The media and conflict management
Many analysts on Indo-Pakistan relations believe that jingoistic attitude of media in the sub-continent obstructs all peace moves in the region. Media breed hatred in both the countries in order to make profits and resultantly incapacitate the governments to take concrete steps towards peace. Media’s role in the formulation of foreign policy and conflict resolution has generated a heated debate since early sixties and now it is considered an actor of tremendous importance in international arena.
The media have come in for serious criticism for inflaming conflicts. Harshly nationalist and sectarian leaders have used the media in promulgating inflammatory propaganda.
Hate radio in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia provide dreadful examples of direct and powerful incitement to mass violence. Yet even media in democratic societies have been criticized for glorifying violence-more so in entertainment than news.
How can the international community foster a mass media that is devoted to combating inter-group prejudice and ethnocentrism, as well as communicating the values and skills of conflict resolution? We are by now all too familiar with political entrepreneurs who use the media to exploit inter-group tensions-actions which often unwittingly make their own constituencies as vulnerable as the groups that they target.
Can publics and “hot spots’ be reached by independent media? Radio is a relatively low-cost and widely accessible medium even in the poorest countries. The international community should support radio and other independent media that combat divisive myth making by providing accurate information about current events, inter-group relations, and actual instances of violence prevention.
News media can report conflicts in ways that engender constructive public discussion oriented to conflict resolution. The media can stimulate new ideas and approaches to serious problems by involving independent experts in their presentations, seeking to understand the problem and paths toward solution. The media should develop standards of conduct in crisis coverage that give adequate attention to serious efforts under way to defuse and resolve conflicts, even as they give full international exposure to the violence itself.
Research has established causal relationships between children’s viewing of aggressive or pro-social behavior on television and their subsequent behavior. Children as young as two years old are facile at imitating televised behaviors. In general, the relationship between television violence and subsequent viewer behaviour holds in a variety of countries. Cross-national studies show this in countries as diverse as Australia, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United States.
There is some research evidence that television need not be a school for violence-that it can be used in a way that reduces inter-group hostility. Television can portray human diversity while highlighting shared human experiences. It can teach skills that are important for the social development of children and do so in a way that both entertain and educate. So far we have had only glimpses of its potential for reducing inter-group hostility.
Professor Gerald Lesser of Harvard University has summarized features of the children’s educational television programme, “Sesame Street,” that are of interest in this context. The programme originated in the United States in 1969 but appears today in 100 other countries. Each programme is fitted to the language, culture, and traditions of a particular nation. The atmosphere of respect for differences permeates all of “Sesame Street’s” many versions. Research from a variety of countries is encouraging. For example, the Canadian version of “Sesame Street” shows many sympathetic instances of English-speaking and French-speaking children playing together.
Research demonstrates that the children who see these examples of cross group friendship are more likely to form such friendships on their own than are children who do not see them. The same is true for Dutch, Moroccan, Turkish, and Surinamese children who see “Sesame Street” in Holland. The findings suggest that appealing and constructive examples of social tolerance help young children to learn such behaviour. Educational television can be developed in ways that reduce inter-group hostility as research on Sesame Street has demonstrated in different cultures.
The world has only scratched the surface in the constructive use of this powerful tool to promote understanding among different cultures and conveying non-violent ways to cope with life’s frustrations.
An interesting example of far-sighted programming is provided by a 1995 initiative of the Carnegie Corporation in cooperation with the Voice of America under the leadership of Geoffrey Cowan. The Conflict Resolution Project developed and produced special programmes to introduce its worldwide audience to the principles and practices of conflict resolution. Journalists undertook production of stories exploring local efforts to resolve problems, improve inter-group relations, and highlight efforts for peace.
A core series of documentary programmes in several languages was adapted to the needs of specific audiences. It included a lecture series on media and conflict prevention, a workbook for journalists reporting in emerging democracies, and broadcasting on conflict resolution. Activities included journalist training in Angola and daily radio broadcast in the Kinyarwanda/Kirundi language aimed at Rwanda and Burundi.
Similar ingenuity was reflected in BBC Radio’s educational series on democracy for Russian audiences; and by Ted Koppel’s ABC Nightline programmes on US-Soviet relations during the Cold War and on Israel-Palestinian relations’ vis-Ã -vis the Middle East peace process. The promise of this approach, reaching millions of people in engaging and constructive ways, is genuinely encouraging. Independent, pluralistic media can promote democracy by clarifying issues, attitudes, candidates, and institutions essential for democracy. International election monitors should press for access to the media for all parties as an integral part of free and fair elections.
Development of independent mass media has been a major part of efforts to assist the democratization of the post-communist states. This work has involved international, state, and non-governmental organization in journalist training, technological improvement, reforming the legal regulatory framework, enhancing the financial and managerial performance of media outlets, and developing professional associations for media professionals.
These efforts have shared a common outlook that independent and pluralistic media are a bulwark of democracy, serving as a watchdog of abuses of power by elected officials and as an inclusive arena for consideration of public issues. After decades of highly intrusive Communist Party control, the newly liberated media lacked the skills and resources to perform these democracy-supportive functions on their own.
International support had a positive influence in shaping the norms and practices of the post-communist media, enhancing their professionalism and their viability, and helping to integrate them into an international media community. There are four main lessons for effective media assistance. First, there is a need for strategic planning so that resources can be effectively matched to the most pressing needs of the media sector in each setting.
Second, in post-authoritarian settings where the media are likely to be highly partisan, international actors must be careful about mistaking opposition media outlets for independent, professional media. Third, there is a need to integrate media support with other democracy promotion activities, especially those aimed at strengthening civil society organizations and local government reform. Fourth, efforts to foster viable commercial media should be balanced by support for the norm, practices, and effective operation of public service media. Therefore, media should not only foster traditions of amity and tolerance within Pakistani society, but these should also help in resolving outstanding conflicts with other nations.
We get images of societies beyond our direct contact through media. It means that media has to shoulder a responsibility of gigantic magnitude by promoting intercultural harmony. Pakistani media has grown mature over the years and one can hope that it would help the government manage conflict with neighbouring states.
The writer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mass Communication, University of the Punjab
Source: The Nation