The CCRJ conference, Peace or Patriotism, held in Belfast on February 11th-13th 2004, brought together journalists from conflict zones stretching from the South Pacific to the Caribbean, to share their experiences in reporting the strife that has engulfed their communities.
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Scroll down for articles, edited transcripts, commentary related to the CCRJ Conference, Peace or Patriotism, held in Belfast on February 11th-13th 2004. The following material forms the basis for a book on the conference currently being edited by Barry Lowe, Stephen Desmond and Ronan Lynch.
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PICTURES OF THE CONFERENCE
REVIEW OF CCRJ CONFERENCE: PEACE OR PATRIOTISM? JOURNALISTS AND CONFLICT
THE MEDIA, TERRORISM AND NORTHERN IRELAND: CHANGING FRAMEWORKS, CHANGING IMAGES by Greg McLaughlin and Stephen Baker
MARTIN BELL: AN INTERVIEW by Barry Lowe
MONICA MCWILLIAMS: AN INTERVIEW by Stephen Desmond
NIGERIA’S ETHNO-RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS IN PERSPECTIVE By Sani Musa
THE CYPRUS PROBLEM By Hassan Hasturer
WAR ON THE STREETS OF KINGSTON JAMAICA By Karyl Walker
THE CONFLICT OVER KASHMIR By Sudha Ramachandran
FIJI'S CONFLICTS By Reggie Dutt
ZIMBABWE By Blessing Ruzengwe
The London College of Music & Media’s grasp on the humanities sometimes leads its researchers to question not merely what is ‘human’?, but also what is ‘humane’? This was the focus of an impressive and timely conference event convened recently by CCRJ Executive Director Barry Lowe, (also of LCMM’s Media Studies Department). Drawing upon his own global experience in journalism, Barry conceived this event as a meeting point for men and women braving a notoriously arduous profession under many of the world’s most repressive régimes or in its most disturbed areas. The event embraced Indian and Pakistani conflict over Kashmir, dictatorship in Zimbabwe, violent crime and poverty in Jamaica, ethnic and territorial division in Cyprus, Guyana and Fiji, strife in Nigeria between Muslims and Christians, armed neutrality and recent civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the continuing troubles in Northern Ireland itself.
What to the external eye might seem a recipe for collective breast-beating and helplessness produced instead a deeply moving, harrowing but inspiring experience, in which one delegate after another spoke with modesty, restraint and an almost unnerving composure of experiences and atrocities frequently beyond the full comprehension of lesser mortals. All, however, radiated an undimmed commitment to pursuing the causes of truth, justice, equity and objective fairness in reporting, betraying the depth of their own sacrifices without personal bitterness or rancour. Some, such as Sani Musa from Abuja, Nigeria, demonstrated also a highly impressive intellectual command of their subject matter. Sani Musa traced the complex social and political strands of his nation’s history from the mid-nineteenth century, through the annexation of Lagos by Britain in 1861, the establishment of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, the formation of North, East and West regions in 1939 and the Federation’s evolution into a Republic on 1 October, 1963. ‘Primordial sentiments play a big part in the struggle for power’, Sani told his audience -a truth confirmed repeatedly throughout the conference. Probing deeper, he described how ostensible religious divisions were often a mere façade dissembling narrow economic and financial rivalries. This was played upon by political leaders to divert attention from issues of national development. Whoever controlled federal g o v e r n m e n t controlled also the country’s vast mineral wealth (it is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer), where key players were the multinational c o m p a n i e s .No foreign government, he said, remained indifferent to happenings in Nigeria. At the same time, the Niger Delta crisis had shown how oil companies may degrade the environment without allowing any economic benefit or recompense to percolate to the local population, while corruption and indiscipline in a linguistically regionalised society had seen the rise of mercenary gangs and intimidation.
Disturbingly but perhaps predictably, some of Sani Musa’s themes resonated with familiarity from other conlicts which have been more closely observed by British press and society. Bringing Bosnia immediately to mind, he spoke of religious intolerance suddenly drawing enmity to the surface of old friendships which might have existed across ethno-religious dividing lines for years. In many respects his words were both chilling and depressing: a Christian mission in 1991, headed by an invited German clergyman, generated posters bearing the word ‘crusade’. Interpreting this in a strictly historical light as an actual call to war on Islam, Muslims responded with an uprising in which riots left five hundred civilians dead. Later, full Sharia (Islamic law) increased ethnic divisions again, with the Muslim population agitating for a state of its own. Twenty-nine of Nigeria’s forty-three years as an independent nation have been spent under military dictatorship, and violent expression of differences remains endemic as a symptom of democracy’s failure to gain a hold. While factions quarrel, leaders take the opportunity to embezzle public funds. All the speakers were invited to conclude with an answer to the question posed in the conference’s title. Interestingly, there was some variety in the shades of opinion expressed. Sani Musa advocated ‘peace first, not patriotism: otherwise you do not have the country to be patriotic about’ In the face of obvious temptations to despair, this remarkable man delivered his humane but penetrating analysis quietly and with an unbroken and sweet-natured smile, finally upholding the ethical journalist’s duty to present without bias all facts considered to be true. Soberly suited for his presentation, Sani brightened a grey Belfast on the morrow by appearing resplendent in his national dress.
Karyl Walker, a crime reporter for the Jamaica Observer in Kingston, stunned his audience into silence with p h o t o g r a p h i c evidence of ‘what I see every day’, -his cheery admonition to ‘brace yourselves’ having little effect. He spoke of political tribalism (with politicians aiding the flow of arms into poor, ghetto-ised communities), cocaine and a ‘deportee’ culture which saw c ri m i n a l i s a t i o n acting upon native Jamaicans in America, before they were repatriated to take their chances unsupported in a country they no longer remembered. ‘The gun has replaced civic authorities at community level’, we were told. Gallows humour surfaced often, as in the comment that the tourist industry and Jamaican airline shared their ownership with much of the press; accordingly Jamaica’s staggering murder rate is airbrushed from the front pages, in order not to confront and deter tourists even as they jet in.
Space is lacking in which to do justice to the other speakers. Miranda de la Rose spoke eloquently of the Indo-African division in her native Guyana and the marginalisation of Amerindians (of whom she is one), echoing Musa when she said that violence closes the ranks of ethnic groups, engendering a ‘wall mentality’ (a potent phrase in Belfast, too) and pulling friends apart, back into their own ethnic ‘fold’. The ‘deportee’ problem, moreover, was much as in Jamaica. Poignantly, she related how one of her own children had advocated a ban on mixed-race marriages because their segregating effect had touched her at first hand. Reggie Dutt painted a similar scenario in Fiji. A continual refrain throughout the conference came from speakers’ observations of the ‘divide and rule’ policy of earlier British imperialism, with Britain emerging in a progressively ugly and disturbing light.
From Zimbabwe, but living in the U.K. since last May, the wo n d e r fu l l y -n a me d Blessing Ruzengwe spoke unsurprisingly of electoral intimidation and violence, vote rigging and laws promulgated specifically in order to suppress dissent within the media. Zimbabwe’s two daily and four weekly newspapers were run by the state; likewise its four radio stations. Blessing encapsulated their modus operandi as ‘See no evil, hear no evil -but rubbish the opposition’. Asked why heroic condemnation of the Mugabe régime by the Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, seemed to go unpunished except by threats, Blessing stated his belief that a Catholic clergyman (and former friend of the President) was privately seen by government as a meaningless ‘sideshow’ in political terms whereas the courageous opposition of Morgan Tsvangirai drew retribution purely because he presumed to confront President Mugabe on common ground, qua politician in his own right, and thus presented a different order of threat. In addition, at least forty-four journalists had been arrested in the past two years. The government would sometimes close dissenting newspapers and then on a technicality deny journalists’ right to re-register, since the paper to which they were attached ‘did not exist’.
Most movingly of all, Kelvin Lewis from Sierra Leone closed his extraordinary talk on the civil war in Liberia and his home country with some ‘anecdotal background’. With an impassive stoicism palpably masking the deepest of human feelings, quietly he recounted how his entire family had been lined up to be shot against the wall of his own home. Moments from death, they were saved when a chance passer-by recognised the soldier in charge as a school acquaintance, and was able to deflect him from his purpose with a deliberately casual appeal to the ‘old boy network’.
The conference hosted also a remarkable lecture on Northern Ireland by Greg McLaughlin and Steve Baker of the University of Ulster. In the wake of the Hutton Report, particular fascination arose here from the murky light in which central British government emerged through its attempts to manipulate media coverage of I.R.A. members in the nineteen-eighties. Determined that these figures should abide in the public mind as masked, unthinking and dehumanised, forever lurking in shadowy alleyways, in response to the Enniskillen bomb of 1987 the government required them to be shown in silhouette, with voice-overs read by actors (thus also, not ‘live’, and subject to editing). A demand was made for the dismissal of one such actor who had become ‘too adept’ at the voice of Gerry Adams, since viewers were now felt to accept the voice as Adams’s own and the desired effect of interposing an Ersatz ‘cardboard’ identity was lost. The journalist Peter Taylor was shown on film commenting (in 1990) that by this approach to Sinn Fein and the I.R.A.‘you castrate intellectually and philosophically what they are saying’. Farcically, however, in one interview the only element to end up on the cutting room floor was footage of a delegate at talks who complained of shrinking sausage rolls. As the I.R.A.’s
‘food person’, he was deemed to have spoken in an official capacity for a terrorist organisation. Such moments could have emanated straight from the pages of Kundera. The way in which the coflict had subtly but almost continuously altered since the late nineteen-sixties was captured authoritatively and with exemplary even-handedness. Taylor’s complaint did not stop him from interviewing terror group members aggressively against a black background and using words such as ‘depravity’ to describe their actions. The media portrayed them as mindless psychopaths, -easier and more ‘effective’ than the notion that they are often articulate and intelligent family men whose motivations demand more intellectual effort in response, whatever one’s moral ‘gut reaction’. As contexts and relationships shift, so too does media strategy, carrying always the risk that it will serve only to mystify a weary public (a likelihood much increased by the profusion of partisan publications produced by activists, not professional journalists). Factional division is rife within Sinn Fein itself, we were told, with Gerry Adams ‘just one individual within republicanism’. Steve Baker emphasised the failure of the press ever to expound these divisions satisfactorily. The question was bedevilled by terminology, sometimes of a new and significantly romanticising kind: Gerry Adams had said that he knew the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, and wouldn’t presume to tell Americans that George Washington was not a freedom fighter, so..? The arguable hypocrisy of American war on ‘terrorism’ was scrutinised, as was the B.B.C. (described as under fire from all sides, but able generally to take this as an indicator that it must be doing something right!). Obliquely addressing the title question, Steve Baker commented that propaganda would not deliver peace: ‘everybody says, oh, it’s just propaganda’.
Why public opinion remains so fragile in consensus, when the media possess so much power to influence it for the good, remained an open question. As in all other contexts during the conference, a penetrating and illuminating discussion of the meaning of ‘objectivity’ ensued. This remarkable event was opened with a keynote address by the eminent journalist, Martin Bell. In its latter stages it divided into working groups, from which were collated drafts of a new ‘code of good practice’ document regarding the protection of international journalists within reason and their free access to front lines of coflict. Ministers in the countries represented at Belfast will now be formally requested to ratify the requirements set out in print. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth will later deliver this personally to the various information ministries concerned. In addition, all delegates were individually interviewed on camera during the conference under the aegis of the B.B.C. and Ulster Television, and a programme arising from the event is to be made. LCMM takes deep pride in an event from which emerges so much force for good, even though for journalists that good resides in the making of a morally imperative attempt, not in a lively hope of success. The solidarity so clearly derived by these courageous and resilient journalists from mutual company and experience was profoundly moving to witness, as were their solicitude for each other and their testimony to an indomitable and corrective good in the human spirit.
To the Centre for Conflict Resolution Journalism and Barry Lowe LCMM extends its congratulations and thanks for conceiving and stage-managing an event of such global relevance, intellectual stimulus and human value. The conference was attended by LCMM’s Head of Media, Dr Jeremy Strong, and its Head of Research Development, Francis Pott, as well as Stephen Desmond from its Media Department. Thanks are due to Clara Burke, Information, Communication and Events Officer at the School of Education, Unesco Centre, University of Ulster; also to the University of Ulster more widely for its assistance and collaboration, opening the way for possible further joint initiatives in the future. LCMM acknowledges with gratitude the generosity of the Department for International Development, whose extensive funding (secured through the energy and vision of Barry Lowe) enabled the conference to take place in a part of the world highly relevant to its central concerns.
A delegate at the conference wrote a piece about it upon his return to Cyprus. As a result the British High Commission there has approached Barry Lowe with a suggestion that he facilitate a seminar in Cyprus, examining how journalists on both sides of the infamous Green Line can work together to support the reunification process. Discussion is already beginning at LCMM on the potential for evolution of a doctoral research trend in this area, though with reference to world, not merely Cypriot affairs.
This chapter looks at the various interpretive frameworks used in news coverage of the Northern Ireland, from conflict to peace process. It considers the government’s role in helping to shape those interpretative frameworks and recalls incidents of direct and indirect government influence over the news agenda. It also refers to recent research that has looked beyond the mainstream media to the publications of loyalist and republican groups that are rarely reported in the mainstream. Although these are generally ignored or dismissed as extreme or simply irrelevant, they sometimes provide insight into the political mood or thinking of conflicting communities at grass roots level. The chapter ends with a note on the first and, so far, only journalist to be killed reporting in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland conflict began in 1968 and has claimed over 3,500 lives. It has gone through a number of different phases and has been reported by the media within shifting interpretive frameworks or themes, from civil rights to terrorist war and then to peace process.
When civil rights campaigners took to the streets in 1968, demanding equality from a hostile unionist establishment, their marches were reported in much the same vein as similar protests elsewhere in the world that year, especially those for black civil rights in the US. The spectacle of armed police lashing out with batons at unarmed protesters in Derry on 5 October was broadcast around the world and only seemed to confirm that impression in the minds of journalists and commentators. However, as street confrontations escalated throughout the North, and took on a sectarian character, especially in Belfast, reporters began to revise the story. The BBC correspondent, Martin Bell, recalls how ‘it seemed at the time to be part of this world-wide movement but I think this…misled us in a way because there was something very deep and very historical going on…and we would learn very soon that the power structure in Northern Ireland would not remain as it was, and the relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom would not remain as it was’, (1) However deep and historical these events may have been, the media soon reduced the story to a matter of news value. As Roy Greenslade remembers it, ‘You got these ridiculous headlines – “50 foot flames!, 60 foot flames!, I say it’s bad today old boy, 80 foot flames!”. It was as meaningless and apparently as temporary as that’. (2)
The theme of civil rights quickly gave way to one of communal, sectarian strife and, as the first British troops arrived in Belfast and Derry in 1969, the media began to prefer the official, British version of events. Their coverage filtered out the historical complexities to construct a simple, politically useful narrative of ‘two tribes’ at war, nationalists versus unionists, Protestants versus catholics, with the British as honest brokers. The ‘two tribes’ paradigm, then, became one of the most enduring and restrictive interpretations of the conflict. However, the emergence of the IRA provided another compelling dimension to the media story.
Terrorism and the Propaganda War
The Provisional IRA formed in 1969 as an armed militia with the initial aim of defending nationalist communities against loyalist pogroms. Ultimately, though, it represented a challenge to the legitimacy of Northern Ireland as a viable state and the presence of British troops on the streets. Its emergence was also a challenge to British journalism and its much-vaunted principles of fairness and objectivity because the conflict was to be characterised as much by propaganda as by violence. Both sides in the newly configured conflict - the state and the IRA - had a vital interest in trying to manipulate the media. Other authors look in much more detail at the nature of the propaganda war and the role of the media in the ‘battle for hearts and minds’ (Curtis, 1998; Miller, 1994) but we only have space here to highlight some key features.
It could not have been a surprise to any observer that the British media would take a patriotic stance in reporting terrorist attacks on the British army in Northern Ireland, or bombing campaigns in British cities. A point much less appreciated was the extent and nature of British counter-terror propaganda throughout the conflict but especially in the 1970s and 1980s, and the way in which the media reproduced much of it without even paying lip service to journalistic scepticism. Military propagandists working from Army HQ in Lisburn now recall with wry amusement how easy it was to cultivate reliable journalists who would happily write down everything they were told without question, no matter how unlikely or bizarre it may have seemed. For example, the military had gathered intelligence that, in order to avoid detection at the security barrier that encircled Belfast city centre, the IRA was using women volunteers to smuggle explosives in their underwear. To counter this tactic, they planted the ‘exploding knickers’ story, in which ‘experts’ claimed that the nylon fabric in the underwear generated a static charge that could set off the explosives prematurely. Routine corroboration with independent, scientific sources would have revealed this to be improbable, yet key sections of the media ran the story without question. (3)
For its part, the less well-resourced IRA subscribed to the propaganda of the deed, believing with some justification, that the media and the political establishment paid more attention to one bomb on the ‘mainland’ than ten in Northern Ireland. Yet some of their most effective propaganda triumphs were not of their own making but handed to them on a plate by the British state. Many of these came in the 1980s (e.g. the hunger strikes and the election of Bobby Sands to Westminster), all courtesy of Margaret Thatcher and her implacable opposition to terrorism.
However intense and sustained its propaganda campaign may have been in the 1970s, the British state rarely resorted to direct censorship of the media during the conflict, preferring instead to encourage self-censorship by persuasion or intimidation (Curtis, 1996; Miller, 1994). However, the election of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in 1979 heralded a much more interventionist approach. Thatcher’s instinctive antipathy to the BBC, and its privileged public service position, extended to its coverage of Northern Ireland, the Falklands War in 1981, and other controversies involving state security and intelligence such as the Zircon affair.
One of the most controversial episodes was her attempt in 1985 to stop the broadcast of a programme in the BBC’s Real Lives documentary strand. ‘At the Edge of the Union’ went to Derry and contrasted the personal lives of two men on each side of the political divide: Martin McGuiness, thought by many to be commander-in-chief of the IRA, and Gregory Campbell, a loyalist politician with Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The principal objection to the programme was the portrayal of McGuinness, at home with his family. The Conservative government by-passed the normal referral-upwards system in place at the BBC and went straight to the Board of Governors, an action that totally undermined the constitutional independence of the BBC. The Home Office asked the Governors to look at the programme and have it banned from broadcast. After a bitter internal struggle with Director General, Alasdair Milne, and his management team, the Governors allowed the programme to go out as scheduled but only after being re-cut with images of IRA violence. This, it was thought, would counter the overly sympathetic presentation of McGuinness.
In a crucial sense, the Real Lives controversy was a prelude to the introduction in 1988 of the Broadcasting Ban, marking a new low for media independence and freedom in Britain. It was aimed, in the words of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, to deny terrorists ‘the oxygen of publicity’ in the wake of the IRA’s bomb in Enniskillen in 1987. She also had in mind the Real Lives controversy and the media exposure given to the hijackers of the TWA flight in the Middle East (1985). The Ban applied to all television output – factual and fictional - and prohibited the direct broadcast of the voices of terrorists and their political allies, or any one expressing sympathy for or understanding of terrorism. In practice, this meant dubbing or subtitling interview responses and direct statements from proscribed individuals, which put considerable pressure on the production process. Eventually, reporters and producers preferred to do without interviews where possible. As shown by Henderson et al (1990), this had its most drastic effect on Sinn Fein, whose television appearances fell dramatically at a time when Gerry Adams was making the argument within republicanism for a political strategy. Many of Britain’s most prominent broadcast journalists were appalled and embarrassed by the Ban but, in general, the British media put up rather brief and ineffectual resistance to its implementation.
