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Media Peacebuilding
2015/01/04
By : International Guild of Visual Peacemakers
International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP) is on a journey to exhibit the beauty and dignity of people in our images. We are committed to displaying common humanity and images that build bridges of peace. We hope you can learn from our example, from one another, and we in turn will draw inspiration from the entire visual peacemaking movement. Part of our desire is to see visual communication industries and media saturated with visual peacemakers who know how to use their vision, their craft, and their BIG hearts for the good of our world!

Throughout history people have fallen into the trap of making enemies with, demonizing, stereotyping, and fighting the "other." There has been a flood of conflict based on ethnic, cultural, and religious identity in the post-cold war era that has ended the lives of millions, destroyed economies, and torn apart families.

Much of this has been fueled by the growing availability of technology, especially photography and videography. While the written word carries an expectation for honesty, there is a void regarding the ethics of images due to their subjective nature. This void has opened the door for photographers to exploit people's desire to confirm their thoughts about the "other" - mobilizing innumerable people towards slander, violence, and other fear-based responses.

Since 9/11, conflicts between Muslim cultures and western cultures have been growing in intensity. There are deep misunderstandings and stereotypes that are producing widespread fear and anger. The International Guild of Visual Peacemakers was created to build bridges of peace across ethnic, cultural, and religious lines through visual communication that is both accountable to an ethical standard and created by those who authentically care about people.

Preventing violence is a necessary requirement for social progress. A conflict-centered approach may attract viewers or sell papers, but it can have a negative impact on social progress. When media professionals recognize that alternatives exist to conflict-centered journalism and that an adversarial approach is not inevitable, they are more likely to contribute to social progress.

Violent conflict has a profoundly negative impact on the planet, even when it occurs in remote places. Where there is violence, human rights are abused, lives are shattered, economic development is blocked, and the environment is devastated. Thus, preventing violence is a necessary requirement for social progress. When violent conflict looms, the media have a crucial role to play. Unfortunately, traditional journalism usually stresses conflict - and often exploits it for its entertainment value. Editors seem to work from the premise that conflict is interesting, and agreement is dull. Consequently, discordant behavior tends to be rewarded with airtime and newspaper space, while efforts to build consensus and solve problems are penalized - by being either ignored or discounted.

A conflict-centered approach may attract viewers or sell papers, but it can have a negative impact on social progress. It does not reflect what most people have learned in their individual lives: that family and business relationships are more successful when people work together.

Journalists have choices to make about what they report and how they do so. For them to publish or produce stories that lack context or intentionally inflame conflict is irresponsible.

Here are some some examples of ways media has been either part of the problem or the solution: In every conflict, media programming fits along a broad spectrum. At one extreme, there is hate media, which can incite a population toward genocide or ethnic cleansing, as Radio Mille Collines did in Rwanda in 1994, and Serbian media did during the Bosnian war during the early 1990s. At the other end of the spectrum, the press can play an active, positive role in peace building. For example, in 1977, CBS' Walter Cronkite conducted interviews with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that played a key part in making Sadat's groundbreaking trip to Jerusalem possible.

TV drama can be an effective way of positively changing attitudes. Consider "The Cosby Show," which, according to Timothy Havens of Indiana University, "changed the face of American television and set a new standard for representing African American families in non-stereotyped roles." Or take the example of the the 1977-78 Mexican telenovela, "Acompaname," which dealt with family planning issues and whose airing was accompanied by a 23 percent increase in contraceptive sales and a 33 percent jump in women enrolled in family planning.

I don't want to focus only on the problems, but rather, offer solutions for journalism: Ask different questions, so different answers emerge. The core question asked by most reporters is usually, "Where do you disagree?" The question could be, "Where do you agree?" From a journalistic perspective, both questions would seem equally valid. Describe the differences, while mentioning the commonalities. Unquestionably, good journalism probes deeply into divisions. Still, social progress is not likely to emerge until parties in conflict find ways to act on shared interests and concerns.

The attitudes of media professionals are important, and those attitudes can change. Where reporters and editors come from - both psychologically and intellectually - has a direct impact on what they produce. When they realize that positive alternatives exist and that an adversarial approach is not inevitable, they are more likely to contribute to social progress.

All types of programming can contribute to social progress. This includes talk shows, documentaries, soap opera, children's drama, and sports. Programming should be entertaining, informative, and persuasive. Positive media programming need not be boring.
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