Peace Journalism Revisited: Tracing the multiple tensions around a dynamic concept in the Kenyan news landscape

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandling

Abstract

Peace journalism (PJ) first emerged in the 1970s as a framework seeking to redefine the professional
ethos of conflict reporting by challenging traditional news values, such as the focus on negativity,
violence, and the elites. In contrast, peace journalism emphasises reconciliation and dialogue,
explaining the causes and consequences of conflict and giving voice to all involved parties, among
other attributes. While I see the merit in questioning some of the habitual practices in the reporting of conflict, I contend that PJ has fossilised into a set of prescriptive parameters that are somewhat out of touch with the increasingly diverse ways in which journalism is currently practised and understood. In a globalised yet diverse world, I argue that the notion of PJ continues to mutate and evolve every time it enters specific contexts and thus cannot be regarded as a one-size-fits-all approach.

Consequently, this dissertation aims to revisit peace journalism. Based on an understanding of
professional roles as discursively constructed, I trace the multiple notions of peace journalism in Kenya and how these relate to varied journalistic roles and practices. In so doing, I shed light on how notions of PJ have informed the practices of conflict reporting in the country while, simultaneously, the context has altered the understandings of what peace journalism entails. More specifically, I study the coverage of the 2017 presidential elections and terrorism from al-Shabaab in Kenyan and foreign (British and US-American) legacy newspapers. Methodologically, I propose a qualitative multi-methods approach that diverges from the focus on framing theory and quantitative content analyses that have characterised PJ-related studies to date. It combines textual analysis of 169 feature articles, 35 in-depth interviews with Kenyan and foreign reporters, editors and media critics, and participant observation in two newsrooms and with a foreign correspondent.

Findings show an evident tension between fulfilling the monitorial roles of holding the powerful to
account or taking a more interventionist approach to journalism that prioritises stability. In short,
divergent ways of understandings peace journalism among respondents impact how journalists deal with this constant ‘balancing act’. Notably, most participants equate PJ with self-censorship, a culture of restraint, and the active promotion of peace (and, in those understandings, are either for or against it). This, I argue, can be partly attributed to the particularities of Kenya’s news media history—characterised by interventionism and strong ties with the government—and the specific period in which peace journalism took root in the country, at a time when the news media was being blamed for inciting violence with the use of inflammatory language. Other journalists, however, define PJ as being responsible in the choice of language and giving voice to all parties, understandings that are more closely aligned with the original notion proposed by Johan Galtung and other scholars.

Furthermore, I have found hints of practices related to all different understandings of peace journalism across the feature articles analysed. These practices and characteristics are sometimes in harmony but, often, they sit in tension with each other. For instance, providing context and historical background in the reporting of conflict is consistent with a core attribute of peace journalism in its multiple understandings. Yet, simultaneously, centring too much on past conflict and division—some of the key narratives put forward in the coverage analysed—is also detrimental to other PJ views like promoting peace, downplaying violence, and focusing on hope. This landscape of competing notions is further complicated by the structural constraints that journalists in Kenya regularly navigate. These include interference of political and economic powers that can lead to self-censorship, ethnic identity, access to locations, information and sources, lack of resources, and internal emotions of fear, helplessness, or exhaustion. All these interconnected factors limit and enable what reporters can do in the coverage of electoral conflict and terrorism. Consequently, in an environment characterised by government influence, threats and corruption, PJ notions that are closer to the interventionist end of the spectrum are more regularly enacted by Kenyan journalists.

The multiple notions of peace journalism and how these relate to professional roles evidence a concept in a state of flux. At the same time, I claim that there is still an essence—related to values of peace, non-violence, and reconciliation—that ties the concept together. These tensions and negotiations between the permanent and the contextual give PJ its vibrance. Consequently, I redefine peace journalism as a dynamic concept that unfolds in the ceaseless tensions and negotiations between the specificities of a given context and its shared essence. How these lofty values are then understood and implemented into concrete practices varies according to the particulars of time, space, and circumstance, and it is precisely in these instances that PJ is set in motion. At its core, then, this revision of peace journalism challenges the idea that this notion should (or even could) be “the global standard for reporting conflict,” as seminal scholars Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick argued in 2010.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
Antal sider246
StatusIkke-udgivet - 2023

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