In its six-year life, the Broadcasting Ban became an almost naturalised feature of British TV coverage of Northern Ireland but inconsistencies in how it was applied gave rise to a series of controversies. For example, in 1990, the former civil rights campaigner and MP, Bernadette Devlin McAlliskey, took part in a recorded-as-live BBC television debate on political violence, ‘Killing for a Cause’. Asked if she supported the IRA, she replied that while she did not support their military campaign, she could understand their political motivation. On that basis, the producers applied the provisions of the Ban and subtitled her words (Curtis, 1996). Their decision caused considerable controversy at the time and may seem of mere historical interest now. However, under the Blair government’s new anti-terror legislation, ‘understanding’ terrorist actions and motivations in spoken or printed word could be construed as ‘glorification of terrorism’ and liable to prosecution.
However, some media producers found ways to exploit various loopholes in the Ban. The BBC documentary, Inside the Maze (1991), boasted unprecedented access to republican and loyalist prisoners in Northern Ireland’s biggest prison. The producer, Peter Taylor, was able to circumvent the ban as long as he interviewed prisoners as private individuals. Thus he was able to gain unique insight into the political motivation and outlook of some prominent paramilitaries without having to ‘emasculate’ the content by conforming to the Ban. However, he did have to dub the voice of any prisoner speaking in an official capacity, including that of the IRA ‘food spokesperson’ as he was filmed discussing with prison officers the size and quality of the prison sausage rolls. (4)
The peace process and the Good Friday Agreement
The Broadcast Ban was lifted in 1994 after the first IRA ceasefire and in the context of the developing peace process. The new atmosphere of compromise and negotiation presented an opportunity for journalism in general to report the conflict in Northern Ireland within a much broader framework. Yet from the very outset, journalists preferred to stick to old habits, reproducing the official briefing from Downing St or the Northern Ireland Office as if it was the transparent truth. It has allowed successive British administrations considerable control over how the peace process has been played out on the ground, and how it has been understood in Britain and abroad (Butler, 1995; McLaughlin and Miller, 1996; Miller, 1993). It has been explained as one almost wholly dependent on IRA disarmament and republican compromise, with much less significance attached to the role of other vital players such as the unionists or the British government. Even after the final act of IRA disarmament in 2005, public debate in Northern Ireland is driven by the question of IRA disbandment and its declaration that ‘the war is over’. This is despite the continuing existence of armed, loyalist paramilitaries.
The negotiation and signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 was reported and explained within a very positive media framework, as one would expect given the history of failed agreements in Northern Ireland. Locally, the nationalist Irish News and unionist News Letter produced a joint, front-page editorial urging their readers to give the Agreement a resounding “Yes” vote in the referendum that would write it into law in both the UK and Ireland. Even today, many journalists share the view that the Agreement is the ‘only show in town’ and that there is no alternative. However, a closer look at grass roots opinion within republicanism and loyalism shows this to be a rather complacent assumption.
Loyalist and republican newspapers and pamphlets reveal the depth and breadth of unease with the Agreement (Baker, 2005). Only the Provisional IRA’s weekly, An Phoblacht/Republican News, and the loyalist, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) journal, Combat, supported the Agreement, albeit for contradictory reasons. Combat argued that the accord safeguarded Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, while An Phoblacht presented it as a ‘new phase’ in the republican struggle. All the other loyalist and republican journals rejected the Agreement outright, seeing it as a sell-out of their respective principles and a retreat from stated aims and objectives. Their discontent was imagined in apocalyptic visions of the future, anticipating further suffering and struggles for their people.
The opinions expressed in the alternative press give little reason for optimism. But they perhaps offer an intriguing insight into the political fractures and contradictions that have made political progress so slow in Northern Ireland. Given the suspension of the political institutions set up under the Agreement and the growing discontent of unionists especially, these marginal, underground newspapers now look to have been more prescient than the optimistic, mainstream media.
A dangerous peace
Whatever about the political thinking in their ranks, some of these paramilitary groups have remained active and dangerous throughout the peace process. With the attention of the international media turned away from Northern Ireland to recent, more politically significant events, it has been left to local journalists to report on their activities. However, unlike the war correspondents of the international news media, they do not enjoy the same level of training and protection for working in ‘hostile environments’, leaving them very vulnerable indeed (McLaughlin, 2005). In 2001, the LVF (Loyalist Volunteer Force) murdered local journalist, Martin O’Hagan, for his investigation of their drugs trade, making him the first reporter to be killed in the history of ‘the Troubles’. The killing was reported by the local media and condemned by the NUJ but it barely registered on the British or international news agenda. Undaunted, his newspaper, the Sunday World, broadened his investigation to take in the activities of all paramilitary groups despite regular threats and intimidation. In 2005, the paper exposed the luxurious lifestyles of leading figures in the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA), implying that it was funded by extensive criminal activities.
The nature and extent of the Sunday World’s expose provoked the UDA into imposing a boycott of the paper in Loyalist areas of Belfast. They threatened distributors and newsagents, warning them not to handle the Sunday World otherwise they would be shot or have their businesses burned out. The campaign had immediate impact – in the first week, the newspaper lost 7,000 copies in sales – but it did not take hold enough to do more serious, long-term damage. Nonetheless, the Sunday World ‘s staff expressed dismay with the lack of support from owners, Independent News & Media, and from the British government, betting on a much more robust response had such a campaign had been targeted against an English newspaper. (5) Still, the refusal of the Sunday World to back down despite paramilitary intimidation was a fitting tribute to Martin O’Hagan and the hundreds of other unsung local journalists and media workers that have been killed doing similar work around the world.
The role of the British media in reporting the conflict in Northern Ireland fell far short of the lofty ideals of independent, sceptical journalism. Their reporting depended too much on facile explanations and narrow interpretive frameworks, and relied too heavily on official propaganda briefings from the government and security forces. Yet a key point to consider here is that none of this is really that new or peculiar to just the coverage of Northern Ireland. Key sections of the media performed the same propaganda function for the British in the war against “terrorists” in “the colonies” after the Second World War (Carruthers, 1995), and they have been doing it again against the “terrorists” in Iraq (Miller, 2004).
This is not to impugn all journalists that have reported on Northern Ireland for most of the careers. Some, such as Susan McKay and David McKittrick, have resisted the alluring simplicities of the propaganda in favour of a sceptical approach and a more complex narrative. Others, such as Martin O’Hagan, have risked their lives with provocative investigations into the murky world of paramilitary racketeering and security force collusion. Our objection here is against the sort of journalism that simply reproduces the official version of events as if it was the transparent truth. Even as the story shifted in the 1990s, from “terrorist war” to “peace process”, the general media impulse was to report first and ask questions long afterwards. Notes
1. ‘The Information War’, BBC2, 1993.
3. ibid; for further insights into British propaganda in this period, see Miller (1994) and Foot (1996).
5. ‘A boycott that means murder, arson and terror’, Henry McDonald, Observer, 18 September 2005.
S.Baker (2005) ‘The Alternative Press and the Political Process in Northern Ireland’, in Journalism Studies, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp.375-386
D. Butler (1995) The Trouble with Reporting Northern Ireland, (Aldershot: Avebury)
S.L. Carruthers (1995) Winning Hearts and Minds: British Governments, the Media and Colonial Counter-Insurgency, 1944-1960, (Leicester: Leicester University Press)
L.Curtis (1996) ‘A catalogue of censorship, 1959-1993’, in W.Rolston &
D.Miller (Eds.) War and Words: The Northern Ireland media reader, (Belfast: Beyond the Pale) pp. 265-304
L. Curtis (1998) Ireland: the propaganda war: the British media and the ‘battle for the hearts and minds’ (Belfast: Sasta)
P.Foot (1996) ‘Colin Wallace and the Propaganda War’, in W.Rolston &
D.Miller (Eds.) War and Words: The Northern Ireland media reader, (Belfast: Beyond the Pale) pp. 158-190.
L. Henderson et al (1990) ‘Speak No Evil: The British Broadcasting Ban, The Media, and the Conflict in Ireland’, (Glasgow: Glasgow University Media Group).
G.McLaughlin (2005) The War Correspondent, (London: Pluto Press)
G. McLaughlin & S.Baker (2004) ‘Alternative Media, the “War on Terror” and Northern Ireland’, in S.A. Nohrstedt & R. Ottosen (Eds.) U.S. and the Others: Global Images on the “War on terror”, (Goteberg: Nordicom
G. McLaughlin & D. Miller (1996) ‘The Media Politics of the Irish Peace Process’, in International Journal Press/Politics, Vol 1, No.4, pp.116-34
D. Miller (1993) ‘Official Sources and “primary definition”: the case of Northern Ireland’, in Media, Culture and Society, Vol. 15. pp. 385-405, (London: Sage)
D. Miller (1994) Don’t Mention The War: Northern Ireland, Propaganda and the Media, (London: Pluto)
D.Miller (2004) (Ed.) Tell me lies: Propaganda and media distortion in the attack on Iraq, (London: Pluto Press)
Nigeria, which is situated in West Africa, has a total area of 923, 768 km2. The 1991 population census that is currently in use puts Nigeria’s population at 88,992,220. This was more than the total population of thirteen of Nigeria’s neighboring states, namely, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon, Guinea, Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Nigeria’s population is currently estimated at 133 million.
Nigeria is made up of about 300 ethnic groups, some small, some fairly large. While English is the official national language, quite a number of languages have become prominent as languages of commerce, politics and administration shared widely and spoken by majority of Nigerians. Among the prominent language groups are Hausa, in the North; Yoruba in the South-West; and Igbo in the South-East.
A complex social and political pattern had developed among the peoples of what is now Nigeria by the time European expedition reached the coast. In 1861, Britain annexed Lagos, declaring it a colony. At the Berlin Conference of 1885, the Nigerian area was declared a British “sphere of influence”. Britain subsequently established Protectorates in various regions of the area. With the amalgamation of the separate administrations of Northern and Southern Protectorates on 1st January 1914, the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria came into being under a single administration presided over by Lord Lugard as Governor General.
