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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greets his caller, Prince Turki Ibn Talal from Saudi Arabia. In a rather unusual public exchange between an Israeli prime minister and callers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the West Bank and elsewhere, Netanyahu responded to questions about his leadership, Israel's expansionist policies and Israel's intentions in the region.
This program aired on the pan-Arab satellite station Orbit, and represented the first time any Israeli prime minister has spoken on Arab television directly to Arab viewers. Where diplomacy has not even begun to open formal relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, innovative media was able to break new ground and, in this case, old taboos. Once this now top-rated program broke the ice, the format was then imitated by the official Egyptian television, which ignored the syndicate-imposed restrictions on its journalists (and many others in the Arab world) regarding travel to and contact with Israel. With or without direct contact, the media can provide an alternative, creative venue for exploring the relationship between peoples and countries and ensure that political issues continue to be aired and debated.

Journalistic Integrity

News media operates according to a widely accepted and strong code of conduct, particularly the media in Western democracies. According to this code, journalists seek to uphold principles of independence, impartiality, truth and accuracy, with the primary aim to inform and, thereby, empower people to form their own judgments.
It must be recognized, however, that this is not always the case. Especially in times of conflict, "truth" and "bias" can become muddled. In addition, the media in many parts of the world are operating by different rules. In fact, a great majority of the media in the developing world is restricted by press laws and operates under government scrutiny. Most of the media in the Arab world is state-subsidized, with editors serving at the behest of the state. Undeniably, different degrees of journalistic freedom exist from state to state, ranging from airing rather diverse viewpoints, on the one hand, to quite restricted coverage, on the other. Even in the best of circumstances and regardless of nationality, reporters covering conflict situations - especially when one's own state is involved - can face many challenges and bias, intended or unintended, is often expressed.
As Johannes Botes of George Mason University notes, news tends to "dramatize conflicts by focusing on irreconcilable differences between the parties, extreme positions and inflammatory statements, violent or threatening acts, and win-or-lose outcomes." This kind of reporting, while expedient and fulfilling the need to be "newsworthy," can have the effect of exacerbating a conflict situation.
Responsible, professional journalism can, however, have a positive impact and maintain its informative and entertainment value. "Good reporting and news analysis should look beyond stated positions toward the interest and needs of the parties," argues Botes. "Reporters and commentators can put a conflict in historical and social perspective, deepening everyone's understanding of it. They can call attention to the dangers of escalation and to opportunities of settlement that the parties may not have recognized. And they can become part of an "early warning system" that identifies the underground tremors of impending conflict."1 And, like the face-to-face encounters aired on Orbit, they can serve the important purpose of bringing people in contact with one another to dispel myths and stereotypes that are easily perpetuated among people who have little or no contact.
A historic use of the media as a forum for dialogue was a CBS broadcast in 1977. In this program, Walter Cronkite asked Egyptian President Anwar Sadat if he would come to Jerusalem to meet Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin face-to-face. Sadat said he would, and Begin welcomed the visit. This was the first step toward the peace agreement reached two years later. Through this innovative program, in which the two leaders never spoke directly to each other, the media played a pivotal role in positively shifting relations between the two countries.
Several international organizations, notably Internews, the Media Peace Center in South Africa, and Search for Common Ground, are working with local partners worldwide to produce television, radio and print products that draw on the strengths of professional media and conflict resolution. Their efforts demonstrate some of the commonalities that exist between reporters in times of conflict and those concerned with peace-building in their societies. Robert Manoff, head of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, enumerates 24 possible initiatives that the media could undertake in conflict situations. The Conflict Management Group (CMG), another NGO addressing this issue, has worked with journalists to design "Guidelines for Journalists Covering Ethnic Conflicts." These guidelines strengthen the role and mandate of journalists rather than contradict them. Perhaps obvious, but not always applied, CMG's guidelines call for covering each side of the conflict, presenting people as individuals rather than as representatives of groups, providing audiences with a broader context, and focusing on processes and not just "events."

