Originally published as a chapter of “Conflict reporting in the smartphone era – from budget constraints to information warfare”.
Ethical information and making the peace
Almost all societies have developed ways to resolve conflict without violence. In any conflict and particular among groups within a country or across borders the fighting will not come to an end without certain conditions being met.
The first imperative is the need for dialogue – warring factions must find a way to talk. Journalism can help by ensuring they are providing accurate and impartial news that is reliable and can be trusted by all sides. Media can become the main channel of communication for all sides in a conflict.
The less media can be used for broadcasting propaganda and the more it can become a mechanism for groups involved in conflict to speak to each other, the more it will contribute to creating a bridge for dialogue.
Journalism can play this role if they:
Respect rules of accuracy and fairness – by telling all sides of the story and in the process helping to educate each side in a conflict about the hurdles and obstacles that need to be overcome.
Provide inclusive story-telling and seek out voices from all sides. Exploring the social reality of the lives of others helps to provide a nuanced understanding that may pave the way to realistic ways of resolving conflict. Avoid stereotypes that reinforce ignorance, prejudice and fear. Above all, the ethical journalist will humanise the conflict process – putting names to faces; talking to the victims of war on all sides; allowing people to grieve and express their anger; focusing on the human tragedy that is being endured by all the communities involved.
Ask hard questions and seek to explain the real meanings behind statements and claims of political leaders who may express outrageous and controversial opinions which are designed to generate intense hatred and hate speech.
Frame the conflict in a way that opens up new angles for reporting, and allows all sides to have their say. Good journalism will provide fresh insights and may even provide scope for negotiations. It’s not the role of journalism to intervene on one side or another, but looking at the story from a different point of view may inspire new thinking and may help in the search for solutions.
Take care with words and pictures. This is important at the best of times, but in times of conflict and when lives are at stake, there is no room for intolerant language, loose words and use of images for their shock value alone. We must avoid the traps set by propagandists, check out information and remember that what we publish has impact and can be used for destructive purposes when it fuels fear and violence. The Ethical Journalism Network has developed a useful tool – a ‘5-point Test for Hate Speech’ – that can help journalists and editors judge when words or images become toxic.11
11. Ethical Journalism Network (2014) Five-point test for hate speech, see https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/resources/publications/hate-speech
Cover Picture: NETSTUDIO_IMAGE ID: 309953711/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM