02.05.07 14:13 Alter: 5 yrs

Peace Journalism - more than war reporting


Since the beginning of the twenty-first century non-western media like al Jazeera have reached out to millions of spectators with television news, here being launched in Malaysia, February 2007. Om the presence of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Jake Lynch (*)


This article was published in the magazine "New Routes", the quarterly journal of the Life & Peace Institute (volume 11, no 4, 2006). 

'The only battle we might lose was the battle for hearts and minds. The consequence would have been NATO ending and losing the war'. These were the reflections of Alastair Campbell, then press secretary to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, after the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.


This battle has become increasingly important as wars have become increasingly mediated. Nearly three thousand media workers accompanied NATO forces when they entered Kosovo at the end of Operation Allied Force. For comparison, a generation before, five hundred were on hand to witness the peak of the action in Vietnam.


To narrow the timeframe a little further, even by 1991, just 22 overseas journalists were in Baghdad for Operation Desert Storm. By contrast, during the invasion of 2003, Lindsey Hilsum, a senior British television reporter recalled: 'We used to bang on about this thing called, "the New World Information Order" which was going to be imposed by UNESCO. It has in fact been created, by technology. There were two Indian TV stations there, there was a Bangladeshi reporter for a newspaper, Philippines television was there, everybody was in Baghdad. The rest of the world was not depending on European and American broadcasters and newspapers anymore, so that is a real change, something new and very important'.


Technology has also enabled non-western owned media to transcend their national boundaries in the form of satellite broadcasting, with rolling television news services, led by al Jazeera, now available on screens around the world. And a different set of technologies - for the targeting and guiding of missiles and shells - have been used to attack it, with the organisation's offices hit in Kabul, Basra and Baghdad.


News representations of conflict now form 'a key site for the exercise of power, seen as such by "primary players" and many others besides'. This awareness, too, is shared by many beyond the traditional elite. According to an influential critique of reporting of the Great Lakes crisis of 1996-1997, journalists should 'understand from the start that warring factions, even if their soldiers wear gumboots, have now acquired a sophisticated military doctrine and techniques for fighting low-level information warfare using manipulation, disinformation, misinformation and obstruction'. The crisis itself stemmed from the Rwandan genocide two years earlier, in which media played a sinister role.


It is within this context that Peace Journalism has been more and more widely discussed, developed and carried out - whether known by that name or not - among journalists, media and development workers and within universities, around the world, since about the middle of the1990s.


The country involved in the highest number of international armed conflicts of any in the world between 1946 and 2003, according to the Liu Institute's inaugural Human Security Report, was Britain, with 21. France came next on 19 and the US third with 16. At the same time, 'the journalism of professional editors, reporters and producers [in Britain] has a strong claim to be considered the best in the world' - a reputation attributable partly, though by no means only, to the BBC.


Iran - the next frontier

When Iranian revolutionaries stormed the American embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took approximately 70 hostages, the incident occurred almost exactly halfway through a history of conflict between Iran and the US.


But it was the British who involved their American allies in the first place. Twenty-six years previously London had called in the CIA to help overthrow the elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. His crime? To nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, following failed negotiations in which Iran sought higher royalty payments from Britain. And in 2005, President Bush, on a trip to Israel, warned that 'all options are on the table' in 'dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions'.


Blair mused, at a European Union summit he was hosting in London, 'the question people will be asking us is - when are you going to do something about Iran?' A favoured journalist, Trevor Kavanagh, veteran political editor of Murdoch's popular Sun newspaper, told his readers: 'We are now to all intents and purposes at war with Iran'.


To represent the formation of this conflict as we have briefly done here is to apply some of the principles of Peace Journalism. The term and the concept were coined by Johan Galtung, founder of Peace and Conflict Studies, and one of its trademarks is to report conflicts as occurring in 'open space, open time, (with) causes and outcomes anywhere, also in history/culture'.


