purporting to offer the latest evidence of Saddam Hussein's wickedness and his weapons of mass destruction are put out by official information sources to demonise the enemy. The corollary of this is to humanise the participants on "our" side.
Lucy Speigle, a journalist quoted in Maggie O'Kane's piece from an interview for The Second Front, John Macarthur's book about Gulf War censorship, describes the tactics of official information sources in supplying story opportunities calculated to humanise "our" troops:
"'There are about ten stories to be repeated again and again: arrival of the troops; not enough mail; the food; the water; it's too hot; it's too cold; too much sand; too much dirt; husbands and wives going to war; should women go to war?'"
Equally, stories which tend to humanise the "other" side draw protests and opprobrium on the offending news organisation - the experience of CNN when it broadcast its interview with the owner of the Al Rashid Hotel where international journalists stayed in Baghdad. She came across to viewers around the world as, Galtung recalls, "an attractive woman who spoke excellent English" and was highly articulate about conditions in the city during the crisis, arguing about the war and describing what it felt like waiting for bombs to drop.
Winners and Losers
- War journalism requires clear winners and losers. Here, the sports archetype, where winning is the only thing, is most evident. It ignores or conceals peace initiatives from the other side or third parties, particularly any option for a non-violent outcome which does not give total victory to "our" side.
This explains the reluctance, chronicled above, to pick up signs of an incipient diplomatic settlement in the weapons inspection crisis. On that occasion it did not lead to violence, but O'Kane recalls a similar stage in 1990. The official Baghdad newspaper published pictures of 10,000 troops leaving Kuwait, and Saddam Hussein assured both King Hussein of Jordan and the UN Security Council that he intended to pull out.
Coincidentally this was when the existence was announced of satellite pictures purporting to show Iraqi men and materiel on the border between occupied Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In a suspension of sensory, let alone critical faculties, war journalism accorded greater credence to this than the other evidence - a highly important decision in setting the climate for war.
- War journalism with its unacknowledged embrace of the aims of official information sources, extends from the conflict itself to the halls of negotiation - as at Maastricht. Again, here, the focus is on elites as peacemakers, with the emphasis on victory in a zero-sum game, and every move assessed in terms of who is having to give ground and being forced to make concessions. It seeks evidence of peace breaking out in the form of treaties and institutions.
THE NEWS VALUES of PEACE JOURNALISM
The first job of peace journalism is to map the conflict, identifying the parties and analysing their goals, and to treat the information they supply in the light of their specific agenda.
Robert Karl Manoff, Director of the Centre for War, Peace and the News Media at New York University, argues that once it is established that journalism cannot be objective, it assumes an extra responsibility:
"With this in mind, and for realpolitik, humanitarian and moral reasons, we cannot avoid asking ourselves what more can be done in the common interest to reduce and prevent such conflict. Why invoke the media in this context? Because it is clear that, taken together, mass media technologies, institutions, professionals, norms and practices constitute one of the fundamental forces now shaping the lives of individuals and the fate of peoples and nations.... the media constitute a major human resource whose potential to help prevent and moderate social violence begs to be discussed, evaluated, and, where appropriate, mobilised." 7
Practical Peace Journalism
During the weapons inspection crisis, British reporting attributed French and Russian reluctance to countenance military strikes to their desire to normalise relations with Baghdad as soon as possible in order to unfreeze lucrative contracts with the regime. The interests of the US and British military-industrial complex were never examined in similar terms.
Was it coincidence that, shortly before this episode, Kuwait announced it was placing a major arms order with China, chosen over suppliers from the United States? British and American arms manufacturers prospered after both the Gulf War and then, when Saudi and other appetites to buy more Western weaponry were flagging, the bizarre "Duke of York" incident of 1994 in which Saddam Hussein marched his troops to the top of the hill (actually, the Kuwaiti border) then marched them down again (back to barracks.)
What did the two countries whose military might was deployed in the Gulf on this occasion have to gain by reminding Gulf states just which Permanent Members of the UN Security Council were most committed to providing friendly muscle against the neighbourhood bully?
For whatever reason, the aim of London and Washington was to establish the rationale for military action. As suggested by the examples given above, reporting which claimed to be objective, but which was actually war journalism, internalised the official agenda without analysing either the methods or the motives of the source for its information.
- The first task of peace journalism, therefore, must be to map the conflict, identifying all the parties and their goals. In place of the supposedly objective reporting of facts, it must discuss the process by which some facts are selected, and others suppressed, by competing information sources.
A Voice for All Parties
- In resisting the notion that the number of parties to a conflict is reducible to two, peace journalism must seek out different voices and articulate the range of interests in any given situation. Herein lies the antidote to the demonisation/humanisation polarity of war journalism.
In Season of Blood, his account of the conflict in Rwanda, BBC Correspondent Fergal Keane recounts a story he followed for Panorama which transgressed and subverted facile polarities between Tutsis and Hutus. He sought out a Hutu prefect in one district of Kigali who had organised a convoy of vehicles to move several hundred Tutsi children away from a stadium in which they had been rounded up to face almost certain death. 8
Keane describes how, as he was meeting the prefect in his office, a Hutu army officer burst in and clearly threatened the man. But, early the following morning, the evacuation went ahead with the camera present - a long and risky journey which succeeded in finding safe haven only after several close calls at security checkpoints along the way.
- This remarkable piece of journalism had the effect of humanising all sides of the conflict. The majority of Western reporting humanised the Tutsis and demonised the Hutus, content as it was to identify the origin of the conflict in the superficial fact that Hutus were responsible for the most recent outbreak of violence.
- Keane's book delves into history to identify the structural and cultural causes, and the complicity of Western colonialism in deepening divisions. Elsewhere he discusses the role of the privately-owned Hutu station, Radio Mille Collines, in opening historical wounds and encouraging ethnic cleansing. A fact which emphasised his responsibility, he felt, to mobilise his resources as a journalist and a broadcaster to help prevent and moderate violence, and promote understanding and peace.
In delivering the 1997 Huw Wheldon memorial lecture, Keane proposed the category of "truth" as the highest aim of the journalist. A piece of empiricist rhetoric which belongs with illusions of objectivity and seems strangely naive when set alongside the evidence from his own account of a more complex grasp of the reporter's duties.
- In Rwanda Keane discovered, and was prepared to acknowledge many truths. Crucially he is prepared to discuss his methods of deciding which of these to include in his reports, and in particular the importance of seeking out truths inconvenient to the conventional analysis. In undertaking the hazardous enterprise of a trip into government territory, and then covering what was essentially a dissident humanitarian action, Keane invites a much more sophisticated sense of his own role as a journalist.
- Just as peace journalists must seek out truths even when inconvenient to official information sources or the conventional analysis, they must also be ready to expose untruths on all sides. In this respect an experiment carried out during the Summer School illustrated the nature and extent of the task.
An episode in the Gulf War, which cast doubt on the official version of events that it was a clean affair of surgical strikes, came with the bombing of a building in Baghdad which the Iraqis said was a "shelter" housing civilians. Official sources of information in Western capitals declared it was a "bunker" - a military installation which the Iraqis had used to house civilians as a human shield against attack.
In the piece from a British TV news station which was played at the Summer School, then US Defense Secretary Dick Cheney gave several reasons for the belief by Allied forces that the building was indeed a military installation. Chief among these was the claim that the roof was painted with camouflage paint.
Participants then saw a piece by a different reporter, but run by the same station the following day, which included the first shots released by the Iraqis showing the bombed shelter/bunker and some victims of the attack. These shots showed a roof with no camouflage paint - it was unpainted. But there was no reference to Cheney's claim or the questions the new evidence of the Iraqi shots raised about the whole rationale for the bombing as given by the Pentagon.
As Rune Ottosen, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Journalism and Library Studies at Oslo College and a tutor at the Summer School, puts it:
"It seems quite clear that the so-called organisational memory has a more firm base in the military planning system than in journalism which is a changing and competitive business. In that sense, media studies might be valuable for journalism. Media scholars come back to the issues years after they happened and use the lessons of history in the education of the next generation of journalists." 9
The pressures on individual reporters in this competitive environment - much more so now than at the time of the Gulf War - limit the scope of organisational memory. When you are called upon to "turn round" some material which has just arrived in house for the top of the next hour's programme, the time available to check its contents against previous claims is heavily circumscribed.
But the fact that journalists' organisational memory can be so vestigial as to prevent a claim of fact on a Tuesday being so much as referred to, when pictures which appear to rebut that claim arrive on a Wednesday, also reflects their resistance to anything resembling a systematic analysis of the judgements and assumptions they bring to their reporting.
- It follows that journalists who wish to mount such an analysis as a defence against manipulation, and pursue a strategy based on critical awareness and consciously making peace-enhancing reporting decisions, must create systems of organisational memory to enable claimed facts to be checked against the emergence of confuting evidence.
STORIES of HUMAN INTEREST
Many of the most powerful and memorable pieces of journalism are human interest stories. But the humanisation tactics of military media manipulation illustrate the potential for abuse. Is it a form of reporting inherently inclined to obscure proper analysis by playing on the emotions? Or are there adaptations of it which could strengthen the orientation of peace journalism? A question crucial to the appeal of peace journalism to news organisations hungry for audiences.
According to Prof James Curran in Power Without Responsibility, the earliest British surveys of reader response, carried out by the press barons in the 1920s, revealed that human interest stories (then, chiefly, society divorces) were enthusiastically received by the largest cross-section of the readership. At the opposite end of this spectrum came "any category of public affairs". 10
- Galtung calls on peace journalists to harness this power to "focus on suffering on all sides and on women, the aged and children." This he sees as "giving voice to the voiceless" and, by illustrating the nature of people's problems and concerns, fostering a realisation that people are the true peacemakers, not elites or their treaties or institutions.
The dangers of human interest reporting, chronicling accounts of suffering, are amply illustrated by recalling the hospital incubator story - part of an information strategy devised and implemented by Washington PR firm Hill & Knowlton. They were retained at great expense by the party to the Gulf conflict with most to gain from the kind of military action likely to restore status quo ante in Kuwait - the Kuwaiti government itself. At the time, war journalism did not dwell on the provenance of the story - a mistake, as it turned out, that peace journalism would not commit.
Ottosen identifies several key stages of a military campaign to "soften up" public opinion through the media in preparation for an armed intervention. These are:
The Preliminary Stage - during which the country concerned comes to the news, portrayed as a cause for "mounting concern" because of poverty/dictatorship/anarchy;
The Justification Stage - during which big news is produced to lend urgency to the case for armed intervention to bring about a rapid restitution of "normality";
The Implementation Stage - when pooling and censorship provide control of coverage;
The Aftermath - during which normality is portrayed as returning to the region, before it once again drops down the news agenda.