Journalism and Conflict Resolution

Today, there are numerous examples of media that keep the dialogue of differences and similarities continuing in different ways. These are not always gestures that move nations, as did the Walter Cronkite broadcast in 1977, but they bring a human face to conflicts that are drained of their humanity. For example, Vis-à-Vis, an Internews-sponsored television series aired in the US on public broadcasting stations, uses new technology to air real-time video dialogue between guests. A recent show featured American and Iranian high-school teachers interacting with each other in this way. The program contributed to breaking down stereotypes and overcoming communication barriers between two cultures that have had practically no positive contact in almost 20 years.
Many assessments of the news media's role in conflicts, of which those of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict are perhaps the most comprehensive, call on journalists and media organizations to be responsible in their coverage of conflicts, to promote understanding, and to give attention to efforts to defuse and resolve violent conflicts. While upholding professional standards, it is not outside of the journalist's mandate to go beyond the descriptive to engage in the search for solutions and agreement to a conflict situation. Since 1995, the Voice of America (VOA) has been producing a series of television programs that could be termed "solutions journalism." VOA has sought to marry good journalism with the theories, principles and practice of conflict resolution. The programs, numbering more than 100, featured stories on such topics as the stalemate between Armenia and Azerbaijan, environmental disputes in the Pacific Northwest, and reconciliation projects in Bosnia. One reporter involved in some of VOA's programs initially expected not to find much beyond the conflict, but was later surprised to find a great deal of common ground.
While international media organizations have experimented with this new form, so too have local media in various parts of the world. Two examples of these, working with Search for Common Ground, can be found in Burundi and Bosnia.

Rwanda and Burundi

During the horrendous massacres in Rwanda in 1994, the passionate divide between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis was mirrored in, and fueled by, its local media. Many radio, television and newspapers are owned and operated by distinctive ethnic and political groups, and their news reporting tends to lend little credence to the validity of the other side. The Hutu-run Radio Mille Collines was notorious for inciting passions against Tutsis and for deepening the ethnic divide. Such reporting can not only be credited with a share of responsibility in the Rwandan genocide, but also renders reconciliation difficult to achieve.
Across the border from Rwanda in Burundi, where almost the same ethnic mix exists, a similar phenomenon was taking place. The media, which is ethnically distinct, similarly covers developments through ethnocentric lenses. Several programs, however, are breaking the mold and also appear to be capturing the hearts and minds of the people. One example - Studio Ijambo (Kirundi for "wise words") - is proving to be one of the most trusted sources of information (and now entertainment) both domestically and internationally. It fulfills its aim of providing ethnic-neutral coverage of events by teaming Hutu and Tutsi journalists together. Studio Ijambo also produces a popular soap opera, broadcast by Radio Nationale Television au Burundi, which is reportedly followed by a majority of the population. In Our Neighbors, Ourselves, two neighboring families - one Hutu, the other Tutsi - interact with each other in a daily exploration of the reality of coexisting in a multicultural society. Written, performed and produced by a completely mixed staff of Hutus and Tutsis, the show itself is a model of reconciliation.
Alexis Sinduhije, one of the journalists with Studio Ijambo, outlines three reasons for the studio's success. One is the leadership, which rigorously avoided taking sides in the conflict. Second is the Burundi journalists who remained neutral in their reporting and uphold professional journalistic standards. And third is simply the infrastructure that the journalists had at their disposal - from vehicles to advanced communications - which enabled them to be on the same footing as their international counterparts.2

