Monday, March 26, 2007

Media as a Tool for Peace Building

(Dateline: Johannesburg. Posting from the World Summit on Media for Children)
This afternoon was the best session that I’ve attended so far, “Media as a Tool for Peace Building.” There were many powerful speakers on the program, including my friend Dr. Charlotte Cole from Sesame Street International, L. Randolph Carter from the grass roots advocacy organization Search for Common Ground, our friend and producer Beathur Baker from the SABC, who facilitated powerful documentaries produced & directed by girls who have been victims of violence, and others, equally committed to peace building.

But for me, Sarah Crowe, who is a reporter for UNICEF Television, completely nailed the topic. She is a veteran, accomplished reporter who covers her stories with an acknowledged bias – UNICEF’s advocacy on behalf of children. In her words: Our goal is to influence the media agenda to cover children’s issues, which are often forgotten in the ‘fog of war.’ In areas of conflict, media is often used as a tool of war, spreading propaganda, division, stirring up hatred. Children are often the first to pick up on these messages…they intuitively know that they need to take a side. And, how do they flourish if they are constantly forced to flee from conflict? Do they wave a copy of the Children’s Bill of Rights when they’re being recruited as child soldiers?

What I found most eye opening was her view of the obligation that she believes journalists have AFTER a conflict has ended, and ‘peace’ is declared.

For a child to flourish in a climate of peace, more than peace is needed. The average person believes that the majority of civilian casualties are a result of conflict and violence. In fact, most of the children die from neglect, not bullets and grenades, because the war has cut them off from basic services. Diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition are the primary causes of death for children in conflict zones, and this continues after peace has broken out.

Sarah Crowe feels strongly that reporters have an obligation to continue their coverage once the guns are silent. She sees it as an often neglected duty, and believes that journalists must go back and follow up, reporting the previously unseen damage that has happened as a result of the war.

Her words reminded me of AP’s Ian Stewart earlier today, lamenting that his coverage of the society’s struggles and triumphs go unreported in the West. People so often talk about feeling helpless in the face of all the troubles in the world. Yet, no one wants to read these stories that explain the nature of the challenges, as well as how they can be overcome. We are not helpless. We are ignorant.

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