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Peace Journalism Is Incompatible with Achieving the Journalistic Ideal of Objectivity

In the media world we observe that the framing of narratives in conflicts plays a crucial role in politics and in lives of regular people.There is a certain manipulation on the presentation of war and peace in the media.Main question is what media ought to do and what they can do.

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One of the alternatives is Peace Journalism. This paper will analyse it in the light of the journalistic ideal of objectivity.

George Orwell wrote that “history is written by the winners”, and that there is no universally accepted answer just because it is true – in each case there is a great number of incompatible answers and they struggle to be adopted (Orwell, 1944). This statement can be understood that there is no objective truth. Maybe especially when it comes to conflicts there is no objectivity. None the less, this essay will look at the objectivity as a possible practice, mentioning some scholars that oppose this view.

On one hand arguments showing that Peace Journalism is objective will be shown, and on the other hand arguments opposing this statement will be presented. As the propaganda model is essential for understanding objectivity in the journalistic practice, one section will be devoted to short analysis of Herman and Chomsky’s theory. But first definition of Peace and War Journalism will be introduced, and a notion of objectivity examined. Peace journalism vs. War Journalism Peace Journalists claim that conflicts can be exacerbated or ameliorated with the use of media.

Lynch and McGoldrick argue that a typical practice of contemporary journalists is War Journalism. According to them such way of reporting exacerbates conflicts, for that reason, they propose a revolutionary alternative to War Journalism. In order to stop violence journalists need to make innovations in the way they report conflicts. One can ask if such approach is objective, but they believe that their approach is an answer to how to be a humane observer-participant in un-humane context (McGoldrick & Lynch, 2000).

War Journalism is a practice of most journalists who focus on two sides of conflict. Usually in such reporting one side wins and the other loses, there is no space for complex relations with many parties involved. War Journalists are occupied with violence. They choose one side of the conflict to be a victim and the other to be a villain (dualism). What is more, the reports are based on official sources, and that makes them highly biased – their alternative is on the other hand not dependent on official sources, hence, it is objective.

Media according to some scholars are relying on both political and economic elites (see the Propaganda Model), however, also social and cultural factors contribute to the way conflicts are reported. Especially to the domination of war journalism have those factors contributed a lot. Universal practice is, however, non-critical reporting of official versions of events. In the eyes of public media generally seem to be more reliable than politicians. For this reason, they are often used by elites to broadcast the official messages, which are not necessarily objective.

According to the critics of War Journalism, media’s reporting is more about military leaders than the people involved in conflict. This is the main point made by Annabel McGoldrick and Jake Lynch, who argue that non-critical reporting of official sources is often rewarded by military sources. Peace Journalism on the other hand analyses conflict including balance, impartiality and truth in reporting. Again, it is therefore more objective than War Journalism. War Journalism is the dominant discourse and it tries to be an objective form of reporting conflicts.

It focuses on violent responses to conflict and undervalues non-violent ones. McGoldrick and Lynch recognise three conventions within War Journalism. Two of them have already been mentioned earlier. Those thre conventions are: a bias in favour of official sources, a bias in favour of event over process and a bias in favour of “dualism” in reporting conflicts. Because of objectivity in War Journalism, we hear little about change agents and peace-building initiatives, at least compared with official sources who take most part of conflict coverage.

How we understand conflicts is depending on choices made in newsroom. In War Journalism it is safer to stick to events and report what has taken place. That is why most common practice is to report on events and not on processes. Dualism may seem to appear to the public as common sense, it is a key part of objectivity, however, it is a key element of War Journalism as well, and therefore, Peace Journalists oppose it. Hearing both sides is in fact bad practice and can be a proof of lack of journalistic skills. In this short introduction, it is visible that at the first sight War Journalism is raditionally said to be more objective than Peace Journalism, however, Peace Journalists claim that their practice is more objective. Their new way of reporting has an important influence on the audience and their understanding of conflicts. Peace Journalists’ approach to the coverage of conflict means showing compassion and understanding. It sets people’s sights on suffering, however, emphasizes peace initiatives at the same time. It is not glorifying one side while castigating the other; it shows falsehood on both sides. In this sense it is objective.