Bosnia

A similar dynamic can be seen in the more developed and educated society of the former Yugoslavia, particularly Bosnia, where a once rather integrated society is now emerging from four years of self-destruction and ethnic cleansing. There, too, elements of the local media became agents of ethnically divided political parties and militarized forces by helping to inflame people's passions, serving in effect to justify their inhumanity toward one another. At the same time, the ethnically mixed staff of Oslobodenje newspaper continued to offer even-handed reporting from Sarajevo throughout the civil war. Thus, examples of local media as both agents of conflict and agents of reconciliation existed during the height of conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In an area where television is the most influential medium, a new series is now emerging that highlights the commonalities that people in Bosnia share, no matter what their background. Breaking the mold of traditional programming that presents issues in an adversarial way, Mimo Vas (Bosnian for "life passing by") seeks to bring people together. In this series, as in the ongoing radio talk show, Resolutions Radio, Bosnians of all ethnic groups see how people live their lives, what they share in common, and how the difficulties caused by conflict can be overcome. The program acknowledges that true reconciliation needs to take place on an individual level, not only between leaders and states. The media, therefore, is building a bridge between the people and their leaders - a noteworthy accomplishment in a society where people feel a great sense of disenfranchisement after such a devastating civil war.
Both the professional conduct of the media, particularly in times of conflict, and the media that contributes to informing people or illustrating means of resolution can be developed in the Middle East today.
The politics of the Middle East appear to be playing out on a public stage. One cannot deny the importance of the media in conveying both the realities of these developments and the possibilities for resolution that exist, some of which are being exploited, others yet to be explored. The media can play a useful role in this region by helping to elucidate both the problems and possible paths to their resolution.

Endnotes

1. Johannes Botes, "Journalism and Conflict Resolution," Media Development 43 (Winter 1996), p. 9.
2. Alexis Sinduhije, Ijambo: "Speaking Truth" amidst Genocide, the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Discussion Paper D-30, July 1998.


Selected Readings

Gordon Adam, " Peace Building through the Media," Crosslines Global Report, 1997, pp. 89-91.
Bruce Allen & Steven Wilkinson, Guidelines for Journalists Covering Ethnic Conflict, Working Papers Series for the Ethnic Conflict Management in the Former Soviet Union of the Conflict Management Group, Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 1994.
Johannes Botes, "Journalism and Conflict Resolution," Media Development, Vol. XLIII, April 1996, pp. 6-9.
Elise Boulding, "Roles for NGOs in Reducing or Preventing Violence," Transnational Associations, 1997, pp. 317-327.
Nik Bowing, "Media Coverage: Help or Hindrance in Conflict Prevention?" (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1997).
Carnegie Commission on Preventive Conflict, Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, 1997).
Conflict Prevention Newsletter, the European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation, Volume 1/Number 2, June 1998.
Tom Gjelten, Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, June 1998).
Jemstone Report 1996-97, Amman, Jemstone, 1997.
Steve Livingston, Clarifying the CNN Effect: An Examination of Media Effects According to Type of Military Intervention, the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy, Research Paper R-18, Cambridge, MA, June 1997.
London International Research Exchange, Journalists at War: Media Coverage of Post-Cold War Conflicts" (available on the Internet at http://www.easynet.co.uk/LIRE/jaw.htm).
Sandra Melone, "NGOs, the Media and Conflict Prevention," in Contributing to Preventive Action, edited by Peter Cross (CPN Yearbook, 1998), pp. 185-204.
Colleen Roach (editor), Communication and Culture in War and Peace, SAGE Publications, CA, 1993.
Richard E. Rubenstein, Frameworks for Interpreting Conflict: A Handbook for Journalists, ICAR report #2, Fairfax, VA, 1994.
Alexis Sinduhije, Ijambo: "Speaking Truth" amidst Genocide, the Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University, Discussion Paper D-30, Cambridge, MA, July 1998.
The Role of the Media in Reporting Ethnic Conflict, Working Papers Series for the Ethnic Conflict Management in the Former Soviet Union of the Conflict Management Group, Cambridge, Massachusetts, January 1994.
Gadi Wolfsfeld, Media and Political Conflict: News from the Middle East (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997). <

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