O'Kane notes "there is always a dead baby story" and it comes at the key point of the Justification Stage - in the form of a story whose apparent urgency brooks no delay - specifically, no time for cool deliberation or negotiating on peace proposals. Human interest stories like the one about the incubators are ideal for engendering this atmosphere.
It is essentially for this reason that LM Magazine has launched a sustained critique of human interest stories and their use in the journalism of attachment as practised by advocates of Western intervention in Bosnia like Maggie O'Kane herself. 11
LM Editor Mick Hume led a discussion on these issues at the Summer School. In the pamphlet, Whose War is it Anyway?, he writes:
"Human suffering among victims is not hard to find in any war zone. It can make moving eye-witness news reports. The trouble is, however, that it cannot allow the journalist or her audience to make sense of what is happening - especially when the suffering is only reported from one side of the conflict." 12
"...In an atmosphere where war reporting from somewhere like Bosnia means competing with other journalists to find the most dramatic human interest story on one side of the lines in one city [Sarajevo], a clear view of the bigger political forces shaping events can easily become obscured by the emotional reaction."
A Focus on People
In a complex story involving politics in the Balkans, it is perhaps understandable that journalists with limited space or airtime seek out human examples to dramatise the issues in a way that no amount of dry analysis could hope to do.
Martin Bell, reminiscing about his posting in Bosnia, recalls two "classic cases" of policy driven by television's portrayal of human suffering:
"The first was Operation Irma, when the plight of one five-year-old girl led Downing Street to order the airlift of more than forty wounded people from Sarajevo; never mind the thousands of others who suffered unheeded. It happened in July 1993. I was in Central Bosnia at the time - a time of unusually heavy fighting with casualties to match, and the flight of 10,000 panic-stricken Croats, who were urged by their own leaders to flee from their homes around Bugojno. From our base in Vitez our array of dishes actually enabled us to see some BBC programmes, and that the BBC on that Tuesday should devote more than half of one of its own news programmes to the plight of one five-year-old girl struck me as daft." 13
"The second example was the mortar attack on the Sarajevo market in February 1994, in which sixty-eight people died. It was another clear case of policy driven by television. There had been other such massacres before - the bread queue in May 1992, the water queue in January 1993 - each with terrible effects and about twenty dead."
This attack, Bell writes, "moved the international community as earlier attacks had not." And he touches upon his suspicions about the episode and its effect. He suggests the international community was now more ready to be moved - "a new take-charge commander, General Sir Michael Rose, was on the scene. The UN was fulfiling its mandate for the first time in months, and had embarked on a policy of threatening force against the Serbs, both for the relief of the garrison in Srebrenica and for the opening of Tuzla airport...the TV images...brought about a change of policy by the British and Canadian governments about the use of airpower."
One of the dramatis personae of Bell's book, Larry Hollingworth, himself addressed an evening session of the Summer School. Bell remembers him as a "Father Christmas lookalike" and indeed his long white beard became familiar to TV viewers who nightly witnessed his battles with mulish officialdom in heading up UN relief operations in Bosnia.
Hollingworth recalled another human interest story which drove his own policies when it appeared on television, in this case in directions counter-productive to the larger efforts he was making to keep a war-torn population sheltered, fed and watered.
One time when the flow of news had dried to a trickle, the correspondents stationed at Sarajevo's Holiday Inn discovered a large house on the outskirts of the city which was now pressed into service as an old people's home. The first such trip took place at the onset of winter, when reporters discovered elderly residents shivering with cold because the gas fires which had belonged to the house had been looted before they moved in.
Reports of their plight brought pressure on Hollingworth to take action and he duly delivered a set of new gas fires to the home, which he left in the hallway for fitting. The time and logistical support consumed by this project were out of all proportion, he felt, to any potential benefit since they represented resources he could ill afford from the overall relief effort.
Eventually there was the inevitable follow-up as reporters, once again at a loss for a story, decided to revisit the scene of their earlier triumph to hear the human interest stories of old folks getting through the winter in wartime. The worst of the weather had come and gone by this stage, but, on arrival, the press corps discovered the place was as cold as ever and many of the residents had died.
Indeed Peter Maas, the Washington Post reporter in Sarajevo - whose book carries an estimate of the total dead in the Bosnian conflict at 100,000 - admitted he'd only ever actually seen one dead body - an elderly lady at this very home. 14
Once again, Hollingworth was prevailed upon to spare time he could not, in truth, afford, to go in person to the home and find out what had gone wrong. He arrived to discover the same gas fires, lying, rusting, in the hallway, because nobody had been brought in to fit them. Without such resources the gesture had been pointless, and, Hollingworth felt, had wrongly become a priority over other work with more chance of succeeding in saving lives.
What is common in all these stories is indeed a focus on people, but people in each case as passive victims. Hollingworth says almost every journalist and every soldier arrived in Bosnia with an open mind, determined not to take sides in the conflict. But as their experience grew, almost every journalist sided with the Muslims, and almost every soldier sided with the Serbs.
[Galtung suggests that media perceptions might have something to do with "isomorphism" between the Yugoslav (con)federation and the Soviet Bloc, with the Serbs as its representatives and therefore the "chosen enemy".]
Whatever the reason, the war journalism polarity between the humanised and the demonised was alive and flourishing. In these circumstances, Hume writes:
"The search for human interest stories removed from any wider context led the world's press corps to treat one side in Bosnia as something altogether less than human. The Muslim side, meanwhile, were depicted as pathetic victims in an equally caricatured fashion." 15
"The result of imposing a ready-made Good v Evil framework on every situation is that conflicts can only be understood as the consequence of man's atavistic, bestial urges. Instead of 'humanising' a war, this approach ultimately dehumanises all those involved."
Elsewhere, Hume quotes from Reuters reporter Andrej Gustincic, writing in the Guardian in January 1993: "'The political context just seems so irrelevant when you're out in the field... Whether you want to or not, you become what is called a colour writer, because you become involved in events, you care about the people, you're scared a lot of the time. You don't think about the political context, or your political views become really simple."
And from Misha Glenny, former BBC World Service Central Europe correspondent and author of The Fall of Yugoslavia, who writes that in the absence of anything more than a highly simplified view of why the Serbs acted as they did, "'The general perception is because they are stark-raving mad, vicious, mean bastards.'"
Exactly which interests are served by dehumanising the Serbs, by simplifying political context and thus the conflict issues themselves to a simple polarity of "us" and "them"? (Side A is right, Side B is wrong, in Simpson's words). With which media strategy does this brand of victim journalism most naturally fit? Remember the hint in Bell's account of policy shifts in the air at the time of the Sarajevo market massacre. For whom might these have represented an opportunity?
Hume mentions the UN report on the massacre which, he says, "implied that, in fact, Bosnian Muslim forces had fired the shell at their own people, in order to win international sympathy. When Yasushi Akashi, former head of the UN mission in Bosnia, finally admitted the existence of this report in June 1996, he said it was 'no secret' since 'some journalists already had a copy.' Those intrepid reporters had kept the secret to themselves, ensuring that one of the biggest scandals in Bosnia remained effectively buried for more than two years." 16
Victim journalism contributes to a framework of understanding of a conflict in which the agenda of war journalism is more likely to make sense, however superficially, to the reader/listener/viewer.
It may even lead one party to play upon its existence by acting in the most appalling way to generate sympathetic headlines of a sort calculated to hasten intervention on their behalf.
Hume is prepared to come clean and acknowledge openly that LM's journalism is campaigning in its intention - to identify injustice, according to the magazine's definition, and concentrate its news gathering on finding evidence to support a systematic analysis of a given situation.
But he also proposes that the journalist's mission is to "tell it like it is" - shades of objectivity - and offers no strategy by which human interest stories can be harnessed to an avowed and open orientation. Given the acceptance throughout the industry that this is the most powerful form of storytelling, such a strategy will be crucial in inserting the values of peace journalism into the mainstream - itself a prerequisite for real change.
A JOURNALISM of EMPOWERMENT
Peace journalism must engage with people from outside elites but this entails finding ways to empower them in the debate. Only then can their testimony contribute to changing the discourse within which judgment, decisions, action and reaction occur.
Hume's study allows that "moving human dramas" are newsworthy, permissible so long as they are even-handed between parties, and that "human suffering... can make moving eye-witness news reports." But he offers no strategy for harnessing the power of human interest journalism to an agenda calculated to enhance the prospects for peace.
Larry Hollingworth was asked if he could think of a story which reporters in Bosnia didn't tell, which might have contributed to the humanisation of all sides, focussed on the suffering of all sides, and on people as peace-makers - key aspects of the discipline of peace journalism as outlined above.
He recalled an incident when a relief convoy he'd organised was passing along a road in a Serb-controlled zone, carrying food to hungry people in a Muslim-controlled zone. In an action which became familiar throughout Bosnia, local Serb women occupied the road and refused to allow the convoy to get through. What did not come out was the symbolic injury, the invisible hurt at a structural and cultural level, which the convoy represented to the Serb women. In effect, the food was going to the men who'd killed their husbands, sons and fathers, and, to do so, was about to pass the very graveyard where many of them were buried.
Hollingworth speculated that such a story might have helped to engender a degree of fellow-feeling between women in the two communities in such a way as to break down the "us-them" polarity between Serbs and Muslims which is the stuff of war journalism.
He believed, from his knowledge of the people, that invoking the moral authority of the women in their homes offered the strongest prospect of ending the violence, or preventing it from breaking out again.
To connect with this story it would be necessary to focus on the suffering on all sides - it would not naturally occur to journalism of an orientation in which the Muslims were the victims, the Serbs their oppressors, as was apparent in reports of other instances when such action took place.
- But the crucial difference between this and the species of human interest journalism which portrays people as victims is that here the women were taking their own action, driven by a political agenda in which the essential demand was some recognition of their suffering and a willingness to respond to it by the international community in framing its policies. Instantly it would have placed the focus on the need to devise peaceful solutions to the dilemma, based on respect for each party. Hence the attention switches from victory to transformation of the conflict.
It also serves as a prototype for a journalism capable of harnessing the power of human interest stories. As a moving human drama, senior journalists present, including independent film-maker Martyn Gregory, agreed that if the story checked out it would make a powerful element for something like an eye-witness current affairs piece of the kind likely to commend itself to a commissioning editor.
People as Peace-makers?