Peace Journalism is the counterpart and corollary of War Journalism, which tends to report conflicts as if they are confined to the present day and to the 'conflict arena' where violence is taking place, or might potentially take place. Below are some excerpts from Galtung's original and now classic table, setting out the characteristics of each form:



Peace/conflict journalism

War/violence journalism

I. Peace/conflict-orientated

Giving voice to all parties; empathy, understanding

See conflict/war as problem, focus on conflict creativity

Humanisation of all sides, more so the worse the weapons

Focus on invisible effects of violence (trauma and glory, damage to structure/culture)


'Us-them' journalism, propaganda, voice, for 'us'

See 'them' as the problem, focus on who prevails in war

Dehumanisation of 'them'; more so the worse the weapon

Focus only on visible effect of violence (killed, wounded and material damage)


II. Truth-orientated

Expose untruths on all sides / uncover all cover-ups

II. Propaganda-orientated

Expose 'their' untruths / help 'our' cover-ups/lies


III. People-orientated

Focus on suffering all over; on women, aged, children; giving voice to voiceless

III. Elite-orientated

Focus on 'our' suffering; on able-bodied elite males, being their mouth-piece


IV. Solution orientated

Peace = non-violence + creativity

Focus on structure, culture, the peaceful society


IV. Victory orientated

Peace = victory + ceasefire

Focus on treaty, institution, the controlled society


The 'Iran nuclear crisis'

The remarks by Bush and Blair, quoted above, were reported in the context of the 'Iran nuclear crisis'. This had been brewing at least since 2002, with Bush's State of the Union Address, in which Iran was labelled as part of the 'Axis of Evil' along with Iraq and North Korea. Months later, Russian technicians started to build the country's first nuclear reactor.


US political leaders and diplomats took a lead in convincing many allies that Iran was in breach of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970. For many years, the country had, indeed, concealed aspects of its nuclear programme from the international community.


After the NPT entered into force, a succession of arms control agreements followed between the superpowers.


Latterly, though, the US in particular had been increasingly criticised for reversing this progress, both through the development of new nuclear weapons and for changes in its nuclear doctrine, which widened the range of circumstances in which a first strike would be contemplated. In the UK, the government of Tony Blair had already been thinking aloud about commissioning a like-for-like replacement for its own fleet of Trident nuclear submarines.


In UK media, War Journalism tended to concentrate on 'expos[ing] "their" untruths' - chiefly by referring to 'suspicions' or 'fears' that Iran's nuclear power programme was a cover for its real ambition of developing a military capability.


In the comment quoted above, Blair continued: 'Can you imagine a state like that … having nuclear weapons?' According to Kavanagh's article, the Prime Minister now faced a 'nightmare … fuelled by certain knowledge that nothing - apart from unimaginable military action - can now stop the mullahs acquiring nuclear power and then nuclear weapons. Worse, there is every prospect they will use them'.


Was military action 'unimaginable'? If so, that would have been bad news for a President determined to remove no options from the table - a line echoed by Blair himself.


The restriction of time and space in representing the conflict is a key part of such propaganda. Detailed 'public interest polling' carried out in the US shows that public approval for the use of force depends on the case being made passing six 'screens':

  • Rogue leaders
  • Evidence tying them to heinous crimes
  • Non-military means exhausted
  • Military allies (to share the risk and cost)
  • A 'visionary' objective (eg turn an enemy into an ally or bring long term peace to a region)
  • Early non-military intervention tried in good faith, but confounded

In the case of Iran, the 'rogue leader' duly arrived, in mid-2005, in the shape of newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the summit, Blair was responding to journalists' questions about his remarks, interpreted in the West as a call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map'.


In August 2005, results were announced of a two-year investigation by a team of scientists into what was, on the face of it, the most incriminating 'exhibit for the prosecution' - traces of highly enriched uranium, found on centrifuges seized from an Iranian laboratory by international inspectors two years earlier. Iran said at the time these must have been on the centrifuges when they bought them from its nuclear-armed neighbour, Pakistan - an explanation supported by the scientists' conclusions. Iran had, on this charge at least, been found 'not guilty'.