War Journalism on the other hand, presents conflict as a battle between the good and the bad, where the result is either victory or defeat. Using non-violent perspective, explaining the background of the conflict, giving a voice to all parties should be a new practice according to the peace researchers. The link between media and military has undergone some changes, and it seems that journalists have only two choices. One is to report official statements and be part of military propaganda, for example embedded journalism, or the second choice is to become doubtful observer who struggles to explain the events that influence lives of nations.

Objectivity Objectivity is “a cornerstone of the professional ideology of journalists in liberal democracies” (Lichtenberg, 1996).

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What is problematic with objectivity is that in fact it only gives a resemblance to the real course of events. It makes an audience passive; they are being served the news without a profound analysis or explanation. Giving just both sides of the story may be a sign that a journalist has not done a proper work with the case. When defining notion of objectivity in this way, Peace Journalism would not be compatible with achieving it.

Defining objectivity is not an easy task, though. Understanding objectivity as neutrality is wrong as it is utopian ideal. For example, newspapers always need to take a standpoint when they decide what stories to feature in their editions, the same when broadcasters choose what stories to cover, whom they interview etc. Objectivity is not impartiality or fairness or balance. Objectivity is based on facts or evidence, not feelings or opinions. It requires evidence and verification more than attempt to being neutral (Sambrook, 2004). Hence, we may say that Peace Journalism can be objective.

Fundamental question one needs to ask is, if there is any such thing as “truth”. Do facts in truth prove anything? Lichtenberg writes that “our most fundamental interest in objectivity is an interest in truth” (1996, p. 227). Journalists have their biases, hence, it seems that in fact ideal of objectivity is not possible to achieve. It is impossible to include all perspectives, as well as it is impossible to reject one’s bias (Bell, 1997; Lichtenberg, 1996). Journalists need to acknowledge their unfairness, so that they can fight it and realize what the accepted narratives are.

However, if there is possible bias, it means that there should be unbias possible as well. To deny that objectivity is possible would mean that there is any way of getting at the truth (Lichtenberg, 1996). Propaganda model Problem with objectivity is that a notion of objectivity favours official statements and viewpoints of governments and powerful players, like corporations. Before further analysing of Peace Journalism in terms of objectivity, it is crucial to introduce the conceptual framework, which shows how media institutions work nowadays.

Christiane Amanpour claims that media are getting too close to show business (1996). This claim finds confirmation in the theory of Herman and Chomsky. Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model of the media consists of a system where the government and dominant players are able to broadcast their message to the public and control what is becoming a news. This is possible in an American media landscape, because of money and power, according to the two scholars. The factors of money and power filter the news – depending if the news is appropriate for the media they can get to the public; one that is opposing is left aside.

In Herman and Chomsky’s model there is no space for possibility of objectivity, though. In Manufacturing Consent they mention “worthy” and “unworthy” victims. With “worthy victims” they mean casualties that are harmed in enemy state, there is much coverage of “worthy victims”, because their suffering is crucial for US case. Those that are abused, but not mentioned in media coverage are “unworthy victims”. Criterion of worthy/unworthy victims is one of the examples how media report conflicts. Media are subordinated to political as well as economic powers, according to the Propaganda Model.

Herman and Chomsky’s theory assumes that there are five filters that make link between governing powers and media. First one is the nature of media ownership, second, advertising and its influence on media, third is the fact that media rely on the governmental, business and involved partial sources (for example, so called “experts”), fourth factor is what they call fear of flak – a constant pressure from media institutions that you as a broadcaster may be criticised, and last factor is national religion or anti-communism, later re-phrased into ideological convergence – war on terror (Herman & Chomsky, 1988).

This theory is confirmed by many practitioners. Martin Bell claims that screens are the filters. The programme editors seem to know how it is being a war correspondent, and they think that they have been there (Bell, 1997). Conflict coverage is shaped according to their view or perception of reality. It is therefore not objective. Peace Journalism vs. Objectivity Peace Journalism in a way can be called journalism of attachment; it disregards objectivity to some extent. In journalism of attachment media are embedded in international affairs. They play a part in reproducing inequalities between nations.

But maybe journalism does not have to be objective? The statement that the news holds a mirror up to nature is untrue, because mirror does not affect the image, it does not change what it reflects, while television image does (Bell, 1997). This means that the media are powerful and have a direct effect, this effect can be called CNN effect, BBC effect or Al-Jazeera effect. Irrespectively of name, this effect assumes that new types of broadcasting are capable of changing policies. News is not only global/international, but also immediate or live, and most importantly continuous.