To anyone who has watched "vox pops" in a piece of television news, casting members of the public as the voice of John Bull, scoffing at complex ideas, the idea that people from outside elites can figure in reporting as peace-makers can seem at best glib.
- Peace journalism depends on analysing the political agenda of people from outside elites or official information sources, and creating a framework of understanding in which the connection between their action, and prospects for change resulting from it, can be assessed.
- One contributor to the Summer School, Sebastian Cody of Open Media, identifies the need for such a framework as essential to bring all contributors to a story "to the starting gate" on an equal footing. Cody recounted his experiences in bringing to British television the After Dark concept which originated with programme-makers in Austria.
- In making the series for Channel 4, Cody created what he called a "polygon of perspectives" - replacing the usual bipolar, Side A vs Side B model of TV current affairs.
To break up received aggregates of opinion in this way is essential to disrupt the zero-sum analysis of war journalism, in which peace means victory for one of two sides plus a ceasefire.
[This approach succeeded in unsettling the official agenda-setting apparatus to such a degree that one planned programme, on Northern Ireland, which was to feature a panel including Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, collapsed at the last minute and may have led, shortly afterwards, to the broadcasting ban in which news programmes were not allowed to broadcast remarks by Sinn Fein representatives. The After Dark programme was eventually removed from its regular slot by Channel 4 after a series in 1991 which, among other issues examined the financial interests which stood to profit by war in the Gulf.]
FRAMEWORKS of UNDERSTANDING
Information from elite or official sources comes with a readymade framework of understanding. To bring people from outside the elite to the starting gate on an equal footing requires journalists to create a framework of understanding which traces the connections between their agenda and actions and the prospects for change.
A journalism of empowerment, constructing a role for non-elite people which focuses on their agenda for change, is essential as a first step towards creating a framework of understanding in which their input can transcend tired categories of victim journalism or vox-poppery. The relations of influence between the actions of people on the ground, and change in the real world, can only be examined by bringing them to the starting gate on equal terms.
This in turn is a prerequisite for being able to disaggregate a body of interests or opinions and create a polygon of perspectives. And, given that, we have a starting point for challenging the bipolar, zero-sum analysis of war journalism.
Galtung stresses that the analysis of war journalism is not confined to conflicts between warring states or nations:
"What is said here also applies to violence between other groups, to rape and wife battering, mistreatment of children, race and national strife, class conflict. The violence is reported and the blame is usually fixed clearly on one side."
The Summer School was treated to a classic example of the model in action as applied to a disturbance in Brixton, South London. In a striking case of - to use one of Galtung's words - isomorphism between reporting of a conflict between states and reporting of an essentially domestic news story, delegates watched a report screened by a British TV news channel the day after the disturbance occurred.
This was some little time after the death in police custody of a local man, Wayne Douglas, and linked to complaints by some in the black community in Brixton that not enough was being done to investigate such incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Patrick Younge, founding editor of the BBC's Black Britain and now deputy editor of Here and Now, identified several characteristics of this report which bore the unmistakable fingerprints of war journalism. The black community in Brixton was presented as an established aggregate of view - with one spokesperson, Rudy Narayan, a former barrister who now runs a legal advice service. In the clip used, he predicted that a police officer could die in a future disturbance.
The report mentioned the grievance over Wayne Douglas's death and carried a still picture of him. But there was no humanising interview with his family; the concentration was on the violence and its immediate consequences, evidence of damage etc. Police officers injured in the trouble gave victim testimony from their hospital beds.
The custody death itself had not been reported, at least on network TV news, and Younge suggested the implicit message to local activists was that to get attention for their grievances they should riot.
He described the process he and his team carried out in establishing an alternative framework of understanding for events as they affect the black community - the foundation stones for Black Britain's inaugural series:
"We sent the reporters out of the office, in fact we sent the whole team out of the office. Everybody was given a region of Britain and told to go there, find the people on the ground who make things happen, talk to them, gain their confidence, try to explain to them why we're different and come back with a host of contact numbers.
I can give you a [black] 'community leader' in every city in Britain. We all know who they are and we all know their names. The reason why they're called community leaders is that they're available. By and large, say there's a disturbance in Handsworth, you phone up Evan Berry, say Pat Younge here, up against a deadline, can you get down to BBC Birmingham and knock off a quick interview on this shooting or whatever.
The reason he's used is that we know him, we know he'll do it for no money or for little money, and we know he'll be quotable - just like Rudy Narayan with his prediction that a disturbance soon will result in a police death.
This is how these community leaders evolve, it's nothing to do with their standing in the community, so we set out to find all new people and all new stories. This was a major task involving a big team."
This effort, to establish a new framework of understanding of affairs concerning the black community, enabled Younge and his team to tackle many of the shortcomings of existing reporting, as in the example on the Brixton disturbances, which are likely to perpetuate or exacerbate underlying conflicts.
Black Britain set out to disaggregate the black community. Rudy Narayan's is a legitimate voice on the Brixton story but there would also be local black people who believed police performance had improved, they were listening to the community and things had got better.
Said Younge: "Black Britain set out to show there was a diversity of black opinion. There are black people on every side of every argument."
Equally, mainstream TV news coverage of black affairs tended to be dominated by racism. The impression for the white audience was that black people were always victims, always complaining about their treatment. It was want-want-want or take-take-take.
Creating Black Britain did not entail sanitised coverage or avoiding stories likely to show the black community in a bad or doubtful light. Indeed the first story of the first episode concerned the difficulty in finding black people to come forward to be bone marrow donors. The black nurse in the health service who was a prime source for the story was discovered during the team's exercise in establishing new contacts and a new picture of how the black community worked in every region of Britain.
In fact there was an argument over whether this story stood up because the film focussed on one family desperately waiting for bone marrow to save a child who had leukemia. The family took to the stage during a black talent night at the Hackney Empire theatre in East London. The programme had arranged for a donation centre to be set up outside and the family appealed to audience members to go and be tested after the show to see whether they could supply matching bone marrow.
In the event, and against the expectations of medical staff, the centre was besieged with would-be donors who, on that one night, increased the size of the register of black bone marrow donors by a significant percentage.
So there was an anxious discussion among programme-makers, Younge disclosed, as to whether the original story, based on investigating why there was a shortage of black bone marrow donors, was any longer valid. Eventually they realised they had hit on a rather better story - the reason for the shortage could simply be that black people had never been asked, at least not in the right way, to become donors.
It also highlighted the use of a human interest story to dramatise the connection, the relations of influence, between the agenda of non-elite people taking action - the family, with the help of the programme - and real-world consequences, in radically changing the picture of bone marrow donor recruitment in the black community.
This, in microcosm, illustrates what is required to establish a framework of understanding in which the actions and agenda of non-elite people makes sense. It was also part of a journalistic project with an avowed orientation - Younge described how he and the team had won the battle within the BBC to have presenters refer to the black community as "we" - a breach of the corporation's normal discourse of objectivity.
It works - Black Britain succeeded in establishing itself as a permanent feature of the BBC's current affairs output, with substantial and growing audience figures.
A TIME of OPPORTUNITY
It has begun to dawn on news organisations that internalising the aims and analysis of official information sources makes them remote from audience perceptions of the forces shaping their lives. A time of opportunity to establish new meanings and practices in journalism.
News - and television news in particular - is an industry prone to navel-gazing, but never has there been such a sustained and intensive period of self-analysis as there is now.
One source of the trauma - the haemorrhage of viewers nearly all television news programmes sustained during the General Election, when a combination of the Representation of the People Act and the Official Sources operation by the political parties conspired to keep debate to the minimum variation from a few well-worn themes.
At a recent Royal Television Society conference, a now celebrated video clip showed three women and three men sitting in "an ordinary house, in an ordinary street somewhere in an ordinary Midlands city," according to one account. They were talking about Television News: "It makes me feel stupid," one woman said; "It's like they're preaching to you from on high" said another.
Tim Gardam, former editor of Panorama and Newsnight and one of the creators of Channel 5 News, was addressing these concerns as he and his colleagues shaped the new service.
"The public see journalists as part of an insider class, handing information down about a self-important world," he declared. Journalists risked making the "preoccupations of the powerful seem remote" from an audience whose interest was particularly difficult to engage in anything resembling politics.
Interviewed some six months after launch, as Channel 5 News picked up plaudits, Gardam said: "We don't want our news programme to sound as if it comes from a temple of authority, from the top of Big Ben down to the masses. It has to be the other way around, from the public upwards. We want to look through the other end of the telescope." 17
Peace Journalism and Political Reporting
This felt need by news organisations springs partly from the nature of political reporting and the arcania of the Westminster milieu. BBC Political Correspondent Nicholas Jones, in his book, Campaign 1997, gives an insider's account of the crucial phase of political reporting, when the future governance of the country is at stake. The conventional view is that by reporting the parties' campaign activities objectively, broadcast news can prove a reliable guide to the viewer and listener at a time when newspapers become increasingly partisan.
Jones' verdict is that this became unsustainable during the campaign and left journalists prey to manipulations. He believes Labour would have won anyway, but suggests these contributed to the scale and nature of the result:
"When looking at the reasons for Labour's landslide victory, one should not ignore the cumulative effect of their sustained efforts to cajole the news media into denigrating the Conservative Party... 18
"Of equal importance was an ability to bamboozle broadcasters, journalists and editors into downplaying or dropping stories which harmed Labour's image." 19
The rules governing Westminster coverage, which sustain another form of journalism which thinks itself objective, include the convention by which guidance is given unattributably - part of a general and by now familiar disinclination to interrogate and discuss the methods and possible motives of privileged information sources.
Jones saw for himself that the spin-doctors were exploiting this to impede the work of journalists attempting to adhere to notions of objectivity. His method was to quote them directly, ie to behave as if their remarks were on the record. In one of the book's most memorable passages, Jones recounts an occasion when a complaint from Charlie Whelan led to the BBC pulling his piece from the 0700 bulletin on Radio Four:
"Whelan whooped with delight when he saw me at the afternoon news conference and reminded me of his success in getting my report dropped from the 7am bulletin. 'That shows bullying the BBC does work. And don't forget to put that in your next book.' David Hill, [Labour's Director of Communications] who was standing beside him, told the assembled group of journalists that he had just faxed off a complaint to the One O'Clock News. 'Of course bullying the BBC works. That's why we do it. We know it works. Obviously, in the end, the newsrooms give in, that's why we keep it up.'" 20
According to a (possibly apocryphal) story, Peter Mandelson, credited as the originator of Labour's techniques for handling the media, used to say: "How can Sunday newspaper journalists write pieces one week criticising me for manipulating the media, then come to me the next week asking me to write their headlines for them?"
