Focusing on the topic of the role of the media in conflict-prone and divided societies, a World Press Freedom Day session in Addis Ababa discussed possibilities for journalism to facilitate constructive dialogue and the building of collective narratives that bring people together. Discussing contexts of repression characterised by the spread of hate speech, rising religious intolerance, polarising state-driven disinformation and a divisive rhetoric peddled both by state and non-state actors, the session queried how the media can take advantage of any remaining civil space to expand civil discourse and build constructive engagements between sectors of society.

Shubhranshu Choudhary, TV and Radio Producer for BBC’s South Asia Bureau, argued that democracy isn’t possible without democratic communication and that in repressive environments characterised by a spread of disinformation the media struggle to fulfil this role. In fact, what is needed is journalism that enriches rather than narrows public discourse. Regarding social media he noted that ‘we need social media, but it needs to be truly social and thus inclusive’. Gayanthry Venkiteswaran, University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus added that for the media to be able to do its job, the media also need to defend the rights of citizens more broadly and not act as an entity that is separate or disjointed from the rest of society.

Research carried out at CFOM examines the potential of the factual mass media in post-conflict settings to contribute to civil society building as well as to sustainable peace. Jackie Harrison and Stef Pukallus, both of CFOM, have developed a new approach to reporting in post-civil war context that focuses on the endorsement and advocacy of civil norms. These civil norms are seen as essential in fostering civil solidarity and bringing about peaceful co-existence of formerly warring parties. The factual mass media have a responsibility to reduce the probability of conflict and can do so by exemplifying civil norms in their reporting. Overall, CFOM fundamentally believes in the importance of establishing the communicative bases for sustainable peace and researches the crucial importance of news journalism and quality public communication in peacebuilding processes.