Structurally, from two protectorates of North and South in 1914, Nigeria was divided into Northern, Eastern and Western Regions in 1939. A Mid Western Region was created in 1963 after independence. In 1967, Nigeria was divided into 12 states. The States were increased to 19 in 1976. They were further increased to 21 in 1987, 30 in 1991; and to the current 36 states by 1995. The Federal Capital was also relocated from Lagos in the South Western part of the country to Abuja in the centre, officially on December 12th 1991.
The Federation of Nigeria got her independence from British colonial rule on 1st October 1960 and became a Republic on 1st October 1963. Nigeria is well endowed in agriculture and solid minerals and is the sixth largest oil producer in the world. Since independence, it is probably true to say that ethnic sympathies and inter-ethnic rivalries form the single most important issues in Nigerian politics. It has largely shaped the views of most political actors and the voting pattern of the people also reflects that. Thus, like in most parts of Africa, primordial sentiments play a big role in the struggle for power.
Nigeria is a country with appropriate credentials for inter-communal conflicts. There is diversity in language, religion, culture, history, geography and even attitude. It is little surprising, therefore, that Nigeria has had a huge harvest of conflicts since independence. Even though mere differences and diversity will not always necessarily lead to conflict, Nigerians have been unsuccessful at managing their country’s diversity. The Civil War of 1967-70 was the bloodiest of Nigeria’s violent upheavals, followed by a period of relative tranquility in the 1970s.
In the 1980s and 90s, Nigeria witnessed a massive wave of religious and ethnic conflicts which grossly devalued the social and cultural fabric of the nation. These include the Maitatsine uprising of Kano in 1980 in which 4,177 people perished. The Kafanchan/Kaduna debacle of 1987 ignited another round of violent clashes across the North of the Country along religious lines of divisions.
Suffice it to say, that since the military handed over power to democratically elected civilians in May 1999, there have been violent conflicts of unimaginable proportion in the country, spanning from the North, through the Middle Belt, to the South East and South West of the country. In the Niger Delta, demands for resource control and internal divisions over traditional authority and ownership of places, which also stretch into oil and gas resources, have led to bloodbath and destruction of property.
CAUSES OF SOCIAL CONFLICTS IN NIGERIA
It must be noted from the onset that no conflict can be attributed to only one factor. Over the years, experiences have shown that most of the conflicts have resulted from an interplay of ethnic, religious, political, socio-economic and cultural differences within the context of control of scarce resources without the principles of fairplay, equity, balance and justice. In any case, classifying the conflicts as religious, economic, ethnic, cultural or political may itself be misleading. Certain conflicts which may appear to be religious may, after all, turn out to be a façade for pursuing narrow political and economic objectives. It is against this background that the following may be considered:
With the collapse of the living conditions of the majority of the citizens of most African nations due largely to misrule and mismanagement as well as the economic crisis engendered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – inspired Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), living became a precarious endeavour for the majority. The response of many to this development was a recoiling inwards and the rise of a growing parochialism in public and private discourse. People began to seek for solutions to the crisis at the minimum collective levels.
When the nation’s economic fortunes took a turn for the worse, the ranks of the ‘poorest of the poor’ in Nigeria were filled with many hoodlums willing and able to be hired and fired at any given area of confrontation, demonstration, violence and counter-violence. Motor park touts, shoe-shiners, nail cutters and what Nigerians call area boys (Vagabonds) were always available to perform that role during any disturbance. For amateur and seasoned criminals, these episodes offered opportunities for mischief. With so much corruption and indiscipline in society, there was relatively no restraint on these gangs of mercenaries anxious to serve any paymaster.
Disputes over ownership and control of land usually ended up in violent conflicts in many parts of the country. The consequence of this was that community identity became an important mobilizing factor in expressing each community’s story. This created communal tension across neighbouring communities, which exploded in ethno-religious conflicts where the communities were divided both ethnically and religiously.
For example, the Zangon-Kataf (Kaduna State) crisis in the early 1990s was given different interpretations. It started out as a reaction of the indigenous Katafs to the location of a market at a place purportedly more favourable to the Hausa settlers. They had harboured the feeling of political domination by the Hausa/Fulani operated emirate system which has an Islamic flavour. This has factored in ethno-religious colouration.
The protracted Niger Delta Crisis is another example. It is widely believed that the oil companies degrade the environment through oil spillage and pollution thereby depriving the people of their means of livelihood without adequate compensation. They also feel they are not getting enough from the proceeds of oil being drilled from their land. They often point out the lack of infrastructure and basic social amenities as well as the general high level of unemployment in the area. This is the basis for the agitation for resource control by the oil producing areas of Nigeria.
Just as Nigeria is multi ethnic, it is also multi-religious. There are Christians, Muslims and traditional religionists. The population of Muslims and Christians is almost equal. Each of these ethno-religious groups has peculiar beliefs and values that could ignite anger and violent conflict with ethnic and religious overtones. For example, the Hausa-Fulani, who constitute the dominant group in the northern parts of the Country, apart from having much respect for their ethnic identity, are very sensitive to their Islamic identity as most of them are Muslims. Such ethno-religious sensitivities are often exploited by Nigerian political leaders when they want to divert the attention of the people away from the main issues of national development.
The first major religious conflict in post colonial Northern Nigeria occurred in Kano between December 18-29, 1980. Muhammadu Marwa, the Maitatsine, a Cameroonian, drifted into Kano about 1945 and assumed the role of a Koranic teacher who used the traditional Almajiri system to enroll more students and followers. After some previous clashes with authorities in Kano, Marwa declared himself as a prophet of God in 1979 and sought to be treated as such. This act was rejected by the orthodox Muslims in Kano as heretical.
Marwa started to use vituperative language to disseminate his religious ideas in public. He forcefully acquired public and private land on which he constructed living structures for his followers, largely consisting of some unemployed Nigerians and illegal aliens from the neigbouring African countries of Niger Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso. When the Kano authorities sent him a warning letter to desist from his activities, Maitatsine mobilised his supporters and attacked law enforcement agents, which triggered the riot that left about 5,000 dead including the Maitatsine Movement leader himself. Maitatsine disturbances subsequently took place in Borno (1982), Kaduna (1982), Jimeta/Yola (1984) and Gombe (1985). To what extent the Maitatsine was a devout Muslim was queried by both the Aniagolu Tribunal of Inquiry and a body of authoritative Muslim opinion.
After the compelling lessons of the Maitatsine movement, the national debate over Nigeria’s reported membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in January 1986, generated so much steam that it threatened the stability of the nation. The OIC debate raged, it spilled over to well-publicized suggestion about confederation as the next best political arrangement for Nigeria.
Moreover, in places where Muslims, Christians and animists had lived side by side, or previously enjoyed each other’s feasts, and exchanged condolences on occasions of bereavement or other misfortunes, strange discordant voices began to be aired and heard over the OIC issue. Where, before religious toleration was easily practiced, it later had to be loudly preached. The intense hostility, protests and threats, occasioned by the OIC debate did not stem logically from Nigeria’s past record of religious tolerance. For Nigerians with vested interests, or affected by other political and socio-economic frustrations, the OIC debate easily became a catch-all for airing miscellaneous grievances, some as old as Nigeria itself.
Another major religious crisis occurred in Kano in October 1991. Evangelist Reinhard Bonke, a German Preacher, was invited by the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kano Branch, to conduct an open religious revival in Kano, during which many Hausa-Fulani Muslims and traditional religionists were expected “to accept Christ into their lives”. When the posters and bills for Bonke’s “crusade” started getting pasted to walls around the city, several things annoyed the Muslims about the posters and made them resolve that the outreach program would not be held in Kano. For a start, the posters carried the message “Jesus for all by the year 2000”, which they considered offensive.
The Muslims were probably still wondering about how the Christians would achieve their ambition of winning Kano for Jesus by year 2000 when some “observant” ones among them noticed the word “crusade” on the posters. This was immediately interpreted to mean religious warfare against the Muslims, against the background of the historic crusade that started in 1096 AD, when Peter the Hermit caused more than six million people in Europe to reclaim the birthplace of Christianity from Islamic domination. The word “Crusade” made the Muslims in Kano conclude that the Christians wanted to evangelize Kano “by force”. The Muslims, were, therefore not surprised that the Christians printed some of the information on the posters in Ajami, the Hausa language written in Arabic letters, since this is the best means for reaching the people.
The Muslims, therefore, mounted pressure on the government to cancel the license earlier granted to Bonke to preach in Kano, arguing that earlier in the year the government refused to allow one Sheikh Ahmad Deedat, a Muslim scholar from South Africa, to preach in Kano. They also argued against the rights of the Christians to use the racecourse space in Kano for their Crusade. The Government was still trying to sort things out when evangelist Bonke arrived in Kano on October 13, 1991, and the riot started. At the end of the crisis, about 500 people were dead. And many who feared for their lives fled Kano.
In recent times, national tension has heightened and violent conflicts have erupted in many parts of the country over the introduction of full Sharia, the Islamic legal system in Zamfara State which spread to other states in the North. This climaxed in the bloody riots in Kaduna with reprisals in Aba, Owerri and Umuahia. While many saw this as purely religious conflicts, others added ethnic and political reasons. For instance, the people of Southern Kaduna who are predominantly Christians saw it as an opportunity to increase agitation for political autonomy. They had been clamouring for the creation of Chiefdoms but in the aftermath of the riot, they started agitating for a state of their own. Southern Nigerians who were affected by the Kaduna crisis read political meanings into it. Yet not a few saw economic factors of poverty and unemployment in the conflict.
One erroneous impression that must be corrected is the fallacy that Nigeria is divided between a Muslim North and a Christian South. This is not true. There are significant numbers of Muslims and even elected Governors and Deputy Governors who are Muslims in the South just as there are a large number of Christians and even elected Governors and Deputy Governors who are Christians in the North. Indeed from the same parents, in both North and South, one can find children adhering to different faiths. And there are a lot of inter-marriages across the religious and ethnic divides.