Whether true or not, the message is clear. Jones explains in his book that spin-doctors would reward journalists whose coverage won favour with scoops from the leader or his coterie, and punish offenders by turning off the tap of inside stories. It has become a familiar tactic for dealing with specialist correspondents in health, education and other areas now the party is in government.
Threatened with missing out the next time a White Paper is trailed through selective leaks, journalists have little option but to toe the line. Make yourself beholden to official information sources and they have the power to penalise reporting they don't like.
Once again, the task for peace journalism is to cultivate a range of sources beyond this elite. In doing so it must connect with the prospects for change opened up by extra-parliamentary activity, and accumulate a body of evidence to set alongside the largely unexamined assumption that politics is confined to that which takes place in parliament or within the ambit of received political institutions.
Parliamentary vs Extra-Parliamentary Action
A decision by a news organisation to have political correspondents stationed solely at Westminster contains the unacknowledged assumption that this is where the prospects for change are located. This is the readymade framework of understanding which comes to us from official information sources - the popular will can be left to governments to carry out, and if any change is required, voters have a chance to bring it about once every few years at a General Election.
It is this set of assumptions which audiences find increasingly difficult to square with their own experiences and the forces shaping their lives. A point illustrated by several examples from a single day's coverage, in September 1997. Andrew Marr, the Independent Editor, began one of his columns looking ahead to the political conference season with the observation:
"Politicians have become used to explaining how little they can do, not how much."
On this day, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, Simon Eddy, addressed the Liberal Democrats' conference as the parties vied to display their credentials to speak for youth. He spoke about the Greenhouse Effect and the problems this might store up for the next generation.
As it was twenty years since the Tory conference was wowed by a memorable speech from a sixteen-year-old by the name of William Hague, now about to make his debut as party leader, there were inevitable comparisons. In 1977 young Hague glowed as Mrs Thatcher likened him to "a future Mr Pitt." In 1997 Eddy, interviewed after his eyecatching performance, was asked if he too nurtured an ambition to enter Parliament. "Oh no," he patiently explained to his middle-aged interlocutor. "I want to help the environment."
On the same day it was disclosed in the United States that the main American trade union organisation, the AFL-CIO, was to stop political donations to the Democrats for the first time in its recent history. Buoyed by success for the union side in a recent parcel carriers' dispute, spokesman John Sweeney said: "It is time for us to begin spending our money building real power by registering and mobilising our own members."
Again on the same day, Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham was off to attend a conference on organic farming. Challenged on BBC Radio 4's Today programme about the government's failure to commit more than a quarter of what our competitors are spending on conversion to organic farming, he protested: "I can't just spend large chunks of money."
In case Marr's point needed any further strengthening, this was also the day when Treasury Chief Secretary Alistair Darling went to the Lib Dems' conference to deliver a fringe speech in which he told party members they must stop carping over the government's decision to stick within tight public spending limits inherited from the Tories.
If those who fear the Greenhouse Effect do not intend to counter it through parliament, how will they? If workers cannot gain rights in the workplace by supporting political parties, how can they? If consumers want to buy affordable organic food, but cannot look to government to make more than a token contribution towards making this choice available, how can they bring it about for themselves?
In each case the answer lies in some form of extra-parliamentary action. Here is the opportunity for peace journalism to cast people from outside the elite as contributors to a story with their own agenda and to trace the lines of influence from their actions to the prospects for change.
In doing so it can help to construct a framework of understanding of the political process which breaks the stranglehold of official sources on the flow of information, and thus the terms of debate, and simultaneously connects with the changing perceptions of the audience.
Of course parliament should continue to be seen as a highly important source of both news and change. The point is that mainstream political journalism cannot continue to behave as though the evidence and perceptions outlined above do not exist. It can no longer leave unexamined its orientation in favour of parliamentary action and the institutional version of political change.
The other importance for peace journalism can be gauged by remembering that, in the information business, war is the continuation of politics by other means. The spin-doctors quoted against their wishes by Nicholas Jones are the same ones who oversee the official information campaign at times when some form of violent or military intervention is on the agenda.
The effect of connecting with the prospects for change from extra-parliamentary action automatically helps to create an alternative to the official agenda-setting machinery during such conflicts. That would make it still more difficult for war journalism to behave as if information from those who press the buttons of the machinery could be taken at face value. Peace journalism would have nourished and established an alternative body of perspectives which war journalism would be obliged to attend to, even if it did not share their analysis.
When the Ulster Unionists were considering whether to join in talks at Stormont on a new constitutional settle-ment for the province, their ruling executive was said to be evenly divided on the issue. Then a public opinion poll commissioned by a newspaper suggested that 86% of Unionist supporters wanted their party to participate. Party leader David Trimble duly led his colleagues into the talks.
This was a rare occasion when debate in the media broke out of the ritualised exchanges of view between party spokesmen. The Summer School heard about one initiative to promote debate beyond the range of official sources, and to reach out to the people as potential peacemakers on the island of Ireland.
Amid the verdant seclusion of a glen above Dublin City, a former British Army barracks has spent over two centuries quietly gathering moss. Originally it was a base for troops charged with clearing the Wicklow mountains of Irish revolutionaries. Today it houses the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, venue for the first discussions of a highly original perspective on constitutional change in Northern Ireland calculated to bring centuries of intermittent violence to an end.
Much coverage of Northern Ireland politics is dominated by the official discourse which concentrates on issues of who will talk to whom, and when; concepts like trains, triple locks, proximity and decommissioning. As Paddy Crean, a director of the Glencree Centre, says: "To date there has been no significant public discussion on the likely outcome of the current attempts to resolve the conflict."
In Summer 1997, as Unionist and Nationalist politicians circled each other warily, the Glencree Centre gathered together peace activists from the Republic of Ireland as well as political and community leaders from both communities in Northern Ireland to discuss Johan Galtung's imaginative model for a "Transitional Anglo-Irish Condominium". In the same way that President Gorbachev once called for a "common European house" this would provide a political roof under which what Crean calls the "decommissioning of fixed mind-sets" could gradually take place.
Underlying the condominium - its foundation stone - is a new conceptualisation of the subject of Northern Irish political identity - the Ulsterite. Being an Ulsterite would come to supplement, without threatening, one's status as British Protestant or Irish Catholic. A staunch or devout Ulsterite, perhaps, according to personal preference.
Hence the main constitutional pillars of the structure are designed to provide for political autonomy by evolution, while safeguarding what the paper calls the "patrimony" of communities.
An assembly elected for and by the Protestant community would have veto rights over issues which bear upon that community's right to define its identity, such as the right to march. Equally, a separate assembly elected by and for the Catholic community would have its own veto rights, possibly affecting issues like bilingualism at Northern Ireland's universities.
In parallel with these assemblies there would be a separate body, a parliament for the Ulster entity, to take on a proportion of legislative responsibility which could evolve over time. Special treaties would set down the relations between the parliament and those in London and Dublin, perhaps with a guarantee of renegotiation, say, once every twenty-five years.
Full independence, with the rights to separate status in foreign policy, would remain an open question subject to majority support in both communities. In the meantime every Ulsterite would be entitled to two passports, one of which is chosen, an Irish or a British, and the other an Ulster passport, available in common to all.
The final component of a new constitutional settlement would be the governing council, comprising, in the initial, transitional stage, five members - a representative of the parliament, one each for the two assemblies, one for London and one for Dublin.
This would open the possibility for issues to crop up which might create a common front across communities in the province. As with Scotland and Wales, questions of subsidiarity might pit the interests of the devolved body against those of either nation state. On the governing council of the proposed Anglo-Irish Condominium such issues could help to forge a functioning Ulsterite majority, if the three representatives of the parliament and the different communities choose to exercise it, over the two representatives London and Dublin can boast between them.
What is the point of reporting such a gathering, or responding to such a press conference? Professor Galtung urged delegates at the Glencree centre conference to begin "ten thousand dialogues" on the proposals as a means of instilling hope and a feeling of movement. It would be for peace journalism to trace the relations of influence between such dialogues and feelings, and the agenda the parties carry with them into talks.
The Unionist chief negotiator, Cllr Chris McGimpsey, is given to suggesting that progress towards a peaceful resolution can only come from the talks if all parties maintain "a realistic assessment of what the people of Northern Ireland are prepared to accept."
If such an assessment is to be the touchstone of any prospect for peace, then at the very least journalists must make themselves curious about how to gauge what the people are prepared to accept. Journalism which believes itself objective may not be looking in the right places to reach such a judgement, especially if it is prepared to take the parties' word for it. After all, for Cllr McGimpsey and his colleagues, the opinion poll finding evidently came as a surprise.
If it wants evidence that the Anglo-Irish Condominium idea wields an influence within the ambit of official information sources, then it might dwell on the fact that officials in the Taoiseach's office are among those who eagerly requested a copy of Galtung's paper.
Glencree was built by a British establishment nervously watching events across the English Channel from which the Irish outlaws took their inspiration. The Chinese leader, Zhou Enlai, asked to assess the historical importance of the French Revolution, famously replied, "it's too early to tell." Maybe a contribution to a settlement in Northern Ireland will go down as one of its unintended consequences. Paddy Crean told the press conference: "If we, the people, leave it all to the politicians at The Talks with no creative input from us, we will have no-one but ourselves to blame when the shouting ceases and the shooting returns." See appendix D at back of booklet on later developments.
Swampy and the undercurrents Movement
The challenges of engaging with extra-parliamentary action were dramatised when reporters made the sudden discovery that groups of people opposed to big development projects like roads and airport runways were prepared to go to the lengths of camping in trees and tunnelling underground for long periods in order to disrupt the construction work.
As the "Swampy Phenomenon" made its impact on mainstream news, Jeremy Paxman on BBC Newsnight put to Swampy himself the classic establishment case against extra-parliamentary action - "we have, in this country, something called democracy." Due processes existed for Swampy and his colleagues to register their objections and once these were exhausted it was beholden on good citizens to abide by decisions arrived at. If enough people believed the processes to be inadequate, it was ultimately within the gift of parliament to change them.
The wider interest of the story lay in bringing this framework of understanding into the open for inspection and assessment by the audience. As so often, once the initial impact had passed, the framework faded once again into the unacknowledged background, albeit depositing in the process another layer in the residue of unease among some political journalists that by confining their coverage to Westminster they may be looking down the wrong end of the telescope.
Once again, the new Labour government has administered a useful corrective. The next front for environmental activists is the Birmingham Northern Relief Road. This was opposed by Labour in opposition and by green campaigners who spent countless evenings knocking on doors, persuading local people to put up posters in their windows, holding public meetings and writing to their local newspapers.
This extra-parliamentary effort was one among many factors which helped to propel several sitting Tory MPs from office in the crucial electoral battleground of the West Midlands and to install Labour members in their place. Then, in the first few days of the new government, Labour executed a swift U-turn and gave the Birmingham Northern Relief Road
There may be many reasons why a government should take such a decision. There may equally be many flaws in both the case and the methods of environmental activists who responded by setting up camp along the route of the development.
Part of the crisis for political journalism in mainstream news is that in these circumstances its unacknowledged orientation, in which parliamentary activity is seen as legitimate and extra-parliamentary activity non-legitimate, is exposed by events.
In revealing its preparedness to internalise a hierarchy of information sources it is increasingly at odds with the perceptions of readers, listeners and viewers as to the forces shaping change in their own lives. This has left a gap, into which new technology has propelled the emergence of a new creature - the video activist.
The most prominent and important group of video activists are gathered together in the undercurrents movement. Their leaflet declares that undercurrents is available as "an alternative news video challenging mainstream reporting. All footage on undercurrents is shot by individuals, using domestic video camcorders to document their campaigns within the UK and abroad. The footage on undercurrents covers key social, environmental and political issues that the mainstream media ignores."
The films document protests against developments opposed by communities, the campaign against the Public Order Act which makes extra-parliamentary activity more difficult, actions against the arms trade and to save urban green space. There is much more, and activists in alternative media gathered for a conference in Oxford in September 1997, to discuss, among other issues, "how best to work with the mainstream media, abandoning the 'contact by press release only' approach and make some real contacts."
This last area of activity is in its infancy and presents a clear opportunity for peace journalists.
Two contributors to undercurrents, Paul O'Connor and Catherine Wheeler, attended the Summer School as a beginning of a contact-building exercise. There has been limited cross-fertilisation already between campaigning and mainstream media - Greenpeace footage from their activists' occupation of the Brent Spar oil platform played a part in coverage which brought the issues into people's living rooms, where otherwise the inaccessibility of the story might have kept it off the TV screen.
Greenpeace UK chairman Robin Grove-White told the New Statesman that "Brent Spar rewrote the rules":
"This campaign was a watershed, marking the emergence of new ways in which markets can be subjected to social disciplining.... as the TV melodrama of Greenpeace's occupation of the oil rig unfolded, international public concern escalated. Consumer boycotts in other EU countries gathered momentum, particularly in Germany. It became apparent that this wasn't simply a British issue to be resolved by a firm display of Whitehall authority in support of a significant commercial interest." 21
Greenpeace footage can hardly be represented as originating outside the mainstream, but Grove-White describes a potent combination of factors which widened the bracket within which mainstream journalism allows for influence to be exercised on political events, connecting the prospects for change to the actions of, in this case, not only the activists themselves but also individual consumers on the forecourts of Europe's petrol stations. Ultimately Shell, owners of the Brent Spar, abandoned their plans to dump it at sea and initiated a consultation process to find an alternative method of disposal.
The next challenge for mainstream TV journalism is to find ways of engaging with undercurrents and like-minded video activists in such a way that proves mutually beneficial and preserves confidence on both sides. Then their work can offer a challenging way to access stories like the government's commitment to lessen the use of the private car, in light of decisions like the one on the Birmingham Northern Relief Road.
The kind of material gathered by video activists would, in effect, document the actions of the state in pushing through the road project against the democratically expressed wishes of the people. The first TV news organisation to include material from such a source will be helping to build an alternative to the official agenda-setting apparatus and loosening the grip of the men in suits who exulted in their ability during the election to bully Nicholas Jones and the BBC.
SOLIDARITY and NETWORKING
News is an increasingly competitive business but there are still manifold opportunities where cooperation between journalists would strengthen all efforts. Journalists are instinctively suspicious of structures so the peace journalism option must be nurtured through informal means - a network of committed colleagues across different media.
For mainstream television journalists, for example, to find ways of engaging with the work of video activists in such a way as to prove mutually beneficial and preserve confidence on both sides, various tactics are at hand. These might include issuing and receiving press releases but it might also entail using and paying for footage in a deal struck on the ground, agreeing to hand back pictures after using a selection which does not identify individuals, or simply a reporter offering advice as to when and how particular material would be gratefully received.
In other words there are many informal ways of working together which need not involve the panoply of newsdesks and press offices which swing into action when one news organisation articulates formally with another.
As in its assessment of the importance of extra-parliamentary action, the alternative media is, in its preparedness to work cooperatively, ahead of its mainstream counterpart.
The Alternative Media Gathering mentioned above was also, according to publicity, "a very good opportunity for social justice campaigners from the alternative press to get to know each other face to face and establish stronger working relationships... a good platform to launch the idea of everybody getting involved in a collective campaign (eg supporting the upcoming Millennium Dome Campaign). How can we campaign more effectively together?"
This very question has long exercised journalists in the mainstream media. As long ago as the 1970s, then Sunday Times editor Harold Evans was bemoaning the fact that other papers were prepared to leave his Insight team isolated in their investigation of the Thalidomide scandal. In May 1997 he told a London conference organised by the Freedom Forum that journalists regarded this as "a Sunday Times story" - with more effort from elsewhere he believes legislation to outlaw the drug and obtain compensation for victims would have come sooner and been stronger.
It is clear that various branches of the establishment - the medical profession in this case - do not like journalistic noses being stuck into "their" affairs. While this is understandable, and no more than one would expect given the sociology of professional organisations, it is altogether less understandable when fellow journalists behave as if they have internalised this very view.
The Torture Trail goes cold
Investigative film-maker Martyn Gregory told the Summer School how he'd gathered compelling evidence that BAe, among other British firms, was conspiring to supply electric shock batons to overseas regimes.
The Scottish Procurator Fiscal's office successfully prosecuted Frank Stott, a Glasgow businessman who featured in Gregory's film, The Torture Trail, transmitted by Channel 4 in their Dispatches strand.
But the English authority, the Director of Public Prosecutions, declined to take similar action against the English firms involved. A shamefaced little statement sneaked out to the effect that the "manner in which the evidence had been obtained" made it unwise to proceed.
The idea that journalists, painstakingly gathering video evidence that firms are seeking to break the law and make profits in the most grotesquely unscrupulous way, simultaneously provide an excuse not to prosecute those firms, belongs in the Nineteen Eighty-Four compendium of British establishment silliness.
What adds a really Orwellian twist is the reluctance of other journalists to take up this issue, and pursue it with the DPP and the Home Office. When Frank Stott was sentenced to a Â£5,000 fine, of the national TV news services, only Channel 4 News and Sky News picked up the story.
The other prominent investigative journalist at the Summer School was Maggie O'Kane. The failure of journalism to attend to the lessons of her piece on Gulf War coverage led to the same mistakes being repeated during the Iraqi weapons inspection crisis, as suggested above.
Ottosen and his fellow writers are among many to have charted the development of strategies for media manipulation which, again, proved effective during this episode. The point is, the military and the security services have a powerful organisational memory. When an important story crops up, well-oiled systems swing into operation. Journalists, by comparison, are atomised and driven by competitive instincts to be disinclined to pick up each other's stories, to share information or support each other.
The nature of the job means reporters are natural loners, individualists who display the most remarkable resourcefulness to ferret out information which others would rather they did not have. They are instinctive non-joiners of things but they do come into their careers impressed by the need to network - it's not what you know, but who you know.
Sharing information, contacts and support with fellow members of a network committed to the peace journalism option would be a powerful method of creating organisational memory among journalists. So when evidence emerges from investigations by colleagues it is followed up, policymakers are pressed to respond to it and a stink is made until the wrongs uncovered are set right.
In this case journalists have left it to Amnesty International and Redress, two charities, to do the pressing over The Torture Trail - they are now mounting a legal challenge to the DPP's decision not to prosecute the English firms involved. Even when this was reported, newspaper accounts took at face value the DPP's claim that "all the evidence was carefully weighed" before deciding not to prosecute. None mentioned the sniffy comments initially made about the way the evidence was gathered.
None mentioned the decision to treat Martyn Gregory as a suspect, which stymied the investigation by effectively depriving police of their chief witness. At that stage, the investigating detective from the Metropolitan police had been replaced by a senior officer from the MoD police. Other members of the MoDP stand guard at the BAe base in Lancashire where the company pays their wages and where they failed to detect the camera gear Gregory was carrying when he did his secret filming.
In short, there was the now familiar disinclination to identify key players - the DPP, the MoD police - as parties to the story, with their own agenda, and to analyse their information in light of their goals.
In these and other respects, the accounts of the legal challenge to the DPP neglected the insights provided by Gregory himself. All would have strengthened both the story and the reader's understanding of events.
Investigations have a powerful contribution to make to exposing untruths on all sides - one of the prerequisites of peace journalism. They have become an endangered species for various reasons - the cost, the imbrication of media organisations with other corporate interests, the increasing sophistication of lawyers and corporate PR professionals in stifling unwelcome scrutiny.
Newsdesks and commissioning editors, who decide whether or not to have a reporter embark on such a project, have a clear interest in establishing to the satisfaction of their audiences that their programmes are important and influential. For other journalists to be prepared to follow up the results of such investigations as do get commissioned, automatically bolsters the case for commissioning more. The converse is true - for such stories to be ignored or underexploited weakens the hand of the investigator.
In these circumstances a degree of solidarity is required. If, as the developing science of military media manipulation suggests, organisational memory can reside in structures, then journalists with a common commitment to peace-enhancing reporting methods need their own structure. Competitive pressures and the existing discourse prohibit formal contact between organisations from becoming the basis of such a structure, leaving informal networking as the key.
Anyone who doubts whether such tactics are legitimate or appropriate might consider the extent of solidarity among official information sources with an interest in manipulating media coverage of conflicts of a general nature.
Many of the same individuals crop up in different guises. When Gregory was investigating BAe the PR man for the company was Hugh Colver, who subsequently enjoyed - or perhaps, judging from his own account, endured - a spell as Communications Director at Conservative Central Office. Companies seeking to prevent investigation of their affairs are directed by colleagues in other companies to solicitors who increasingly specialise in deploying laws and the manifold regulations of the television industry against the investigative journalist.
Perhaps the ultimate example of an official source equipping itself with strings to pull is British Airways. During the Tory years the company would approach troublesome journalists and their employers through Sir Tim Bell, who built a formidable array of powerful contacts while serving as Mrs Thatcher's image maker-in-chief.