US ambassador for UN said that CNN should become the 16th member of the UN Security Council (Amanpour, 1996). Seeing the sea of blood on the front pages and in TV news reports increases the pressure on political elites to do something about the conflict, as seen in case of for example Bosnia or Rwanda. Amanpour compares the role and influence of media on the society to a brain surgery – it is about feeding the brains. However, such statement does not take into account that media are controlled by professional values and organizational instructions that do not give journalists so much freedom to influence the masses to full extent.

Interestingly, it is mostly politicians that claim that CNN effect has a huge influence of policy-making. They believe there is a strong CNN effect, therefore, they act as if it did. Journalists on the other hand have mixed opinions. The issue of objectivity is complex. According to Sambrook objective approach is facts, evidence, verification, independence and transparency (2004), hence, peace journalism is incompatible with achieving objectivity, because it is people-oriented, truth-oriented and solution-oriented, it may be therefore selective in the coverage.

War Journalism is biased in that way that it favours violence, Peace Journalism on the other hand avoids bias, because it does not give so much importance to violence or violent parties in conflicts. Then, to some extent it is possible to say that Peace Journalism is compatible with achieving the journalistic ideal of objectivity. As of appealing to its audience, Peace Journalism promotes peace and social justice, elements that are values in the modern society. Interesting change in the reporting that has happened last decades is the fact that the cycle of news is 24 hour long, and the speed is crucial when it comes to breaking stories.

Because of that it is impossible to devote time to report events objectively. Would that mean that no journalism can be in fact objective? In general Peace Journalism is more objective than War Journalism. It focuses on positive developments in peace-making and peace-building initiatives. It includes both elites and non-elites. Peace Journalism is objective, because it is focused on exposing untruths on all sides. Amanpour says that objectivity in war is important. The practice should give all sides a fair hearing, but it does not mean that journalists should treat all sides equally.

Objectivity must go together with morality. Conclusions George Orwell in his essay “Historical truth” from 1944 makes an interesting point that Encyclopaedia Britannica could collect information on the campaigns during The First World War also from German sources, because data like casualty figures was neutral and unbiased. At the time when the essay was published Orwell claims that, such practice would not be possible, because Nazi and non-Nazi versions of World War II were so different from one another (Orwell, 1944).

However, how Orwell puts it “[t]here is some hope (…) that the liberal habit of mind, which thinks of truth as something outside yourself, something to be discovered, and not as something you can make up as you go along, will survive”. Martin Bell in TV news: How far should we go? wished to be called a Peace Correspondent, however, according to the reporter unfortunately there is no such thing, like Peace Correspondent. Bell writes that sometimes it seemed to him that as a humankind we learned nothing and forgotten everything (Bell, 1997).

He claims that although there is a new element – television – we are not learning much from conflicts and still are revisiting history. Yet, the way of reporting wars has changed. First of all, there are TV and satellite dishes, a technological factor. Second change is a shift of approach. Just like communication technology, people’s attitudes also have changed. Before it was objective and necessary for journalists to stay distanced and detached, nowadays the practice common in media is what Bell calls bystanders’ journalism. It is concerned with circumstances of conflict more than with people.

But for Bell objectivity is a slogan, an illusion impossible to achieve. He says: “[w]hen I report from the war zones, or anywhere else, I do so with all the fairness and impartiality I can muster, and a scrupulous attention to the facts, but using my eyes and ears and mind and accumulated experience, which are surely the very essence of the subjective. ” Journalism of attachments is a journalism that cares and knows, as Bell puts it. It assumes that journalists are part of the world, so they can be involved in the events they report. The journalist being a neutral observer and witness is a myth (Bell, 1997).

Does it mean that Peace Journalists are not objective then? Even screens are the filters. The programme editors seem to know how it was being war correspondent, and they think that they have been there. It is a time to be passionate and a time to be dispassionate. It is simply a matter of common sense (Bell, 1997). Then, it can be said that Peace Journalism does not necessarily mean subjective reporting. Peace Journalists are not selective in their reporting, so although it is questionable if it can be called objectivity, Peace Journalism to high extent is compatible with achieving the journalistic ideal of objectivity.

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