Reaching a wider audience (above: a cat listens to the live broadcast of the BBC Today Programme on Radio 4 at the British base in Basra Palace, 2006)

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Can Media really help Stop War?

I run an organisation which uses media, communication and the arts to support conflict resolution and counter extremism. It’s called imediate.

A friend asked me what the hell does that mean? How can newspapers stop war? How can a painting stop a fight? What does “communications” actually mean? She went further and said it was like swatting a F-15 fighter jet with a badminton racket.

I think I have worked in this specialised field far too long, I thought it was obvious, when of course it’s not. The fact that I believe in this is simply not enough. So, instead of disappearing further up my own behind with academic theories, I thought I would provide a few examples – I hope with a touch of realism. I understand that communications is only part of a broader effort:
  • Life saving public information - e.g. Land Mine Awareness Education
  • Countering extreme ideas - e.g. Broadcasting a debate addressing extreme ideas
  • Giving a voice to the peaceful - e.g. an anonymous radio phone in
  • Giving examples of how peace can work - e.g. a photo exhibition of inspiring images of succesfully brokered peace
  • Broadening horizons - e.g. soap operas that break down barriers with identifyable characters
  • Demonstrating alternatives to violence - e.g. newspaper coverage of peace talks
  • Breaking down prejudice - e.g. cross cultural song and dance groups
  • Shining a spotlight on atrocities (in a balanced way that doesn’t glamorise the perpetrators nor allow them to fuel hatred) - e.g. TV reports exposing war crimes
  • Shining a spotlight on how outbreaks of peace are benefitting people - e.g. TV reports exposing peace initiatives
  • Allowing people to air grievances (so that they can be responded to) - e.g. entertaining public road shows that also enourage debate
  • Engaging people in creative rather than destructive pursuits - e.g. a video installation that shows how destructive war can be on a personal and human level
  • Countering the rumour mill - e.g. health awareness poster and leaflet campaigns that rebut untruths
  • Offering other identities to terrorists - e.g. community outreach work that explores and promotes other productive interests
  • Allowing the peaceful masses to do the peacebuilding - e.g. providing platforms for natural peaceful leaders to emerge
  • Helping communities to take part in their own development - e.g. inviting the population to send in pictures taken on their mobile phones.
A few more:

Providing credible alternatives (if they exist – communications can’t do everything)

Talking to people in hard to reach places

Providing platforms for exchange off the battlefield

Reaching a wide audience

Showcasing the peaceful masses

Other things to remember
  • Pictures speak louder than words
  • The spoken word reaches more than the written word
  • Often the most credible voices come from the community not from leader
  • If used negatively the media, communications and the arts can fuel violence, war and terrorism
I am working on a book which will offer real life case studies that back up this theory. And it will be written by some real life people who have seen conflict from the frontline! Watch this space for for examples of how this works - even to stop a fighter jet dead in its tracks.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Social Enterprise Day

Today is Social Enterprise Day - a fitting day to...well...announce the establishment of a new social enterprise.
imediate launches in the new year - but a sneak preview can be found on This is Media for Peace.