Shortly afterwards, the US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the country was ten years away from acquiring the bomb - putting it in the same category as any other state with a nuclear power plant, certainly including South Korea and Brazil, for instance, if they were so minded. There was, in other words, in the consensus view of all the American intelligence agencies, no specific evidence against Iran.


Comparing news to research reports

'When covering conflicts', Peace Journalism proposes, 'we can tread down to find solid ground beneath our feet, by studying and applying what is known and has been observed about conflict … We can use this knowledge to help us decide for ourselves what is important, and to identify what is missing from what we are told by interested parties.' Key findings include:

    • Violence is never wholly its own cause Conflict is made up of structure, culture and process - the context, without which no explanation for a violent event is complete or, indeed, correct
    • Non-violent responses are always possible. There is always more than one way of responding to conflict. Many people, in many places, are devising, advocating and applying non-violent responses.
    • More than two sides. There are always more than two parties to any conflict - some, whose involvement or interest is hidden, need putting on the map. Others, presented as a solid aggregate of view, may contain important internal divisions, and they need dis-aggregation
    • Every party has a stake. Parties to conflict should be seen as stakeholders, pursuing their own goals, needs and interests - some openly acknowledged, but almost invariably some hidden as well' (2005, p xviii).

All over the world, professional editors and reporters define their job as bringing readers and audiences the answers to 'five w's and one h' - who, what, where, when, why and how.


Another definition of propaganda is 'a partial account or representation which is not, on closer inspection, a lie' but which is 'a deliberate attempt to mislead'. To shape perceptions and manipulate cognitions, then, it relies on the omission of certain parts of the picture. It works by framing issues in such a way as to exclude or eclipse countervailing facts and perspectives. Specific pieces of evidence, for example, that, for all the 'fears' and 'suspicions', Iran was not secretly developing nuclear weapons after all.


Peace Journalism proposes that, when it comes to conflict, the answers to be found in news reports can be assessed by comparing them with the answers furnished by researchers in the field of Peace and Conflict Studies. These have been assembled under the normal safeguards of academic rigour in social science: openness about - and preparedness to justify - starting assumptions for both observation and interpretation, and peer review. Built into social science, moreover, is the principle of the participant-observer - as soon as you start to observe something, you cannot avoid changing it.


Peace and Conflict Studies is further distinguished, in terms of content, by acknowledging the potential for the creative transformation of conflicts, and by the insight most readily associated with the Australian peace researcher, John Burton, that behaviour in conflicts cannot be explained solely in terms of power - power gradients, or the struggle for power. There is an irreducible role for human needs. In all these respects, it offers accounts of relationships in conflict that journalism generally ignores - and, without which, the representations it makes are bound to be flawed, both by incompleteness and by a lack of critical self-awareness.


Journalists' six questions correspond roughly to what peace researchers call 'conflict dynamics'. According to Diana Francis, any statement of the dynamics of a conflict must identify 'its history, recent causes and internal composition - the different parties, the nature of their involvement, their perspectives, positions and motivations, and the different relationships between them in terms of power, allegiance and interest'.


Crucially, this means that any representation of a conflict which omits or occludes any of these factors is inaccurate. In the UK press study, those publications with a higher quotient of Peace Journalism, on the criteria applied, were reporting the 'Iran nuclear crisis' more accurately than those with a lower score.


This important claim to accuracy can also be made for Peace Journalism on other counts than the openness in time and space. To quote another peace researcher, John Paul Lederach:

'I have not experienced any situation of conflict, no matter how protracted or severe, from Central America to the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, where there have not been people who had a vision for peace, emerging often from their own experience of pain. Far too often, however, these same people are overlooked and disempowered either because they do not represent "official" power, whether on the side of government or the various militias, or because they are written off as biased and too personally affected by the conflict'.


Lederach writes about reconciliation in societies divided by years, even decades of war, but his remarks could equally apply to international conflicts. Johan Galtung's proposal for a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East, to repeat the Helsinki Process of the 1970s and its eventual success in bringing down the 'Iron Curtain', has been aired around the fringes of the news media by two British university researchers who make a habit of writing for newspapers - Mary Kaldor in the context of Iraq and Timothy Garton Ash in the context of Iran.


