Module JG300

Peace Journalism

Module author

Tanni Haas

City University of New York

Learning objectives

After studying this module, you will be able to:

  • Define peace journalism and explain this journalistic genre;
  • Give an overview of the historic development of the genre, including key persons, such as Johan Galtung, who established it;
  • Reflect peace journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Peace Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that peace journalism is important zu know

"Versus" is a dangerous word. It erects bars, writes ballots, draws lines, draws blood. Too often, major sociopolitical issues of the world – Syrian refugees on the border of Turkey or cigarette butts on the beaches of North Carolina – are portrayed as dichotomies. One giant faces off against the other. Such bellicose language and perspectives may incite further violence and spiraling negativity.

So say peace journalists, those who believe in a simple criterion: reconciliation. Mainstream journalism is predisposed to target and amplify violence and polarities, they say. Peace journalists seek to understand and resolve conflicts, not magnify them in print or in voice for revenue dollars.

Peace journalism, also known as conflict solution journalism or constructive conflict journalism, aims to change how the media covers conflicts. It is the antagonist to war journalism, which has these three traits:

  1. War journalism focuses primarily on physical violence and effects.
  2. War journalism emphasizes differences rather than similarities.
  3. War journalism covers the present, the here and now, with little emphasis on causes and outcomes.

The sensationalist nature of war journalism promotes a zero-sum mentality: For one party to win, the other must lose.

Peace journalism aims to correct these prejudices. In their 2005 article, "Peace Journalism," authors J. Lynch and A. McGoldrick coined the standard operating definition of the phrase: "when editors and reporters make choices – of what to report, and how to report it – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict."

What are the precepts of peace journalism?

Aforesaid Associate Professor Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at the University of Sydney, explains that peace journalism has five basic principles:

  1. Exploring the backgrounds and contexts of conflict of all the sides involved.
  2. Giving voice to all rival parties.
  3. Offering creative ideas for conflict resolution and peacekeeping.
  4. Exposing the cover-ups, lies, excesses and violence committed by all culprits.
  5. Following up with personal peace stories and post-war developments.

Peace journalists understand that "objective journalism" has always been a utopian vision. In reality, reporters and editors must select and omit valuable facts, thereby always choosing a subjective perspective. Rather than ducking responsibility, peace journalists wield this fact to present the perspectives of all related parties. As James 1:19 instructs, "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger."

Who developed the idea of peace journalism?

The godfather of peace journalism theory is Johan Galtung. Born 1930 in Oslo, the capital city of Norway, Galtung spent years of his childhood under an invasive Nazi government. At the age of 12, he watched his father hauled away. By the time the Germans had departed Norway, Galtung had become a dedicated peace mediator. After spending 12 months in the military, an obligatory service for all Norwegian males, Galtung insisted his remaining six months be committed to peace-promoting activities. In response, he spent six months in prison.

In 1959, Galtung founded the Peace Research Institute in his hometown. Ten years later he was appointed the first Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Oslo.

The recipient of nine honorary doctorates and two of his own, Galtung has published well over 1,000 research articles. The work is never-ending, for as he says in reference to the Gospel of Luke, "Peace is something you make with your adversaries, not with your friends."

Another of peace journalism's most staunch defenders is Jake Lynch, prolific author and Director of CPAS at the University of Sydney. Lynch spent much of his career as a news correspondent and later as an on-air news anchor for BBC World TV. He has been actively involved in the peace journalism movement since 1999 and currently conducts professional seminars and private research.

Certainly not one of peace journalism's most ardent supporters, but perhaps one of its most influential people, is Valérie Bemeriki. Although born 1955 in Rutshuru, Democractic Republic of Congo, Bemeriki called Rwanda home. She was a popular radio presenter and journalist working for Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines in 1993-1994. Her hostile and racist commentary helped incite the genocidal slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans during the spring and early summer of 1994. A Gacaca court sentenced her to life imprisonment in 2009.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Why is peace journalism relevant to modern journalism?

In The Thirteenth Tale, author Diane Setterfield wrote, "There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."

Peace journalism wields the power of words to resolve conflict. Consider Uganda, neighbor to Rwanda and home to much savagery of its own. The Uganda Media Development Foundation (UMDF) works to instill the precepts of peace journalism in radio hosts and news reporters across the country. Their successful efforts have motivated them to try a similar tactic in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. UMDF Director James Kigozi said, "UMDF is trying to promote news programs that are helpful to the community … we bring both sides of the conflict every day to hold constructive debates on the radio, instead of fighting in the street."

Rather than a "just the facts" approach, peace journalists investigate all sides of a conflict, identify similarities, and critique every side as hard as any other. In a world of growing communication and therefore growing conflict, peace journalism is a necessary mediator. Already professionals are adopting its precepts in Uganda, in Norway, in the United States and in Turkey. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."