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A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict

RISJ Admin

Contributing Author

Tusha Mittal writes:Given that "the media is often the number one image former," do journalists think about how their reporting influences public perception? What are the dominant images the media creates and should they matter to journalists? Raising these questions, Jake Lynch argued that the media needs to pay more attention to the "implicit content" of news. This is relevant Lynch believes because "the way a problem is presented to you influences how you think it can be treated."
He urged his audience to consider the conventions that shape news trends and distinguished between two kinds of reporting: War Journalism and Peace Journalism. Outlining the key traits of War Journalism, Lynch described it as "violence oriented, victory oriented, and elite oriented." More news worthiness is ascribed to violent acts, to official sources, and to binary resolutions that involves either victory or defeat. This ends up advocating the simplistic distinctions of 'good' and 'evil', demonising the 'other' and leaving no room for a greyer, more nuanced reality. The story is pitched as a "zero-sum game" or a sports match between two primary stakeholders. The implication: as one moves toward victory, the other must naturally move toward defeat. A classic example, according to Lynch, is a Newsweek magazine cover with the faces of George Bush and Saddam Hussein facing each other, as arch personal rivals. The title reads: Who will win?
This polarised framing, Lynch argued, leads to a skewed perception by adversely influencing two groups: first, the public, the consumers of war journalism. "They become more receptive to conflict and the non-violent response is never considered salient," Lynch said. Because war is framed as a means to victory, the public begin to support its continuation or escalation. The second group are the actors within a conflict. Citing examples from the Iraq war and the NATO operation in Libya, Lynch said that the stakeholders in a story begin to believe that "the only way to avoid being seen to lose is to win." This can impact political choices. Any comprised or peaceful resolution that does not crown them a clear winner becomes less coveted.
In contrast, Lynch believes the practice of peace journalism creates a climate of greater empathy, a deeper understanding of the real issues and thereby facilitates the possibility of peace. It is "people-oriented" and "solution-oriented", exploring background and context, presenting the views of multiple stakeholders as opposed to two main rival parties, and highlighting creative ideas for peaceful resolution.
What then is the impact of this differing reportage on the viewer? To test this, Lynch and his partner Annabel McGoldrick set up research experiments in several countries.  Using the same stories, they created two separate news bulletins: the war bulletin and the peace bulletin. Two separate focus groups watched these bulletins and their responses were coded and measured.
During the seminar, two sample clips from the Australian branch of the study were shown. The story focused on how Australians should respond to claims from asylum seekers. In the war journalism clip the asylum seekers are referred to as "boat people", causing "sudden pressure on the system". The sources are all official and voice of the asylum seeker is missing. In the peace bulletin, we hear the back story of an asylum seeker in his own words and are told that he is "fleeing a genuine fear of persecution". Sharing results from earlier focus groups, Lynch said the viewers of the war framework reported "more hopelessness, a higher increase in revulsion, contempt and scorn for asylum seekers," preferring a punitive security response to address the problem. In contrast, viewers of the second peace format responded with more empathy, diagnosing the problem in structural terms, and calling for a more long-run systemic response. Concluding, Lynch argued that peace journalism "does make a difference to people."