And an avowedly alternative news service, Alternet, reported on a peace proposal in the 'Iran nuclear crisis', which commended the principle adopted by Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War - 'mutual security':

'If you threaten your adversaries, they'll threaten you back. If you make your neighbors more secure, you make yourself more secure. The basis of peace is understanding the fears of others.'


According to the authors of this proposal, the US should say to Iran:

'We don't expect you to endure the nuclear double standard forever until the end of time. The NPT doesn't just impose non-proliferation obligations on you, it also imposes disarmament obligations on us. We understand that you will not forever forego nuclear weapons if we insist on forever retaining nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons won't protect you, and nuclear weapons don't protect us. We know that eventually we must abolish these abominations, or they will abolish us'.


Such visions and the people who create them - not to mention their actions to bring it about, or to alleviate the worst effects of conflict and violence - are generally absent from the dominant discourse of War Journalism, with its elite orientation and focus on 'elite peace-makers'. Peace Journalism creates space for 'people peace-makers' too - not 'either/or' but 'both/and'. In doing so, it is a better match for what is known and has been observed, both about individual conflicts and about conflict per se. It therefore has a strong claim to be more accurate in its representations.


The full-length version of this text is found in a chapter by Jake Lynch in the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, edited by Johan Galtung.


(*) Jake Lynch is the Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia. He is an experienced international reporter, previously with BBC World television news.



Associated Press, 2005. 'All options are on the table regarding Iran's nuclear aspirations', Jerusalem, August 13 (unnamed reporter).


Blair, Tony, 2005. In live interview with James Rubin, World News Tonight, London, Sky News, October 24.


Burton, John W, 1993. 'Conflict Resolution as a political philosophy', in eds Dennis Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe, Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application, Manchester and New York, Manchester University Press, pp 55-64.


Campbell, Alastair, 1999. 'Kosovo: Communication lessons for NATO, the military and the media', speech to the Royal United Services Institute, London, July 9.


Daley, Tad, Evans, Jodie and Kennedy, Mimi, 2006. 'The Peace Movement's plan for Iran', Alternet, March 6, retrieved July 12, 2006 from http://www.alternet.org/story/33062/


Francis, Diana, 2002. People, Peace and Power, London, Pluto Press.


Galtung, Johan, 1998. 'High Road, Low Road - charting the course for Peace Journalism' Track Two, Vol. 7, No. 4, Cape Town, South Africa, Centre for Conflict Resolution and Media Peace Centre, December.


Galtung, Johan, and Fischer, Dietrich, 1998. 'Towards a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East', Transcend peace column, retrieved July 12, 2006 from www.transcend.org


Garton Ash, Timothy, 2006. 'We need a European approach to supporting democracy in Iran', London, Guardian, March 9.


Kaldor, Mary, 2003. 'Regime change without war', Red Pepper, April edition.


Kavanagh, Trevor, 2005. 'Why the West is paying for going soft on Iran', Sun, October 12.


Kay, Alan, 2000. 'When Americans favor the use of force', International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp 182-190


Knightley, Philip, 2000. The First Casualty, London, Prion Books.


Lederach, John Paul, 1997. Building Peace - sustainable reconciliation in divided societies, Washington DC, United States Institute of Peace Press.


Linzer, Dafna, 2005. 'No proof found of Iran arms program', Washington Post, August 23


Liu, 2005. 'Human Security Report', retrieved July 12, 2006 from http://www.humansecurityreport.info/figures/Figure1.3.pdf


Lynch, Jake and McGoldrick, Annabel, 2005. Peace Journalism, , Stroud, UK, Hawthorn Press.


Norton-Taylor, Richard, 2005. 'As the US lowers the nuclear threshold, debate is stifled', London, Guardian, October 5.


NPT, 1970. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty text, retrieved on July 12, 2006 from US State Department website at http://www.state.gov/t/np/trty/16281.htm