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Is Peace Newsworthy?

tonythemisfit, via Flickr .

By Glory E. Dharmaraj

“Peace and love are always alive in us but we are not always alive to peace and love.”  -Julian of Norwich.

There is scarcely anyone who does not yearn for peace and love. What does it take for us to be always alive to peace and love? What does it take for peace to be nurtured in our culture? Peace does not come about by merely yearning for it. We have to strive to become peacemakers.

Recently, sitting with a group of mission workers, I watched a video clip where two teams of players, dressed in two different colors, were passing a ball to one another. We were asked to count the times the ball was passed from one to another. At the end of our counting, we were asked how many of us noticed a person in a gorilla suit walking in the midst of this game. Many of us failed to notice the unexpected gorilla in the midst of the players. 

Monitoring Peace
Monitoring peace in news is one way to be fully present to the need for peace in our midst, and the forces that work against it. Sighting and naming is an important activity when reading the news. Counting the missing elements, naming them, making connections between what is told and not told, and asking for accountability are an arduous, methodical, but necessary task.

The United Methodist Women members were engaged in monitoring peace in newspapers on September 22, 2008. Volunteer readers from the U.S. and Canada monitored 505 articles on the front/first page of 108 newspapers and other media coverage on September 22, the day after the International Day of Peace. The students in the Communication Department of St. John’s University, New York did extra monitoring on and around September 11, also.

The purpose of monitoring the lead/front pages of newspapers was to find out whether there were intentional efforts on the part of media to promote a culture of peace.

The basic characteristics of Peace Journalism or a culture of peace can be noticed by responding to the following ten specific questions, after reading the front page of a newspaper: 

  •  Does the story report on the invisible effects of violence/war?
  •  Is the story people-oriented?
  •  Is the story agreement-oriented?
  •  Does the story discuss the long-term causes and/or consequences of conflict?
  •  Does it report on structural and/or cultural violence?
  •  Does the story avoid good versus bad framing?
  •  Is the story multi-party oriented?
  •  Does the story report win-win or lose-lose options?
  •  Does it discuss peaceful options?
  •  Is the article critical of ‘our’ role?

The basic characteristics of War Journalism or a culture of violence can be noticed by responding to the following ten specific questions, after reading the front page of a newspaper:

  •  Does the story discuss the visible effects of violence/war?
  •  Is the story elite-oriented? That is, do reporters use persons belonging to political and civil elite as their first sources for gathering information?
  •  Is the story differences-oriented? Do the reporters cover diversity of views on the issue?
  •  Does the story discuss the here and now?
  •  Does the story dichotomize the good and bad?
  •  Does the story report on direct violence?
  •  Is the story two-party oriented?
  •  Is the story zero-sum oriented?
  •  Does the article discuss military/violent options?
  •  Is the article overall supportive of 'our' role?

Professor Robert Hackett of Simon Fraser University in Canada designed these questions. Birgitta Schroeder, a graduate student from the same university did the data analysis. Both the Peace Monitoring Forms and the data analysis are a gift to us, United Methodist Women, from the North American Regional Association of the World Association of Christian Communication, which sponsored the peace-monitoring project.

United Methodist Women were further asked to respond to specific open-ended questions that probed deeper into the articles that dealt with conflicts

  •  By re-telling the event in their own words
  •  Saying whether the papers discuss any efforts towards peaceful resolutions
  •  Finding who if anyone is represented as the victim, the ‘hero’, and aggressor
  •  Locating whether there are any voices for peace
  •  Identifying what the role of women is

Only when the story is on peace building, violent conflict or war, did the United Methodist Women volunteers set out to respond to these specific questions. 

Key Findings

  •  Out of 90 front pages monitored on September 22, 2008, only four covered The International Day of Peace (September 21).
  •  On a scale of 0-10, peace coverage is on an average of 4.57, and war coverage is on an average of 4.94.
  •   70.8% of participants reported that the stories on violent conflict caused a negative impact. The participants called for different and more contextualized and informative coverage for 43.1% of the articles on violent conflict.

Women and Peace

  •  Out of 337 articles, in 251 articles, journalists used men belonging to the political and civilian elite as their first source.
  •  In 76.7% of articles covering violent conflict, journalists used men belonging to the political elite as the first source.
  •   Women are the first quoted source (or their words were paraphrased) in only 15.9% of the articles. Men are the first quoted source in more than half of all ‘manifest conflict’ articles.

In other words, women perspectives are under represented in news.  In order to build a culture of peace, Birgitta Schroeder, the data analyst for the peace monitoring, says that news makers need to pay attention to “deliberations for solutions, resolutions and transformation of conflicts.” Her larger data analysis is on a PDF for your use. Please download and adapt it for educational and non-commercial use.  
Provoked to Peace
Also, please visit the on-line Community on Peacemakers at UMWonline.org and take part in peace activities including praying for peace. Continue to monitor peace in news media, using the questions on measuring the coverage of culture of peace and culture of violence. Contact your local newspapers for more coverage of peace-making efforts through peaceful means, and deliberations for solutions toward transformation of conflicts.

  •  We are the peacemakers we have been waiting for.
  •  We are the shalom-workers we have been waiting for.
  •  We are the peace leaders we have been waiting for.
  •  Everything else can wait. Peace cannot. Peace must be dared!
  •  Be provoked to peace by noticing the unexpected gorillas in our midst!

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.

pdf Read a media study on peace monitoring from Simon Fraser University here.(PDF, 382K)

This document was reprinted with permission courtesy of Simon Fraser University and the North American Regional Association of the World Association of Christian Communication (NARA-WACC).

 *Glory E. Dharmaraj, Ph.D. is Director of Spiritual Formation & Mission Theology for the Women’s Division.

Last Updated: 04/10/2010

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