BA most famously got the BBC to pull a film it commissioned from Gregory for Newsnight on the John Gorman affair - the extraordinary campaign of harassment against a former employee and member of its frequent flying club who had the temerity to complain about a piece of glass in his in-flight meal.
The BBC also used Lowe Bell, Sir Tim's company, for its own PR. BA boss Bob Ayling, it was pointed out at the time, owned a holiday cottage in Hay-on-Wye where his next-door neighbour was none other than BBC Director General John Birt, the prime mover in closing down the Newsnight operation on BA. Since this episode the corporation has used one of its in-house magazines to trumpet its innovative prowess in adopting new management techniques with consultancy provided by British Airways.
On another occasion BA had to suffer the revelation, exclusive to ITN's News at Ten, that its computer hacking operation to poach transatlantic passengers from Virgin was still continuing, even after it had been exposed and the company gave an undertaking to stop doing it. But Sir Tim's ministrations on BA's behalf, as well as heavy legal pressure from Ayling, succeeded in getting ITN to drop plans to continue to pursue the story.
Fast forward to October 1997 and a routine photo-opportunity in Downing Street. ITN just happened to be called upon to provide the pool camera for broadcasters - an arrangement in the gift of the Downing Street press office. Tony Blair joined forces with Ayling to give a top-level send-off to a deputation of British schoolchildren who were taking clothes and toys to their poorer brethren in Bulgaria - a project sponsored by BA.
That the shots were so lavish for such a minor occasion by news standards, and that they gave such prominence to BA rather than Blair, was puzzling. A puzzle rendered more understandable when the cameraman explained to fellow broadcasters the purpose for which the pictures were intended. ITN needed them, he said, for an in-house video it was making for British Airways.
OBLIVION and RESISTANCE
It is to be expected that mainstream journalism will resist these ideas. It is not the aim to convert everyone to be peace reporters but to raise this body of analysis, these aims and values, to a pitch within journalism and public debate about it, such that none can behave as if they do not exist. Even journalism which does not agree with them should have to make and discuss that decision consciously and openly, offering its reasoning for inspection and assessment by the audience.
When ITN editor-in-chief Richard Tait was contacted about the Summer School, he wrote back with generous encouragement for the project, but in declining the invitation to attend or sponsor a student, he gave the opinion:
"Television news has evolved beyond reliance on official information sources."
As founding editor of Channel 4 News, Tait created one of the most important projects in journalism, with a major impact in upholding standards of investigative and analytical rigour throughout the industry. He is, rightly, one of its most widely respected figures.
He has never publicly discussed the British Airways connection, or whether viewers should be aware, when watching ITN coverage of stories about BA like the 1997 cabin crew dispute, that the broadcaster is, in a sense, a party to the conflict by virtue of its commercial relationship with an official information source. Perhaps the price of a properly-informed public is, as in parliament, disclosure of any connections which may potentially exert an influence on events. The Parliamentary Commissioner has now been asked to consider whether accredited political correspondents should not have to register their outside interests in the same way as MPs.
The point is not to suggest that there was anything wrong with ITN's coverage of this story, undertaken as it was by two of their most experienced and respected reporters. The problem is the oblivion of any possible orientation, in favour of the illusion of objectivity; the dismissal of any suggestion that official information sources may enjoy an unexamined primacy in journalism which is well overdue for discussion.
During the Iraq weapons inspection crisis, News at Ten ran a piece based on a facility aboard the American aircraft carrier patrolling the Gulf, the USS Nimitz. According to the studio link, we were to see evidence that American forces were on the alert and ready to fire. In fact the piece itself contained the disclosure that the 80 daily flights made from the Nimitz were part of the routine patrolling of the no-fly zone over Iraq, not directly connected with the crisis. The Americans were indeed ready to fire - if fired upon first. A fact confirmed in the interview with the ship's commanding officer and part of routine rules of engagement for any military aircraft anywhere in the world.
It would be unfair to single out this report for criticism, compiled as it was with News at Ten's customary flair and professionalism, or indeed the spin the story acquired from the studio link, doubtless written with no other motive than to provide added interest for the viewer.
What is wrong with such journalism is that it behaves as though the analysis offered here, and supported by countless examples, does not exist. It has a clear orientation but this is not openly discussed, and may not even be consciously adopted. It is this which renders journalists such easy prey for would-be manipulators, from party spin-doctors and large companies to intelligence sources and the military.
It is part of the discourse for journalism to believe itself cynical, worldly-wise and difficult to convince. The evidence suggests that while indulging in the illusion of objectivity, it is like a lamb to the slaughter - an illusion which leads to serious mistakes and which is now, indirectly, distancing journalists from their audience. Shedding this illusion would be a case, perhaps, of the editorially desirable and the commercially imperative combining on the same side of the argument.
Existing Peace Orientations
Journalism does not have to be marginalised to adopt a conscious orientation. It is not considered necessary to obtain balancing quotes or comments with avowed fascists, since there is already an orientation in favour of democracy and against racism.
There are already many examples of an orientation in favour of peace being consciously adopted as the only genuine alternative to an orientation in favour of war. One, a project at the Voice of America radio service initiated in cooperation with the Carnegie Corporation of New York, led to changes which, by now, have a familiar ring.
To begin with, the ideas met with resistance from reporters and editors:
"Concerns centred on the possibility that the project might promote advocacy journalism or good news journalism, and as such would be in conflict with journalistic standards of impartiality and [our old friend] objectivity."
Then, during a workshop, journalists were introduced to the themes of peace reporting:
"These themes included the human costs of conflict, profiling bridge builders, rebuilding civil society and examination of the peace processes, to name but a few."
When put into practice the principles brought a favourable audience response:
"Reporters shifted emphasis in their reporting, toward an examination of local agency and initiative in the resolution of conflicts... audience feedback began to reinforce the reporter's instinct to emphasise how real people were solving real problems. Anecdotal reports flowed in from listeners eager to hear stories of reconciliation and development projects occurring in different regions of their country." 22
In another milieu, precisely the kind of network which is envisaged here already exists and enjoys a high profile among professionals and the public in Australia. As long ago as 1978 the Conflict Resolution Network, based in Sydney as a Peace Program of the United Nations Association of Australia, initiated its Media Peace Awards.
The inaugural laureate was John Pilger, and the annual Awards serve to reinforce journalism which confronts its responsibility to enhance the climate for peace and reconciliation. Current preoccupations of candidates for the Awards include race relations within Australia as well as Western involvement in conflict zones overseas. An example this project is seeking to emulate here.
The Institute for Journalism in Transitions, formerly the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), based in London, runs a magazine, Transitions, which is sold all over the former Soviet Block. In inviting local editors to discuss their coverage, it is helping to reveal a framework of assumptions which usually remains unexamined. Much as this report is attempting to do, the effect is to bring into the open for the inspection of readers reporting precepts which otherwise perpetuate prejudices and maintain received enmities.
THE FUTURE of JOURNALISM
What is journalism for anyway? In an age of information glut, the keynote will be on equipping the reader, listener and viewer to discriminate and to form judgments. As in other discursive practices, such as literature, journalism will have to enter into a discussion with its audience about the decisions and assumptions it makes.
The VoA is not short of competition, and the increasingly crowded field of news provision means its attention to the distinctiveness of its output is a crucial competitive tactic as well as good in its own right. Nick Pollard, head of Sky News, spoke in a personal capacity at the Summer School and offered the opinion:
"In the future, budgets will become ever more sensitive to audience share."
Pollard commended the potential of 24-hour broadcasting, effectively to let the audience in on some editorial decisions - taking press conferences live, for example, was an empowering gesture which both capitalised on the ability of a round-the-clock operation to stay with a breaking story, and allowed viewers to judge for themselves if, say, a politician was dodging an awkward question.
With technical changes bringing lightweight gear and portable satellites to the business of news gathering, both the mystique and some of the inherent immobility had gone - factors likely to permit a greater diversity of material to come to the screen. This Pollard was exploring through his creation of a Specials Unit - a team within Sky News briefed to push back the editorial and practical limits of the medium. One idea at the time was to spend several weeks following, with a single multiskilled videojournalist, the inside story of efforts by miners at threatened Asfordby pit to save their livelihoods.
The American academic, Neil Postman, has urged journalists to open a new category as the aim of their work - not information, nor yet knowledge, but wisdom:
"Knowledge cannot judge itself. Knowledge must be judged by other knowledge, and therein lies the essence of wisdom. It is mere information to tell us that scientists in Scotland have cloned a sheep and that some scientists in the United States claim to have cloned a monkey.
You will provide us with knowledge if you tell us how cloning is done, how soon we may expect humans to be cloned and even something about the history of attempts at cloning. But it would be wisdom to advise us on what system of knowledge we need in order to evaluate the act of cloning." 23
Equipping the reader, listener or viewer to evaluate information requires a preparedness to consult diverse bodies of knowledge and to apply the perspectives of sources beyond the obvious range. Attempts by journalism to do that are aided by innovations like the Specials Unit, but immediately impeded if some perspectives and information sources are assumed, before starting, to be inherently less valid than others - the unexamined hierarchy which war journalism is prepared to internalise.
Tony Hall, Chief Executive of BBC News, spoke at the Freedom Forum event about the "information revolution where ideas, messages, data and thoughts can be passed around the world in seconds. No state - or other organisation - can control that flow." 24
This information revolution was the media counterpart of an increasingly interdependent world in which the vital interests of BBC viewers - the future of their jobs, for instance - might be entwined with events far away. At the same time coverage of foreign affairs by mainstream news services was diminishing. Hall called this the "understanding gap" - in Postman's terms, reporting is failing to supply wisdom, or the wherewithal to evaluate the dizzying flow of information.
There is an increasingly restless search in journalism for a way of, as Hall puts it, "making sense of the world." Peace journalism's contribution to that would, as a starting point, urge the open avowal of orientations.
Just as in the 1980s, newspapers, television and radio stations responded to the growing public awareness of green issues by appointing environment correspondents, today's audience perceptions of the forces at work in their lives demand a new breed of correspondent, prepared to seek out discourses beyond the established range, and to examine the existing information order from fresh perspectives.
For news organisations to appoint peace correspondents would automatically bring decisions and assumptions into the open which have traditionally been hidden, as well as excavating information and perspectives which war journalism would rather remained hidden. In that, it would be a major contribution to journalism's ability to make sense of the world.
