Precis of Teaching at Sheffield Hallam University’s Journalism Summer School (June 24, 2019)

Dr. Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob

Whereas journalists are often trained on how to report wars, and sometimes embedded with troops to facilitate coverage, very few journalists have been trained on how to report peace and reconciliation in post-conflict and transition societies, let alone embedded with peacebuilders to cover a peace beat. In mainstream media, there is a disproportionate coverage of war and violence over peace and reconciliation initiatives or even solutions to the violence. This is not unconnected with the organic nature of news. News is ‘news’ because it explicitly reports the horrific and the aberrant.  

Does News need an Ethical Makeover?

There is need for a shift in our concept of news values, and for an ethical makeover of contemporary journalism practice, particularly in crises societies. Traditional liberal theorists have always maintained that the key function of the media is to position itself as a watchdog, by being objective and detached.  However, under the notion that positive peace, reconciliation, hope, truth, and justice are the core yearnings of post-conflict societies, the ethical obligation of the press is to cover and privilege stories that satisfy these yearnings. 

News as a Humanitarian Need

In crises societies, accurate and relevant information is a humanitarian need – as important as food. It is borne, not out of audiences’ need to satisfy a curiosity, but out of a need to understand and negotiate their vulnerabilities. For example, audiences in war-torn societies have a need to know if it is safe to go out (perhaps to the farms or the markets), to return home, to flee, etc. Moreover, they are interested not merely in objective information but in reasons to hope that the conflict is transformable. The central questions on people’s minds are: when will this end? How will it end? What can we do to help end it? People in conflict societies will gravitate towards any media that provides answers to these questions.  The media that can answer these questions consistently, serves both a humanitarian and communitarian utility. 

A communitarian press system is derived from the notion that the media is socially embedded in the community and has similar yearnings with the community. By high-lighting peace and reconciliation initiatives, the media can open up a communal sphere for engagement with peace. Peace Journalism based on communitarian values therefore recommends the adoption of a critical-transactional framework that has the conflict-affected community’s yearnings as its raison d’etre and peace as a key strand in the conflict narrative.