By Mikias SISSAY, Communication and Media Specialist
Media is a ‘double-edged sword’. It can be an instrument of violence when it propagates messages of intolerance or disinformation that manipulate public sentiment. The recent US-Russia saga following the 2016 election is a perfect example. On the contrary, it can also be an important tool in resolving conflict when it presents reliable, diverse, and unbiased information. Media that promotes peace and tolerance can also contribute to the reduction of conflict and the fostering of peace and security. Reliable, accurate, and objective media, whether mainstream, alternative or non-conventional, can all help the prevention and/or resolution of conflict by responsibly disseminating information, advancing awareness and knowledge, promoting good governance, and advocating peace. Media has great potential in managing conflicts and promoting democratic principles by supplying credible information and reaching a large audience during and/or in the aftermath of conflict.
Media deserve credit for tabling peace and security issues on the global agenda. In equal measures, they have to be criticized for instigating conflict. Empirical evidence points out that in conflict zones media often played a role in instigating conflict and spreading violence. We don’t have to try too hard to find an example, the Rwanda case that claimed the lives of 800,000 and the Kenyan 2007 post-election violence are uncomfortable memories still in our minds. If the Media can play a role in the worsening of conflict and the spreading of violence by reaching targeted masses, there is no reason why it can’t be an instrument for peacebuilding exercises. No wonder that the international peacekeeping missions always entrust a media wing under the name Public Information Office (PIO) to advocate for the interests and aspirations of all social groupings within the area under which the mission works. Peace Radio of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is one good example, and so is Radio Miriaya of UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Continuous civil conflicts in Congo, South Sudan, Mali, CAR, Libya, Burundi, etc are self-evident that conflict is still an ongoing exercise in the African Continent. The social media has also created a platform for the exchange of undiplomatic words among superpowers, and hate speeches among individuals and groups. Such exercise cannot be stopped by decree. The balancing factor is countering it with peaceful messages and turning the tide. Peace journalism too.
Media is a powerful force. As much as it has prompted in past conflicts and continues to prompt in current conflicts violence and intolerance, it also has the power to prompt peace and diversity when used appropriately. Hence, the media can provide information directly to citizens regarding major events of importance for decision-making so that citizens can take actions and influence the structure of decision-making. In other words, it can serve a peace process by engaging in credible reporting, representing balanced opinions in its editorial content, and opening up communication channels among parties during and after conflict. It can also identify and articulate without bias the underlying interests of warring factions.
The author of this essay believes that media is not adequately harnessed as an important tool in the peacebuilding processes. Not to mention little attention is given to research that investigates the role media plays in peacebuilding, compared to the role it plays in the spread or intensification of the conflict. Embracing the positive role of media as one of the strategic pillars of peacebuilding tools is no doubt one important path towards peace and security. Thus, it is worthwhile to study media in this context where the focus is not only on the identification of its role and place in peace and security but also on institutionalizing it as one of the strategic pillars of peacebuilding as the way forward.
If media is to meaningfully assume an important role towards peace and security, then academia should make it a topic of research, teaching, and community service. This will naturally give birth to harnessing it as one of the strategic pillars of peacebuilding exercises.