Most of the conflicts in Nigeria have political dimension and undertones. For 29 years out of its 43 years existence as an independent nation, Nigeria was under military rule. Military dictatorship does not allow for healthy discussions, consultations and dialogue that are the hallmark of ideal democracies. Thus, grievances are usually expressed in a violent manner because democratic culture has not fully taken roots in Nigeria.
The emergence of retired Generals in the political arena especially in the current dispensation has marked the near total exit of populist politicians and political parties of deep ideological expressions from the political arena. The political elites usually accuse one group of working against the interests of the other, and as the “poorly educated” Nigerian masses kill one another, political leaders execute their own “patriotic” missions: embezzlement of public funds, manipulation of elections and election results, repression of opposition, and grievous human rights violations.
Ethnic and cultural factor
There has hardly been any major conflict in Nigeria that has not been ascribed to ethnic factors. Ethnicity and cultural diversity provides potential area of conflict even though they do not in themselves constitute conflicts. At times ethnicity becomes a veritable instrument for expressing other deep rooted political and economic interests among the people. Thus, in Taraba State, the Chamba, Jukun and Kuteb people have been in disagreement since 1991, escalating in 1996 and 1997 over the ownership of Takum. In Niger Delta, the contest over the ownership of Warri has seen the escalation of violent conflicts between the Itsekiri, Urhobo and Ijaw people.
Indeed, the first major conflict soon after the military handed over power to President Obasanjo in 1999 was between the Hausa and the Yorubas in Shagamu. The people of Shagamu were expected to restrict their movements during the annual nine days Oro masquerade festival from midnight to dawn. Two Hausa women who were on transit to Lagos stopped over at Shagamu after midnight and the Oro people killed them for violating a customary practice they were not aware of. Fellow Hausas, in Shagamu protested the killing of the ladies that led to violent clash between the two groups and a reprisal attack on Yorubas in Kano. These ethnic conflicts are not even helped by the upsurge in the formation of ethnic-based militias and the proliferation of illegally acquired arms.
However, conflicts also occur even violently in monolithic communities as witnessed with Aguleri/Umuleri in Anambra State where all the parties to the dispute are Igbos and Ife/Modakeke in Osun State where all those involved are Yorubas.
MEDIA AND OTHER ISSUES
Government officials meet media executives to rub minds from time to time. But the Nigerian media has enjoyed relative freedom even under military regimes. And government has never consciously tried to force any media establishment to take a certain position on any issue. As far as choice between peace and patriotism is concerned, one would choose peace, because without peace, we may not have the country to be patriotic about.
The formal conflict resolution institutions and the judicial system have not been insulated from the societal malaise of corruption and partiality. People therefore prefer to take laws into their hands to deal violently with contentious issues.
Democracy, however imperfect in Nigeria, must be sustained. The absence of a truly independent judiciary; an honest, competent and non-partisan administration to manage elections; level playing fields for the various contending political groups; proper accountability and transparency in the conduct of governmental affairs; the near lack of checks and balances between the Executive and the Legislature; and the all pervasive poverty and lack of public awareness among most citizens are some of the limiting factors for the growth of democracy and peaceful co-existence in the country. In a diverse and heterogeneous society of the Nigeria type, elections if well managed, and the entire democratic process, if appropriately designed and followed, are capable of providing frameworks for conflict resolution.
The mass media over the years have been charged with lack of professionalism and promotion of sectionalism, sensationalism as well as speculative tendencies. Distortion of the truth with the intent of destroying a party in the dispute, misrepresenting the opinion of one version for the opinion of a group to which he or she belongs, subjectively quoting people out of context, reporting from only one side of the conflict and thus misleading the readers to believe that only that perspective is available and right, use of language that is pervaded by the doctrine of ethnic nationalism, dramatization of conflict situations, and valorization of violence with a view to selling more copies of news papers or magazines etc are some of the charges against the media in Nigeria.
A case is not being made here for the suppression of truth by journalists in the attempt to prevent violent conflict. What is advocated is that journalists should be objective in their reporting. Journalists can achieve a good measure of objectivity by providing unbiased coverage of both sides in any conflict, presenting all facts considered to be true, and not taking sides by what they write.
The progress and development of any nation or community, both politically and economically, depends among other things, on the ability of the various components that make it up to live peacefully in harmony with each other. Peaceful co-existence is also a necessary condition for the observance of the rule of law, and hence for the protection and promotion of human rights in the society.
There is no doubt that many people have lost their lives as a result of these conflicts while a large number have suffered injuries including permanent disabilities. The frequency and ferocity of the conflicts have foisted a general threat to the security of the citizens, which is not only affecting national integration but also economic development. These conflicts have also resulted in the violation of the rights of many people either through the miscarriage of justice or through the failure of the state to prosecute perpetrators and instigators of these clashes and conflicts.
Certainly, the resurgence of communal, religious, ethnic and cultural identities and their study to harness their unifying force and curtail their destructive tendencies will continue to exercise the brains of many African compatriots. Diversity will either form a critical component for the stability and development of Nigeria and indeed Africa or serve as a great catalyst for the continent’s destruction.
In the last century, our world experienced two world wars. Humanity learnt many lessons from this past experience of wars. As a result of these lessons, solving problems by using peaceful methods has been regarded as a better way than conflict.
The origin of every behaviour depends on culture. Undoubtedly the culture of a community cannot form itself . As some authors have asserted, “culture is something people inherit from the past of their community but they apply it by reshaping, considering the interrelated facts of the new situations in life”. This description states that culture is a process which can be “reshaped, related, and dynamic.”
First of all a certain political actions are planned and the masses are directed and influenced using various agencies according to these politics. The mass media, as one of these agencies, plays an important role in this process.
It must be admitted that in many countries the messages carried to the masses by the media are accepted as truths by the majority. In contrast to the people’s scepticism on individual (personal) subjects, the media outlets that are more general and which serve the national benefit are approved with an unquestioning attitude.
It is obvious that the media plays an important role to play in this. This general truth is also undoubtedly valid for Turkish, Greek, Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot media.
Almost every country has some problems with neighbouring countries. It is not the existence and origin of the problems, but finding the methods to solve these problems that is more important. There are two major choices available:
1. Peaceful methods
2. Pursuing the conflict, even to the point of war
It is clear that the culture of conflict does not include the basic values and peaceful ways. Only in chauvinistic national movements and politics, the pro-conflict attitude is more dominant.
Unfortunately, this attitude has been dominant in Turkish-Greek relationships. The effect of national movements has sailed the ship on this course.
Turkish, Greek, Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot media and journalists are part of the community they live in. The sources of positive and negatives news belong to the community and their environment. Therefore, the independent character of media is the mirror of their society.
Although it is possible to defend the social good with universal human values, unfortunately, nationalist and chauvinist inclinations have been preferred.
Nationalism has been in our media in an effective way for many years. With this consciousness and also with the psychology of guilt the source of these problems is sought in the rival society or country’s media. However all journalists who have common sense and inquisitive minds complain about the national movement in their media.
The effect of nationalism on the media can create a distance, and create a conflict, between what journalists think and what they write. Some time ago, I asked one of my Turkish Cypriot journalist friends, known for his nationalistic and chauvinist attitude, whether he believed in what he wrote. The answer I got led me to discover a serious conflict between his words and opinions. It can be easily seen that the politics and nationalism are determiners.
At this point, I would like to ask a question. In which is nationalism more dominant: the Greek-Cypriot or the Turkish-Cypriot media? In fact it is just a waste of time to ask this question and search for an answer because both are the same. There are not any serious differences between them. Up until now our media have not taken any positive roles in the relations between Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot communities. To the contrary, they have shared the guilt of the negatives. Before specifically focusing on and delving deeper into Cyprus issues, if we look at the last half of the 20th century the experience is consistent. Although there have been some positive samples in the last few years, there cannot be seen as enough.
For a better future, positive lessons should be taken from the past and used to build the future. At this moment the Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot Media are have a serious responsibility. It is not possible to have a single media for the two communities. It does not matter how much effort we put in, there will always be anti-peace opinions. The most important thing is not to follow the past mistakes and not to go with the nationalistic flow.
I strongly believe that we can get over every barrier if we do journalism without identifying ourselves with politicians and formal politics.
We must succeed in being independent of formal politics. In some situations you can witness that journalists looking for the agenda of collective politics to express themselves instead of expressing their own opinions and ideas. In other words they answer the questions according to the policies of the government. Journalism should not have a nationality. Almost all of us try to be in the harmony with formal politics by using our self-control with care. This care should not take us away from objective journalism.
Journalists should possess the courage to oppose formal politics. They should obey the universal principles of their job. If we want to contribute to this new peace period in Cyprus, firstly we should get rid of the taboos and prejudices. Is this easy? It is certainly not.
After stating these general principles, I would like to deal with the issue in a more concrete way by giving examples. The history of Greek Cypriots is older than that of Turkish Cypriots. In 1571, after Ottomans conquered the island, Turkish people were taken to Cyprus to become the ancestors of today’s Turkish-Cypriot community. In the pages of our history, we cannot see any serious agitation between these two communities until the recent conflicts. But neither were there any spontaneous or planned (organized) efforts to create a shared Cypriot identity.
Almost all newspapers to begin publication became the national voice of their societies and took part in this division. Conflict journalism predominated over independent journalism. In fact I do not want to continue drawing comparisons with our Greek Cypriot counterparts. If I did, I might inadvertently reach another conflict point. I would like to continue by focusing on our evolution in the Turkish Cypriot community. If we begin our journey from the 1950s to the present day the situation can be more easily understood.
In the Turkish Cypriot society, there was an increase in the number of newspapers in the 1950’s. In that period, the sound of the last footsteps of British colonialism could be heard. In other terms, it was understood that British colonialism was ending on the island. In the Turkish Cypriot community, there newspapers that displayed left wing ideology besides those that proclaimed a nationalistic line. It was interesting that British colonial rule was more against the leftist newspapers.