That possibility is not yet at hand and will only move closer as a result of public debate. This, the first statement in Britain of the analysis, aims and objectives of peace journalism, is intended to initiate that debate. In linking them with a general analysis of journalism and the question of objectivity it opens, for the first time anywhere, a fully inclusive debate. In presenting the conclusions of the inaugural Conflict and Peace Journalism Summer School it also represents the nucleus of a network of committed individuals. The time for talking continues but it is also, now, time to do.
1. Phillip Knightley - The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker from Crimea to Vietnam. Andre Deutsch, 1975.
2. Martin Bell - In Harm's Way: Reflections of a War-Zone Thug. Penguin, revised edition, 1996.
3. Terry Eagleton - Literary Theory: An Introduction. Blackwell, 1983.
4. For a statistical analysis of Western reporting, see Wilhelm Kempf - Gulf War Revisited: A comparative study of the Gulf War, coverage in American and European Media, Diskussionsbeit 84ge der Projektgruppe Friedensforschung, KONSTANZ 34/1996 (University of Konstanz, Germany.)
5. Prof Johan Galtung in Galtung/Vincent- Global Glasnost, 1992.
7. Robert Karl Manoff - Weapons of War, Tools of Peace in Crosslines Global Report, March/April 1997.
8. Fergal Keane - Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey. Penguin, 1996.
9. Rune Ottosen in Ottosen/Luostarinen - Challenges for Journalism in Restricted Conflicts after the Second World War. Paper presented to the conference, War, Nationalism, Racism and the Media, University of Konstanz, June 1997.
10. James Curran in Curran/Seaton - Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain. University Paperback, (Routledge), third edition, 1988.
11. Hume and LM are preparing to defend a libel action from ITN over a story on News at Ten purporting to show a Serb concentration camp. LM covered it under the headline: "The picture that fooled the World"
12. Mick Hume - Whose War is it Anyway? The Dangers of the Journalism of Attachment. LM Special, InformInc, 1997.
13. Martin Bell, ibid.
14. Quoted in Hume, ibid.
15. Hume, ibid.
16. Hume, ibid.
17. Tim Gardam - Television News you can Use. New Statesman, 14 November 1997.
18. Nicholas Jones - Campaign 1997: How the General Election was Won and Lost. Indigo, 1997.
19. Jones, ibid.
20. Jones, ibid.
21. Robin Grove-White - Brent Spar Rewrote the Rules. New Statesman, 20 June, 1997.
22. Thaddeus C Penas and Dr Gregory Pirio - Lessons Learned: Conflict Resolution and the Media, the Voice of America. VoA report, 1996.
23. Neil Postman - Information, Knowledge, Wisdom. Lecture given at the World Newspaper Society Conference, May 1997
24. Tony Hall - Making Sense of the World: Journalism's toughest challenge. Speech given at the Freedom Forum Conference, May 1997.
The following are extracts from a series of lectures on peace journalism given by Johan Galtung, dr hc mult Professor of Peace Studies, Granada, Ritsumeikan, Tromso, Witten/Herdecke universities, Director of TRANSCEND: A peace Developemnt Network, at Taplow Court during August 1997.
1: a short list of tasks for the Peace Correspondent
 What is the conflict about? Who are the parties, what are their real goals, counting the parties beyond the conflict arena where the violence, if any, takes place? The list is often long.
 What are the deeper roots of the conflict, in structure and culture, including the history of both?
 What kind of ideas exist about other outcomes than one party imposing itself on the other, particularly creative, new ideas? Can such ideas be sufficiently powerful to prevent violence?
 If violence occurs, how about such invisible effects as trauma and hatred, and the wish for revenge and for more glory?
 Who are working to prevent violence, what are their visions of conflict outcomes, their methods, how can they be supported?
 Who initiates reconstruction, reconciliation and resolution, and who are only reaping benefits like reconstruction contracts?
More reporting of this kind, and the conflict in and over Northern Ireland would have entered a more peaceful phase long ago. Focus on the violence of IRA/RUC only hides the conflict and nourishes more violence. Focus on nonviolent outcomes, empathy with all parties, creativity: and peace may come.
Building on this introduction, the following Table 1 is an effort to fill both concepts with operational consent: 2
|PEACE/CONFLICT JOURNALISM||WAR/VIOLENCE JOURNALISM|
I. PEACE/CONFLICT- ORIENTATED
explore conflict formation, x parties, y goals, z issues. general win/win orientation.
open space, open time; causes and outcomes anywhere, also in history/culture.
making conflicts transparent
giving voice to all parties; empathy, understanding
see conflict/war as problem, focus on conflict creativity
humanization of all sides; more so the worse the weapons
proactive: prevention before any violence/war occurs
focus on invisible effects of violence (trauma and glory, damage to strucure/culture)
I. WAR/VIOLENCE - ORIENTATED
focus on conflict arena, 2 parties, 1 goal (win), war general zero sum orientation
closed space, closed time; causes and exits in arena, who threw the first stone
making wars opaque/secret
"us - them" journalism, propaganda, voice, for "us"
see "them" as the problem, focus on who prevails in war
dehumanisation of "them"; more so the worse the weapon
reactive: waiting for violence before reporting
focus only on visible effect of violence (killed, wounded and material damage)
II. TRUTH - ORIENTATED
expose untruths on all sides / uncover all cover-ups
II. PROPAGANDA - ORIENTATED
expose "their" untruths / help "our" cover-ups / lies
III. PEOPLE - ORIENTATED
focus on suffering all over; on women, aged, children, giving voice to the voiceless
give name to all evil-doers
focus on people peace-makers
III. ELITE - ORIENTATED
focus on "our" suffering; on able-bodied elite males, being their mouth-piece
give name of their evil-doer
focus on elite peace makers
IV. SOLUTION - ORIENTATED
peace = nonviolence + creativity
highlight peace initiatives, also to prevent more war
focus on structure, culture, the peaceful society
aftermath: resolution, reconstruction, reconciliation
IV. VICTORY - ORIENTATED
peace = victory + ceasefire
conceal peace-initiative, before victory is at hand
focus on treaty, institution, the controlled society
leaving for another war, return if the old flares up
2: Typical peace journalism items that did not really make it as news, although it was all known at the time it happened, would include the following:
- The real end of the Cold War in the streets of Leipzig October 11 1989, 75,000, demonstrating nonviolently, defying Stasi force; one month before the fall of the wall. Majority women
- The cover ups in the Gulf War:
- Hill and Knowlton news management; incubators, organised demos,
- the oil bombing by the coalition, the fake bird
- the depleted uranium contamination
- the 'tractor' mass killing, burial alive, on the Road to Basra
- the bunker bombing
- the number of military and civilians killed in Iraq
- smart bombs not being smart
- the significance of bombing Basra
- Saddam Hussein's goals: honour, dignity, courage, not to win
- Saddam Hussein's proposals fall 1990 for negotiation
- King Hussein's peace initiatives
- the talk with the US amabassador before invading
- The Perez de Cuellar peace approach for Yugoslavia in his strong letters to Hans Dietrich Genscher against early recognition
- The numerous Yugoslav peace groups, mainly women, mediating
- The massive conscientious objection in Yugoslavia and Western fear of recognising them as political refugees
- Joe Camplisson, a peace worker from Northern Ireland, and his mediation between Moldova and Transdniestria
- The Mothers of the Russian Soldier peace initiative in Chechnya
3: News communication operates under the strong influence of many factors, four of them particularly relevant:
|PERSON NEGATIVE||PERSON POSITIVE||STRUCTURE NEGATIVE||STRUCTURE POSITIVE|
|ELITE COUNTRY/ ELITE PEOPLE||No problem: any gossip however false (4)||Happy family events (3)||Cabinet falls (3)||Elections, even minor change|
|ELITE COUNTRY/ NON-ELITE PEOPLE||Accidents (3)||Prizes lottery wealth (2)||Economic crashes (2)||Economic growth (1)|
|NON-ELITE COUNTRY / ELITE PEOPLE||Scandals (drugs) (3)||Prizes lottery wealth (2)||Coup d'etat (2)||Elections but major change|
|NON-ELITE COUNTRY/ NON-ELITE PEOPLE||Mega-accidents (2)||Miracles (1)||Revolutions "trouble, riots" (1)||no chance: however true (0)|
The ideal top news event, is something negative (not positive, that is less interesting) happening to a person (not structural/institutional, abstract, less interesting) in the elite (not ordinary people, less interesting) in an elite country (not second, third or fourth world country again less interesting). The tragic death of Diana and Dodi the night of August 31 1997 will be the archetypal example for years to come, overshadowing even the Kennedy assassinations November 22 1963, possibly because Kennedy was more institutional and Diana more personal (not only because better media coverage all over).
4: Northern Ireland: A TRANSCEND perspective on the conflict outcome
 A transitional Anglo-Irish condominium is substituted for the present status of Northern Ireland, with a view to a very high level of autonomy / independence after X years.
 The six counties would constitute Ulster as an entity - actually 6/9 of Ulster - with no internal borders, and could for the period of transition be considered territory of both the UK and Ireland. Any resident could opt for UK or an Irish passport.
 Ultimately the right of the Ulsterites to a self-determination has to be recognised. The definition of an 'Ulsterite' could be one who defines him/herself as an Ulsterite, not tied to blood quantum, cultural habits, or duration of residence. Respect for traditions, and a sense of homeland would be the basic.
 A parliament would be elected for the Ulster entity, with an executive council responsible for that parliament.
 Two assemblies would be elected for and by the Protestant and the catholic communities, with no veto rights in matters relating to their patrimony; possible also local police/courts.
 There would be a governing council with five members, one representative from London, one from Dublin, one of the Protestant community, one of the Catholic community, one of the Ulster Parliament, to guide a process towards ever increasing autonomy, and to mediate between the communities.
 Ulster would gradually attain international personality:
a) an Ulster passport could be recognised, first within the British Isles and the European Union, then the World; in addition to the British or Irish passports (EU). Thus, every Ulsterite is entitled to two passports, but may choose only one of them.
b) English and Irish pounds would be welcomed anywhere at acceptable exchange rates.
c) The coming euro might have a local version with the same value (an ulster?). To stimulate local economies a discount for deals in the ulster might be considered. Investment in highly sophisticated industries and services would be encouraged.
d) The budget for Ulster would be based on additional sources of revenue (duties, VAT) as for an EU country, with EU subsidy, watching the distribution among the two communities.
e) Special treaties would handle the relations to London and Dublin, to be implemented by the governing council, with review clauses guaranteeing revision every Y years (Y=25 years)
f) The entity would be demilitarised, renouncing the right to have a separate army. Its security would be guaranteed by Britain and Ireland together, possibly adding OSCE and the UN.
g)The entity would have observer status in the European Union, other European organisations, and the UN (like the Swiss).
h) The entity would gradually develop its foreign policy
i) Independence should not be a priori excluded, provided there is a clear majority in both communities.
j) Some redrawing of the same borders should not be a priori excluded, using a voting process at the municipal level similar to the Danish-German model of 1920.
