Bearing witness to events affects the course of conflict
Arnab Goswami, chief editor of India’s English-news network Times Now, discusses the role of media in conflict resolution during the World Peace Symposium in Birmingham, England. Rotary Images/Monika Lozinska-Lee
During a plenary session addressing the media's perspective on challenges to peace-building, held 19 June as part of the two-day Rotary World Peace Symposium in Birmingham, England, a media panel talked about how news coverage seems to affect peace and conflict work.
"The media have a role to play in conflict resolution by bearing witness," said Kira Kay, an independent U.S. journalist with the Bureau for International Reporting who has worked in conflict zones including Aceh, Indonesia, and Darfur, Sudan. She said the media could be viewed as a partner in conflict resolution and described the "observer effect" -- how during a conflict, perpetrators of violence and corrupt governments are less likely to act when being closely watched by the media. "We create a record that doesn't go away," said Kay.
The media also face enormous challenges. With the worldwide economic downturn, foreign bureaus of international news agencies are closing, forcing broadcasters to reduce coverage of worldwide events. The result: Journalists who could explain the dynamics and causes of conflict are not on the ground, and the public's right to know is not well served, Kay said.
Arnab Goswami, chief editor of India's English-news network Times Now, which broadcast three days of live coverage of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, used the incident as a case history of how media coverage shapes government response. Goswami said that in India and Pakistan, pressure from the media influenced how both countries' governments handled the crisis.
Goswami advocated a global perspective for the decision makers in the media. "The attacks weren't just an Indian story. When we look at conflict, we often look at it as someone else's conflict," he said.
Past RI President Rajendra K. Saboo encouraged attendees to forge stronger ties with the media to help get the good news out about Rotary's contributions. In addition, he suggested that media professionals apply to the certificate program at Chulalongkorn University, home to one of the Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution. The program has already trained five journalists and several other professionals who regularly work with the media in peace and conflict resolution.