The magical hands of certain actors planted the seeds of an ethnic conflict by using the nationalistic media. In the Greek community an underground armed organization named EOKA, and in Turkish society one called TMT, were formed in 1955. Then it became harder for the media to promote peace. In 1960 Cyprus Republic was born almost as an orphan. In the Greek part the desire to connect the island to Greece was named as ENOSIS and in Turkish part this was called TAKSIM, which meant to divide the island into two parts. This intention was kept in mind. In other words minds were divided before the island.
In that period Cumhuriyet newspaper was launched in the Turkish Cypriot media. The newspaper was published by two young lawyers named Ayhan Hikmet and Muzaffer Gürkan. This newspaper supported the republic, in other words peace against nationalistic movements. However, these two young men could not continue for long time because they were killed by the underground organization as a result of the following event. Bayraktar mosque in the Greek part of Nicosia was bombed by the conflict provocateurs but blamed on the Greek. Their aim was to start a fight between the two communities by making use of the mosque bombing as propaganda. Cumhuriyet newspaper uncovered this plot and as soon as they came very close to revealing the real criminals, the two owners were killed.
At the end of 1963 the fighting had started on the island. Turkish Cypriots were isolated from Cyprus Republic and put in a very difficult situation in every way. Greek Cypriots were blamed for the hard life condition experienced by Turkish Cypriots. In a situation like that it was impossible for journalists to criticise the formal politics and support peace.
The Turkish Cypriots community has been the one to experience the longest period of martial law. This situation continued till 1974.
After 1974 a new stage to the conflict began. Although those who were holding the political power were unwilling to change, the international focus on Cyprus affected the situation in a positive way. We did not possess a peaceful situation in Western sense but compared to the past, I can comfortably say that we were in a better situation. However, this improvement was not enough to take the pressure off the media. I think the identifications such as “national mission”, “national benefit”; “the history of being Turkish,” and “moral values” are out of date in developed countries.
In our environment the media is under the pressure of these abstract concepts. Those who hold political power mostly think that the Cyprus problem is an unfinished case and all journalists should be the lawyers of this. Especially the military leaders who come from the underground organization are disturbed by the pro-peace stance of media. This group’s vision depends on violence. Kutlu Adali, a journalist, was killed in 1995 because of his writings. The murderers have not been found yet and the case is still under the investigation of European Human Rights Court.
Another example of violence is the fate of Avrupa, newspaper which was bombed many times and the criminals never found. The journalists who support peace have been under threat in every way. The journalists who support peace have been denied the support of society for a long period. The main reason of this is that people compare everything to Greek side. The writings of the Greek fanatics have been translated and presented to Turkish Cypriot society. A society that is provided with such information expects its journalists to answer these.
Fortunately, over the last two years this situation has shown a positive change. The hard outcome of status quo politics has made people understand the reality. And at this point the pro-peace journalists have gained the support of the masses. Huge demonstrations for peace have been organized with the contribution of all the pro-peace news outlets including TV and radio. In North Cyprus the role of the media in the peace process has been very interesting and should be studied further. In North Cyprus our job as journalists is still very difficult. We must maintain our professionalism by striking a balance between patriotism and peace, while avoiding narrow nationalistic views. There are a lot of journalists who have succeeded in this. Supporting peace means shake up half a century of status quo.
I see hope for the future. The source of this hope is the positive change in the Turkish Cypriot community. Everybody who has lived on this island has paid a high price. Now we want to enjoy the beauties of our paradise island. There is still the effects of chauvinism. We have started to change but not yet completed it. In our conditions the journalists who support democracy, peace, human rights and the right of law are not only journalists, but also volunteers for peace. We will probably be more successful in doing our job by taking our society one step forward at a time. Journalism and politics is not possible if they are kept away from the community. As media practitioners we have got involved in many mistakes but now that we are on the way to peace we want to contribute to these efforts and share and enjoy their benefits. Supporting peace means supporting life.
The Cyprus Conflict from the Greek-Cypriot PerspectiveAndroula Georgiadou
Yesterday was a very important day for Cyprus as the negotiations for a settlement to the long lasting Cyprus problem restarted in New York in the presence of the United Nations’ Secretary General. People in Cyprus, Greek and Turkish Cypriots hope and wish this urgent effort to be concluded successfully and a reunited Cyprus to join European Union the 1st of May this year. The leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot community as well as the governments of Greece and Turkey accepted last week the invitation of Mr Kofi Annan to attend this new round of talks, based on his plan. According to his invitation the parties must reach an agreement by 30 of March, which will be put to referenda for the people’s approval.
I started as journalist with the latest developments and the latest events, that hold out some hope for the people of Cyprus, to enjoy, re-united, lasting peace and welfare within the framework of the European Union. And this leads to the critical question of this international conference, which is called upon to examine the role of the journalist and the media in countries where there are strife and violations of international law and human rights.
Peace or patriotism. The meaning of the word “patriotism” is that one should love his country, should act and behave for the good of his country and his people. Love for the country elevates man beyond the satisfaction of personal interests and reinforces the feeling of collective responsibility for the prevalence of conditions of freedom and democracy. This love and the awareness of responsibility to the country often leads to self-sacrifice as this has been recorded in the world history in most struggles against foreign occupation and for freedom. In this sense, patriotism is not incompatible with but in harmony with peace. But, when patriotism in countries with bi-communal conflicts turns into nationalism or chauvinism and there is an attempt for imposition of the will of the one side on the other, then it fosters conflict and banishes peace.
The word “peace” is perhaps the most beautiful word in the world because it creates conditions of survival of mankind, of development and welfare. But what happens when peace is imposed by the force of arms, abolishes the principles of natural justice and oppresses peoples? The Romans were proud of the Pax Romana, while today we are witnessing similar efforts for the imposition of the Pax Americana by the only superpower.
Let me refer to Cyprus, where the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community Rauf Denktash has been claiming for thirty years now that there is peace Cyprus and that the Turkish army which invaded the island in 1974 is the guarantor of this peace and that the Cyprus problem has since been solved.
Indeed, no serious clashes have been taken place since 1974 and there has been no bloodshed, simply because a small country with a population of half a million cannot resist by arms the occupation of part of it by a country of seventy million. But, is this peace? When the country is partitioned through barbed wire, thousands of people are evicted from their homes, an ethnic cleansing policy is pursued and human rights are massively and flagrantly violated? Can the violation of international law, of natural justice and the fundamental human rights be called peace?
I shall not tire you with the history of the Cyprus problem, which does not fall within my function as journalist and which in any case you will forget as soon as you leave this conference. I shall confine myself today to referring to some basic parameters of the current developments and to the role of journalists regarding the prevalence of real peace and reconciliation.
The decision of the Republic of Cyprus to make an application to the European Union, following long and fruitless bi-communal talks and the impotence of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions, has proved a wise and catalytic move for the solution of the Cyprus problem. Turkey as occupying power and a country with democratic deficits at home refused all these years to withdraw her forces from Cyprus and to contribute constructively to the seeking of a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem. On the contrary, she proved every day that she included Cyprus in her strategic planning and regarded the island as an integral part of her policy on security.
The Turkish Cypriots themselves know that they were used as alibi for the invasion and occupation of half of Cyprus. For this reason they are feeling the consequences of the occupation perhaps more intensively than the Greek Cypriots. Turkey and Rauf Denktash have isolated them from the rest of the world. They have condemned them to a so-called peace and a so-called state which is not recognized by anyone, without democracy, without freedom and development possibilities. They face also the problem of being essentially a minority among the settlers from Turkey.
The important fact is that the progressive Turkish Cypriots have in the last years raised massively and dynamically their voice against the Denktash fascist regime with the result that there was a reaction practically by the whole community, when the Cyprus train was overcoming all obstacles and speeding towards the European Union. A leading role in this reaction is being played by progressive Turkish Cypriot journalists who strongly criticize the partitioning and the two states policy of Denktash and his regime. Under this pressure, the Denktash regime was forced last April to open the roadblocks and to allow free movement but under conditions, which affect especially the Greek Cypriots who are obliged to show passports as if they were crossing into another country. Anyway, this measure provided an opportunity to Greek and Turkish Cypriots to mingle together again and to prove that they can coexist peacefully, although the main consequences of the partition remain, the refugees are still refugees, the problem of the missing persons is unsolved and the basic freedoms and human rights are still violated.
In reality, the Cyprus problem has never been a bi-communal problem. The limited clashes in the past were not due to hate or the desire of one community to destroy the other but they were instigated as part of foreign interventions on the basis of the then divide and rule British colonial policy, which exploited the mistakes of certain extremist circles from both communities, who displayed a wrong type of patriotism, and extremist nationalism.
The majority of Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived harmoniously without the difference of language, religion and national origin constituting a source of clashes. Maybe there has been absence of trust, there have been wrong policies and different visions but there has been no hate.
Today, having as common vision the achievement of lasting peace and the restoration of the human rights of all the lawful inhabitants of Cyprus and also the accession of a re-united homeland to the European Union, the people from both communities are meeting and trying to know each other better and also to share thoughts and views on how this peace can be achieved.
Journalists from both communities are contributing to these efforts, holding joint events, radio-television discussions, writing articles and expressing views in the Greek and Turkish Cypriot press. In this sense, journalists in Cyprus are working for peace and reconciliation. They are also showing, I believe, true patriotism and a high sense of responsibility towards their common but divided country. And thus at least in Cyprus the concepts of peace and patriotism are not opposite but can coexist. For, the two communities have proved that they desire coexistence.
Even though Jamaica is not experiencing a formal civil war, an average of 900 persons have been murdered each year for the last five years, according to statistics from the Constabulary Communication Network. These figures place the island in the unenviable position of having one of the highest murder rates per capita, bearing in mind that the country is populated by just 2.5 million people.