Appendix B: Ireland
As The Peace Journalism Option was going to press, the British government finally realised the importance of giving what Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam called a "kickstart" to the deadlocked Stormont talks by releasing into the public realm some ideas as to the shape of a constitutional settlement. It was straightaway apparent how frail this initiative might prove in the absence of any grounding in public debate about an outcome to the process.
As the story broke on Monday January 12, and in the following day's papers, coverage focussed on the reactions of party leaders, who were asked to respond effectively in a vacuum - there was no sense of having to measure their responses against a wider awareness of well-examined issues in the community.
A key element of the logic behind the Blair proposals was that devolution in Wales and Scotland strengthened the case for a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland, which itself suggested an instructive comparison.
There is a recent case study in setting down roots for consensus across a community, drawing on the perspectives of political parties but also public opinion as mediated by a variety of other bodies including trade unions, churches and local authorities.
That case study is, of course, the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which succeeded in establishing a political momentum strong enough to propel both a sceptical Prime Minister-in-waiting and a reluctant Nationalist party into an historic settlement.
Without such a project having been undertaken in Northern Ireland, the initiative looked immediately vulnerable. Inadvertently, the Telegraph's account was among those which drew attention to the narrow political base underpinning the proposals:
"Downing Street sources said that his draft document was a highly personal intervention [by the PM] although Unionists said it had been drawn up after discussions between Mr Blair and Mr Trimble."
In the absence of any point of reference in a more broadly-based debate, the game for correspondents was to detect who was emerging victorious in a zero-sum game. The Telegraph again:
"The 'peace process', as designed with a bias towards Sinn Fein/IRA's terms, is presently on the wane".
Elsewhere in the same edition: "All eight parties at the talks were due to respond formally today. Sinn Fein was seen as likely to oppose it, heightening fears of an end to the IRA ceasefire."
And the paper's proposed solution to such an eventuality?
"If Sinn Fein/IRA try to hold it up, now is the time for Dublin to cut them loose - and, with London, to punish any ceasefire breach with a ferocious security clampdown."
The Times, on its front page, was more optimistic about the Republican response. Of the parties to the talks, it said:
"Crucially, none of them rejected [the document]."
But on page two, the paper's headline-writers ventured an assessment of who had gained the upper hand:
"Future as seen by blueprint decidedly Orange."
This appeared above a piece by the Ireland correspondent, who reported:
"The battle lines were drawn last night... it is Sinn Fein that is now in most danger of losing out... The only bankable gains the document offers Sinn Fein are a promise of measures to ensure equality for both communities and steps to deal with issues such as prisoners and demilitarisation. One doubts that would be enough for IRA hardliners."
The peace journalism approach.
There was no reference in any of the coverage to opinion in the wider community, even though we are continually being told that terrorists, including, presumably the Times' "IRA hardliners" do not exist in a vacuum.
It is to the 86% of Unionist voters who wanted their party leaders to enter the talks, and their equivalents in other sections of the community, that journalists committed to peace would reach out, tracing the relations of influence between their agenda and the prospects for formal agreement at Stormont.
The effect of the kind of coverage quoted here, built around a framework of understanding based on the primacy of official information sources, is to reach out to the 14% - the hardliners on all sides.
The main text of The Peace Journalism Option gives a brief outline of a perspective on the Northern Ireland situation, which resembles the Blair plan in some respects, prepared as a result of many dialogues with people in the province by Johan Galtung. The one-page summary of the perspective, presented at the Summer School, is reproduced in full at the end of this appendix.
The purpose of giving this as an appendix is partly to suggest that, had reporters been prepared to seize on and debate peace initiatives from wherever they emerge - a precept of peace journalism - then the soil in which the Blair proposals were planted might have proved more fertile.
When the Anglo-Irish Condominium was first debated, at the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, Galtung was interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster, where he called for ten thousand dialogues about peace, taking his perspective in with any other ideas. Had other media been prepared to take this up, to reflect, encourage and participate in such dialogues then the intervening six months might have helped to create a host of other reference points for reporters covering the Blair document. These could be people and organisations to consult, or bodies of analysis which had evolved as a result of such dialogues.
This in turn might have provided a context in which the proposals could be assessed without basing the whole prognosis for the talks on responses from party leaders - responses isolated from any other gauge of opinion among their electorate. Without such a gauge we are forced to take their word for what their voters will support. It may be, as with the 86% favouring participation in talks, that the electorate is ahead of the leaderships. Unless reporters find ways of reflecting this then for those leaderships the constructive response is almost bound to seem risky. There is no independent measure of the support for particular peace initiatives or ideas among the electorate so there is no risk for leaders in rejecting them.
Participants at the Summer School attended a news conference on the Anglo-Irish Condominium, which served as an experiment in reporting the perspective, and the fact of its discussion at the Glencree Centre, in a way likely to tackle some of these shortcomings and so enhance the eventual prospects for proceeding to a peaceful settlement.
One thing the experiment illustrated was that peace reporting does not equal the pursuit of truth, as touched upon in the section of the main text about Fergal Keane. The Anglo-Irish Condominium is a complicated solution to a complicated situation, and in such a situation there are many truths.
In the news conference, there were two distinct strands of questioning, each tending to elicit its own kind of truth. Some participants wanted to know how these ideas had arisen and why they had they emerged now. Who was behind them, these questioners wondered; how did they fit in with other proposals and had they been "sold" to party leaderships?
The truths which emerged in response to such questions are the kind which tend to 'place' something like the Anglo-Irish condominium in a framework of understanding similar to that inscribed in the coverage discussed here of the Blair initiative in January 1998.
This is news, remember, and news is about change. If the provenance of ideas, and whether official information sources have approved them, affect their newsworthiness, then the assumption must be that such credentials affect their ability to stimulate or bring about change. On these criteria, an initiative from Downing Street and the Ulster Unionist leader was irreproachably newsworthy. But coverage of the story, at least in the newspapers examined here, was ultimately gloomy about the prospects for change opened up as a result of the proposals.
Inherent in the Transcend ideas themselves is an alternative framework of understanding. In this, the very fact that peace initiatives continue to be discussed makes change more likely. They are therefore newsworthy and the choice for the journalist is to discuss them, or not - not to cloud that decision with other considerations like who thought of them and who has approved them.
Political leaders in a democracy are accountable to their electorates - how do we know what the electorate will think of an idea unless it is discussed? The method adopted by Galtung and his academic colleagues in the Transcend network was, he declared, "to listen to all voices [as many as 200 dialogues over thirty years, in his case], and then suggest a perspective within which all voices can be accommodated. Then to listen very carefully to all the objections, go away and come back with a better document."
A second line of questioning emerged at the news conference which was calculated to enhance the impact of such a process - examining the ideas themselves. These questions, then, elicited a different kind of truth, one based on a different framework of understanding change. Why, for instance, was the option of a united Ireland discarded in favour of a complicated, interlocking system of assemblies, parliaments and councils?
It might be possible to establish that a majority on the island of Ireland wanted a united country - but that would presuppose the drawing of a constituency boundary which Unionists and Loyalists would not accept.
For the status quo, it might be possible to establish that a majority in Northern Ireland wanted it to remain a province of the UK - but that would presuppose a constituency boundary which Nationalists and Republicans would not accept. So far, so familiar - the impasse of Irish politics in a nutshell.
Safeguards required in a democracy
It was important to note, Galtung said, that the suggestions in the Transcend perspective did not amount to pure democracy, which allowed the majority to outvote the minority - a recipe for calamity in - for example - former Yugoslavia. In fact the assemblies suggested for the Protestant and Catholic communities amounted to a safeguard which actually diminished pure democracy - each could assert that a particular issue was its business and nobody else's, removing, when it saw fit, questions from consideration by the Ulster parliament itself.
Typical of the areas where these assemblies would have competence, Galtung said, was in teaching, especially relating to language, history and religion. He gave the example of the Sami assemblies in Norway, Finland and Sweden. At one time all Sami children could only learn Norwegian in Norwegian schools. Then they began to be taught Sami as well. The next step was to learn other subjects, like maths, through the medium of Sami. Then Samis were allowed to run the schools where maths was taught in Sami, and finally the Sami assembly won the power to decide which schools should teach in Sami.
Another area could be the administration of small-scale local justice - with police and courts run by people who Paddy Crean of the Glencree centre called "of the same persuasion" as inhabitants of a given locality. This would tackle the problem of "no-go areas" where the Protestant-dominated RUC was "not welcome" and where intimidation prevented even sympathetic local Catholics from joining either the police itself or local police committees.
On the composition of the governing council, the section in the main text touches on the inherent value of having a potential Ulsterite majority over representatives of London and Dublin. All the ideas were intended to provide for change if necessary - Galtung gave the example of tiny Andorra, a disputed territory before a governing council was formed of the Bishop of a local Spanish town, and a delegate from the French throne, or, later, Presidency. The arrangement worked for 600 years before, four years ago, it led to independence. An example of the value of knowing about and discussing peace-building ideas, no matter how small.
Professor Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies, Granada, Ritsumeikan, Tromsö, Witten / Herdecke Universities. Director, TRANSCEND: A Peace & Development Network
Assoc Professor Rune Ottosen, Faculty of Journalism, Library & International Sciences.
Professor Wilhelm Kempf, University of Konstanz and author of the Conference Report on the Gulf War.
Martyn Gregory, documentary maker, Director of Martyn Gregory Films
Pat Younge, Deputy Editor, Here and Now
Nick Pollard, Head of News, Sky TV
Maggie O'Kane, Guardian and C4 journalist
Larry Hollingworth UNHCR, Project Director International Diploma for Humanitarian Assistance, Hunter College, New York.
Mick Hume, editor LM Magazine
Paddy Crean, Hon Sec, Glencree Centre for Reconciliation, Dublin
Sebastian Cody, Editor, After Dark C4
Jake Lynch, Correspondent, Sky News
Conflict & Peace Courses 1997 were co-sponsored by TRANSCEND Peace & Development Network, The Buddhist Society for the Creation of Value (SGI-UK), The Toda Institute for Global Peace & Policy Research, Norwegian Institute for Global Affairs, the Freedom Forum and the Polden Puckham Charitable Foundation. They included courses on:
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