Saturday, September 13, 2014

ISIS crisis and j-frames

Why is it that our US citizenry has such different views of the ISIS crisis? Some want to bomb, some blame former [OK, technically Vice-] President Dick "Never Miss a War Profiteering Dollar" Cheney. Some note the inhuman nature of ISIS beasts who behead journalists, and others say that none of this would be happening if the US would not have invaded, occupied, and fake-democratized Iraq. Some news sources correctly note that ISIS is a terrorist organization, and is quite organized in both military and financial matters, and that they are not, in fact, a return to a Saddam Hussein-style secular strongman governance of a territory, but are a far worse option than Saddam ever was (even though they fail to state the obvious, that attacking and overthrowing Saddam by western forces was exactly what made ISIS possible, possibly inevitable).
ISIS fighters, 30 June 2014, Syria, Raqqa province (Reuters/Stringer)

Of course there is no single factor differentiating our opinions, but one factor is the practice of war journalism versus peace journalism. When war journalism frames are used, we look at current acts of violence, we learn that we are the victims and they are the perpetrators, and we look very little at the historical context that brought us to this terrible point.

Peace journalism frames give us all agency, seek to identify parties to the conflict who might have nonviolent alternatives that meet everyone's needs, and do not seem to build the case for vengeance.The history of the idea of peace journalism goes back to the 1960s and Norwegian innovative peace and conflict scholar Johan Galtung, although he didn't propose the names for the practices until the 1970s and didn't seriously begin looking at it in some detail until the mid-1980s. Now there is a growing body of actual research on his concepts, and increasing debates about the validity of pieces of his analysis. 

Some say peace journalism is just classically good journalism while others label it as advocacy journalism. In my view, the more correct view is to examine both his variables and his overarching ideas separately and then to modify how we think about these frames in a way that in fact meets the needs of human beings.

Good journalism as practiced by those identified in the advocacy media will certainly be justified in gatekeeping in favor of their goals. When I write a story that I hope will further the goal of peace with justice, I choose who I interview and choose which questions to ask them and which of their answers to feature. Is there any other way? The only alternative is to ask perhaps one open-ended question and then include the entire transcripted answer, which is how almost no one practices journalism. Media mediates. We deliver usable copy, digestible and addressing a limited number of reader/viewer needs. We will all gatekeep.

Good journalism as practiced by free press journalists is utterly objective and is open to all facts, reports on everyone's foibles and corruption and coverups, and seeks to offer the widest palette of possible options.

Most peace journalists would regard the reasoning of an ISIS member as driven by the history of the conflict, the imposition of structural violence by various forces, the cultural context, and would seek to establish a platform for empathy for that ISIS member, if not his actual practice. There is value in this, but it needs to be reconsidered, I think, by those who claim to see the utility of peace journalism. A far stronger frame, featured far more deeply and frequently, would bring in the voices of those who pursue nonviolent paths toward win-win solutions, both indigenous to the conflict region and from the expertise examining the conflict from around the world. This is much more in line with the field of Peace and Conflict Studies and with the aspirations and efforts of global peace movements.

We need more journalists who investigate from these two frame constructions. They need to seek out two bodies of knowledge and give them to us in readable, usable formats.

One, who are the people and organizations working for win-win nonviolent solutions on the ground in the conflict areas?

Two, what do peace scholars and high-level peace think tank and high-level peace activists recommend?

When our mainstream press begins to include more of this sort of journalism, we will see an increase in peace, a decrease in bloody mayhem, a transition from a war economy to a peace economy, a shift from a political war dynamic to a political peace dynamic, and a general elevation of the human spirit, environmental protection, and much more egalitarian prosperity. Journalism is important.

Reference List

Fahmy, Shahira, and Britain Eakin. 2014. "High drama on the high seas: Peace versus war journalism framing of an Israeli/Palestinian-related incident." International Communication Gazette 76, no. 1: 86-105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 13, 2014).

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