The gun is the weapon most widely used and last year alone, the Jamaican police seized 517 illegal guns and 10,860 rounds of assorted ammunition. Rifles accounted for 24 of that number while 11 shotguns, 95 homemade guns, 123 revolvers, 245 pistols and 19 submachine guns were recovered. Most of the killings are as a result of battles between heavily armed and well-financed gangs who squabble over extortion and drug distribution rights. The gangs align themselves to one of the two major political parties, the ruling People’s National Party, (PNP) and the opposition Jamaica Labour Party, (JLP) and sometimes wage deadly war which leave dozens dead and injured. Party insiders claim to have no contact with the marauding gunmen who wreak havoc on Jamaican society.
The gunmen rule over the streets of the city with impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake and extorting businesses to fund their well-organised structure. Most times, the police appear hapless and are left to clean up the bloody mess of mangled bodies left by gang operatives.
This wave of crime and extortion is the end product of political divisiveness practised in the 1960’s and 70’s by power hungry politicians. “Garrison” communities, areas with a distinct voting pattern, were established by using strong-armed henchmen to intimidate and chase out political opponents. This led to persons of different political ideologies occupying separate political ghettos under impoverished and squalid conditions, social
historians point out.
Political tribalism gained momentum in the latter part of the 1960’s, when two major politicians, the JLP’s Edward Seaga - who was later to become Prime
Minister, and Dudley Thompson of the PNP, who would become National Security
Minister, armed their constituents and promoted a deadly battle for turf among them. This ‘divide and rule’ style of politics was soon mimicked by other parliamentary hopefuls and in the two decades that followed, thousands were killed as politicians aided the flow of guns into poor communities in search of the lumpen vote.
This environment was the perfect breeding ground for criminality. Pork barrel politics and the fight for scarce benefits and spoils ruled the times. Soon the political gangs evolved into a sophisticated criminal network. The gangs found new allies, ‘Jamaicans in the Diaspora’, i.e. Jamaicans living in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, who had made big money out of drug running and had channelled some of their ill-gotten resources, mainly guns and ammunition, back into the ghettos of Jamaica from which they came.
Eventually these guns ended up in the hands of men with murderous intent.
The high rate of murder that has plagued the country over the last 10 years, is the symptom of the segregation which was promoted by some of the politicians of Jamaica’s post independence period. Now the gangs are populated by the grandchildren of the first inhabitants of the garrison communities. These young ‘Shotters’ have a different agenda. No longer are they funded and shielded by prominent politicians. The gangs formed a deadly alliance with the Columbian cocaine lords in the 1980’s and Jamaica, a country known for its marijuana exports, was flooded with cocaine as the island was transformed into a cocaine transshipment port.
The influx of the contraband facilitated an exchange of guns for cocaine and many times the Jamaican middlemen took arms for payment. The money and guns garnered from the illegal drug running placed the gangsters in a position where they could turn their backs on the political representatives and institute their own rule in their communities. Soon ‘Dons’ or area leaders emerged and gained the trust and confidence of the people in the community. They formed themselves into formidable units, sometimes over 100 strong and now control the distribution of drugs and extort every form of business that falls within their boundaries.
Businesses that refuse to yield to their demands for a weekly ‘security’ fee, usually suffer heavy robberies and some owners end up killed. Killings occur in broad daylight but the citizenry refuse to provide the police with information. Persons who have done so in the past usually end up being shot by the accused person’s cronies.
There are many incidents that indicate that the Jamaican criminal is among the world’s coldest. A gunman in Jamaica does not think twice about wiping out a whole family to settle a dispute. Children, old women and anyone in sight is liable to be shot and killed during turf wars.
Covering conflict is a dangerous business. It means reporting from the frontline – braving bullets, bombs and landmines. It involves dealing with harassment, intimidation and worse at the hands of one side or the other or both. As in other zones of conflict, journalists reporting in Kashmir have come under subtle and not so subtle pressures from militants, security forces and the community.
The Kashmir conflict has generally been perceived by the international community as a dispute between India and Pakistan over territory. While the two countries are indeed fighting for control over territory, what complicates the problem is that Kashmir is inextricably knotted up with the national ideologies of India and Pakistan, “secular nationalism” in the case of India, “religious nationalism” in the case of Pakistan.
Pakistan was born in August 1947 out of an argument made by its founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations. The two-nation theory was rejected by India, but the partition of British India into India and Pakistan was carried out, nevertheless.
Kashmir, a Muslim majority princely state ruled by a Hindu Maharaja, refused to join either Pakistan or India. In October 1947, Pakistan-backed tribal militants invaded Kashmir and rapidly pushed towards Srinagar, its capital. Facing military defeat and in order to get help from the Indian army to save his embattled state, the Maharaja signed a treaty of accession with India. Indian troops were then flown in and the invaders were pushed back, but not out of all of Kashmir. The ceasefire line of 1949 left India in control of two-thirds of the state, Pakistan in control of one third. This is the position to date. The two have fought several wars over Kashmir.
There is another dimension to the Kashmir problem – the internal one. Especially since the mid-1980’s disaffection against Indian rule has mounted. India's record shows lapses at least on five counts: failure to respect the state's autonomy, rigged elections, corruption, slow pace of economic development and frequent use of coercive measures to deal with dissent. The disaffection erupted into a violent uprising in 1989. A number of militant groups sprang up; many of them armed and trained in Pakistan.
The militancy in Kashmir has undergone significant changes over the years. In its early years it articulated the people's cry for azadi (independence), but the pro-azadi groups were soon decimated by pro-Pakistan groups. The Kashmiri component of the struggle fell, and was soon replaced by Pakistani and then Afghan and Arab fighters.
Today, the militants, especially the foreign militants, have little support in Kashmir and pro-Pakistan feeling has dipped significantly. This does not, however, mean that the mood now is pro-India. The predominant mood is one of deep weariness with violence.
What complicates reporting on Kashmir is that the conflict there is not just a confrontation between Kashmiris and the Indian state or between militants and security forces or between militants and militants but that it is an issue in India-Pakistan relations.
Kashmiri journalists are under severe pressure – from their community, the Indian security forces, the militants and from across the border, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Since the start of the armed conflict at least a dozen journalists have been killed in Kashmir. Several times that number have been assaulted, kidnapped, threatened or had their houses searched and damaged.
Local Kashmiri journalists say that while pressure from the Indian security forces has reduced over the years, intimidation by government-backed armed militias has mounted. Threats from militants -- especially the jihadis – too, have increased substantially. A Kashmiri journalist said that jihadis want journalists to write only on religion, jihad and army atrocities. They threaten journalists who write on the current peace initiative, development issues, education or environment. When the militant movement was dominated by local Kashmiris, militants would call newspaper offices and tell them not
to report on a certain incident. Now the jihadis have gone further – they not only dictate the editorial position the newspaper must take but also decide who should write the editorial comment. Media persons who have defied their diktat have been threatened or killed. Local journalists never criticize the militants in their reports, preferring to use the term ‘unidentified gunmen’. In the process they avoid pointing a finger specifically at either the militants or the security forces or the government-backed militias.
The security forces too put pressure on individual Kashmiri journalists. A Srinagar-based reporter for an English daily said that on several occasions military personnel have walked into his office and sit by his side while he filed his reports. Militants are more brazen in their methods of influencing reports. They call journalists on telephone or visit the newspaper office and issue threats. They kidnap, assault and kill. As for the government, officials influence reports by feeding stories to correspondents and restricting access to information and conflict zones. Permission from the army is required to travel to some areas near the border with Pakistan.
India has a free and vibrant press that is vocal in its criticism of the government on domestic issues. But on foreign policy matters especially with regard to Pakistan sections of the mainstream media often function as virtual extensions of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of External Affairs. If the Kashmir problem was just a problem between the Kashmiris, even militants, and the security forces, the Indian media might have been more vocal in reporting human rights abuses by the security forces. However, since Kashmir has a significant Pakistan angle to it, the India media has been less critical of the armed forces. Many Indian journalists have reported on India-Pakistan issues and the Kashmir conflict as patriots rather than professionals.
While there are several reporters who file their stories professionally and without distorting the truth, many journalists choose the easy way out. Their reports are based on government and army briefings and are dreary accounts of the numbers dead and injured. This is partly because of lazy journalism. Besides, pressure from government officials not to report in a manner that would demoralise “our brave boys at the border” or “undermine
Indian national security interest” make many reporters toe the government line. When ‘unidentified gunmen’ massacred scores of Sikhs at Chittisingpora in Kashmir, journalists lapped up the official version of events and did little investigation prior to filing their reports.
Flag-waving journalism was most evident during the 1999 India-Pakistan conflict at Kargil. The first casualty of this conflict was journalistic objectivity. Journalists used loaded words like ‘martyr’ ‘enemy’, ‘hero’ etc liberally in their reports.
The foreign media too function as extensions of their foreign offices, while reporting Kashmir and India-Pakistan tensions. British and American journalists seem to look to their governments for guidance on whether to accept India’s allegations that militants are being trained in camps in Pakistan or not.
In the early years of the armed struggle, it is likely that it was patriotism and nationalist feelings that stirred Kashmiri and Indian journalists to report what they did. In the case of Kashmiri journalists, loyalty to the community influenced their writing. Today it is not so much patriotism or support for ‘the cause’ that influences what a Kashmiri journalist writes but fear of the armed men, especially the militants.
Kashmiri journalists who lament the criminalisation of the militancy are accused of being traitors. Indian journalists who raise uncomfortable questions regarding corruption in the armed forces or human rights abuses by them are often criticised for undermining the national interest, weakening the morale of soldiers by painting them in a negative light.
It is not the job of journalists to protect the image or morale of soldiers. That is the work of the PR officers of the government. The primary role of journalists is not to protect the national interests. The primary role of the media is to inform quickly and accurately. It is to report the truth.
Journalists have sometimes been accused of not doing enough to support peace processes. The role of the media is not to build confidence or strengthen a peace process. It is report the truth about people and situations. Honest reporting might undermine a peace initiative by showing up loopholes. But it can help clarify issues and contribute to better assessments of situations that in the long run could make a sustainable peace possible.
