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.


Anonymous said...

Hello -- great post. A recent report addressed precisely this question, arguing that there are particular "conciliatory" roles that media can play when it comes to cultural conflict. I found it here ( Keep up the good work!

David said...

This is fascinating, and even a little success is better than no success at all. Now here comes the but: But I wonder how something so idealistic will fare in a world torn by violence. And who will define peace? And who will decide which pursuit is better than another?

Certainly the U.S. started war in Iraq, but that doesn't mean Iraq was a peaceful place before America went in.

What alternatives would you have given the Mumbai terrorists, or the September 11 terrorists? How would we have known who they were before they struck?

How do we provide information in countries where the government controls the sources of communication?

So many questions! I do wish you well, however. The media were given at least partial credit for starting the Spanish-American War in 1898. Why shouldn't the media help prevent war too!

Anonymous said...

A lot of what you're talking about is responsible journalism and responsibly managed user-driven content in media, both of which are essential to a well-functioning public sphere and healthy civil society. In any case, it is an interesting way to look at media's role in society.

I wonder if Rwanda would make a good case study. We know the role some radio stations played in promoting slaughter. What about the truth and reconciliation process there (or elsewhere)?

caroline said...

@Mark - a friend of mine is currently doing a phd on just that! Yes, Rwanda is an interesting study...

Torsten said...

Media for peace - yep. There's a great book I came across a while ago, see -- a bit dated, but lots of interesting case stories. Also, do check out other writings by Alfonso Gumicio Dagron, such as on "Governance, Broadcasting and Development".

Art for peace - again: very much agree. You might be interested in a collection on links/info at

I look forward to you imediate launch :)) Best, Torsten

caroline said...

Wow - thanks Torsten, especially the link to arts contribution to peace - have a look at - plus I am about to apply for a grant to fund my own creative contributions further....

Shree Venkatram said...

I do not know if the media can stop war, but it can certainly bring us close to war. It is through shoddy reporting, agitated correspondents who forget that they are reporters and not participants in a conflict. We see it happen in the way issues get covered in both the Pakistan and the Indian media.

But the question I would like to ask - is it the media's role to broker peace? Or report the situation the way it is?

And then how open are we to look at ourselves, take and counter criticism in a non-violent way? There is growing intolerance in the world.