Some journalists seem to believe that professional reporting means being neutral. Reporting, especially in conflict zones, needs to be objective, not
neutral. There is nothing wrong with blaming one side or the other, in naming the aggressor or fixing responsibility.
The year 2000 saw the international media divert its attention to our small South Pacific Island nation, as a group of rebel soldiers and dissident politicians and businessmen entered our parliament and took the government of the day hostage.
The day was 19th of May…what followed was a 56-day hostage crisis, and the advent of parachute journalists. International media went back to stories of the military coups in 1987 and of racial tension between the Fijian people of Indian decent and the Indigenous.
As in 1987, in 2000 there were isolated cases of racially inspired violence. There has always been an underlying sense of insecurity among these major racial groups in Fiji, but it’s not so bad as to boil over into episodes of violence against each other.
The main reason for the relative peace is that the people of both races do not see each other as genuine threats to each other’s existence…in fact, in urban areas, they live in integrated communities and side by side in a friendly atmosphere.
The problems of May 2000 were centred on the capital, Suva, while the rest of the country moved on in a relatively calm atmosphere…but the tensions were higher than normal.
Almost four years on, those tensions have subsided substantially. There are some cases where the wounds of the past are open again, but it’s usually done by people with extremist agendas and by ultra-nationalists.
In the past, these extremists have used the media to gather momentum for their propaganda, but it seems people have learnt from the mistakes of the past and are not falling for same tricks again.
Even before Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970, the two races had developed an underlying fear of each other that undoubtedly sits in every Indigenous and Indo-Fijian heart. That fear surfaces in times when either community feels vulnerable.
Any visitor to Fiji who scours through the daily newspapers, listen to radio bulletins and watches the television news will hardly find any stories that indicate the two races are in any sort of standoff with each other or are ready to shoot each other down in an ethnic war. On the contrary, the visitor might find more stories of how the Indo-Fijians are helping the Indigenous and vice-versa.
I believe that the situation in Fiji has reached a stage where the media knows their responsibilities and that is not to perpetuate the propaganda that the politicians and the extremist nationalists spin every time there is an election or a by-election.
Which is good, because I think the media plays a vital role in shaping the destiny of our society and our country. And it must handle this role with responsibility.
I was listening to Martin Bell speak yesterday, and something he said about “journalists leaving this world a better place” that caught my attention. I remember joining the journalism program at the University of the South Pacific in 1999.
On my first day the program Coordinator asked me why I wanted to be a journalist. I told him that I wanted to inform the people of Fiji about all the injustices that were happening on the country. And upon being asked why, I said something along the lines that that I had a responsibility to make Fiji a better place to stay for everyone.
I think I might have lost sight of this goal, so thank you Martin Bell for reminding me.
Call it patriotism or whatever, but I think if are born in a country, then you must feel for it. As a journalist, ultimately, you would like to see your people prosper, and that’s what we should be working towards.
Because when the country prospers, everyone, regardless of race, religion or gender, benefits and when people benefit, they’re happy and there is very little room left over for conflicts to arise.
Subsequently, we have peace – and isn’t that what we all want and need in today’s troubled world?
As a journalist I see that as my role – it does not mean that I have to take sides with my country’s government or any political party. If anything, then I am taking sides with all the people of my country – it’s their good that I am working for, so that we can foster a peaceful co-existence between the different races that contributes to the good of my country.
Does this view mean that I tone down my stories on conflicts and tensions. The answer is no! Why? … because I believe that our people must come to terms with the truth.
Indeed, if there are any past injustices, then, we must learn from them and make sure that they’re not repeated.
I’ve seen this happen twice in Fiji – now the popular feeling in our country is that we do not want any more coups and upheavals.
We have a long way to go yet, but I think if I can contribute even minutely towards the prospect of a better and more peaceful Fiji, then I will do my utmost in my capacity as a journalist.
I don’t have to lose my fairness, or detract from the facts and the truth…I think its all possible, without compromising my work as a journalist.
Brief history of the conflict
The political conflict in Zimbabwe today has become one of the most reported on political problems in a developing country in the Southern Africa region since the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994. Many people have come to know of this political conflict, whose background I am about to give below, only in recent years, but it has been simmering below the surface for sometime. The source of the conflict today is the result of the June 2000 parliamentary election and the March 2002 presidential election, which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has legally challenged in court. The opposition party has filled more than 35 legal challenges for the June 2000 parliamentary election and has also challenged the results of the 2002 presidential election won by President Robert Mugabe. The opposition MDC alleges the use of violence and intimidation to influence voters in the constituencies. They also allege irregularities in the electoral process - such as miscounting, people being prevented from voting and missing voters’ roles. They want the presidential elections to be re-run under the supervision of international observers with new electoral laws and an independent electoral commission.
This conflict has been variously portrayed by the two major media organisations in the country. For the state owned media, the issue is the land redistribution programme. The state media reports the problems in Zimbabwe as being caused by die-hard Rhodesians supported by their British cousins and using their black puppets to derail the government programme to redistribute land from the 4,500 white commercial farmers who owned vast tracts of land, some of it lying fallow, to landless blacks who were in the first place displaced from this land by colonialists. However, in the private media, the conflict in Zimbabwe is put across as one of governance. The private press sees the source of the country’s problems as being poor governance and corruption. The solution to this would be a change of government, they say. This has meant that the media in Zimbabwe have become polarised.
From these opposing views emerged the conflict that engulfs the broad spectrum of Zimbabwean society today. So when the 2002 presidential election was held the seeds for conflict had already been sewn. The campaign by the ruling party was that voting for the MDC was like bringing back white colonial rule because they were just fronts for whites fighting for their land which had been taken to give to those who did not have.
So what role does the journalist working for the state media play today? Their role, because of the nature of their employer, is unwittingly that of a propagandist. The government has got six newspapers at its disposal. These comprise two daily newspapers, and four weeklies. One of the weeklies is a vernacular paper. Added to this the government also has the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s four radio stations and the only national television station to buttress its propaganda position. The coverage of news by all these channels is similar and it puts only one problem on the table, land redistribution. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. The government media report on the opposition it is only when they are in fights or when their leaders have been arrested. The arrest of these leaders is of course news, but it is not an end in itself.
So the role of the journalist in the government owned newspapers is to see no evil and hear no evil about the government and to muckrake the opposition and in the same vein the private press journalist sees no evil and hears no evil about the opposition and muckrakes the government.
Are journalists in my country expected to report in a patriotic way.
The answer is yes simple and straightforward. But then there are two competing interests that demand the loyalty of the journalists. There are the people who want the journalists to be patriotic by telling them the truth and also writing the truth about them. And in the case of Zimbabwe there is the government of the day that defines and demands patriotism. In this case, the government will always demand that it be reported positively and the opposition parties portrayed as no-gooders and enemies of the people. Supporting any one of the two risks loosing the confidence of one of the two with subsequent serious consequences. If the journalists give in to the demands of the government and define patriotism as partisanship they loose readers and subsequently advertisers or if they want to make a stand and be impartial in the truest sense of the word they find themselves without a job because the government of the day which runs the state newspapers will simply remove them from their jobs. Zimbabwe’s government media lost at least five editors in purges of journalists who wanted to be patriotic to their country by practising impartial reporting. These journalists were simply replaced with partisan propagandists who unfortunately claim to be impartial journalists. The result of the appointment of partial editors has been a major collapse in circulation figures and readership.
The journalists from the private press in Zimbabwe are labelled unpatriotic sell-outs and enemies of the state. Basically, they are accused of giving dissenting voices a platform. The definition of patriotism in Zimbabwe today is not that of love for one’s country, but love of ones’ party. This is rather a myopic view. As journalists we should only be guided by objectivity and nothing else but objectivity, unless of course, you work for a specialist publication.
However, being objective is not always possible for journalists because of the ownership aspect of a news organisation. It is a fact that newspapers have owners, some with a hidden agenda, and that these owners influence the coverage of the papers by way of editorial policies. However, the cornerstone of journalism is objectivity and I think to maintain credibility journalists should strive at all times to be objective in their reportage. This means being neutral while giving opposing views opportunity to be heard.
In the circumstances that a news organisation decides to take a stand in a conflict situation, it should be properly spelled out to the readers and anyone who cares to listen what this position is and the reason why they have taken the position and the expected results of such a course of action.
Journalists in my country are expected to be patriotic always. However, what differs is the definition of what it is to be patriotic. In the case of Zimbabwe, being patriotic means being pro-government about everything. It’s a see no evil hear no evil stance that is expected of the journalists. This is rather a myopic view of what is patriotism. Anyone who has an opposing view or a simply dissenting view is simply considered unpatriotic and an enemy of the state. Are journalists being patriotic when they support the government of the day or they are being partisan? I leave it like this.
Can journalists promote peace and reconciliation by taking a pro-peace stance in their reporting.
I do not know how pro-peace stance is defined in journalistic practise but I will hazard a guess and say by this it means journalists will take a position which the journalist, or their news organisation, thinks will promote peace in their countries. However, I would like first of all to highlight that whenever journalists identify with certain positions in a political discourse they become targets. As to the severity of the action that may be taken by those people who might be having an opposing view I cannot tell. But in other conflict situations journalists have been killed for working for organisation that promoted a certain view that they firmly believed would bring peace to their nation. What is not known is that are journalists prepared to sacrifice their lives for their opinions or those of their employers if they believe this will bring peace to their countries. In the case of Zimbabwe I can point out that they have been reports that a government of national unity would be the solution to the problems and that unity talks were being prepared by the two parties. Journalists who have taken an interest in this view and have been probing behind the scene manoeuvres have become targets of public vitriol by some government ministers and satirical columns published in the state owned media.
So overtly taking a stance on certain issues in a conflict situation can bring results but it also makes journalists targets. During the period of apartheid the media coverage of the abuses of that regime helped international awareness of the oppressive system used in that country. In a way this helped in the fight against apartheid.