Angela Vera: Theatrical exits, upholding the illusion of objectivity

Despite living in the 21st Century, high-intensity conflicts have increased, and terrorism also has entered the picture. Although it’s evident that peace journalism is by no means absent from conflict coverage, forms of journalism that actively promote peace happen to be bypassed by the motto, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Many times media ignore the positive developments involved in a conflict, so creating opportunities for society to consider and to value non-violent conflict responses, as peace journalism seeks to do, becomes an alternative model to traditional ways of war reporting. But despite this, it entails very noble goals, it is highly criticized for the many structural constraints that it tends to ignore. Critic reviews emphasize how it tends to overestimate both the power of journalism and how many of its elements are found not to fit the functionality of journalism and the logic of news production.
If we look at the case of Cyprus, for example, the media were often a mere tool for the elites, and although media at times adopted more or less a pacifist attitude, they happened to be State-oriented and far away from fulfilling peace-journalism criteria. News coverage still employed negative headlines towards the “others.” Thus, the selection of stories to report about did it help to build a reconciliation process. Public and politicians leapfrogged over each other in providing facts for journalists to report at a crucial stage of the peace process.
Thus, Bosnia became the theatre of journalism’s darkest dreams, with the still looming shadow of the Sarajevo market massacre hanging over its pretensions to objectivity. Could media strategy actually have prompted one side — the Bosnian government — to fire on its own civilians as they queued for basic necessities, in order to be reported as a Serbian atrocity and draw NATO intervention to their cause? How much responsibility do media bear for this? And how did these past flaws influenced media reports today?
Reporters are supposed to report the facts, but experience shows us that facts are increasingly created to be covered, serving an agenda far removed from quaint notions of informing the public. There is no role as “merely observers” left — reporters are always already participants whether they like it or not. Power is constantly exercised to inculcate s norms of right knowing and delving into all forms of cultural production, especially journalism. It saturates all social interactions and aims to maintain patterns of dominance: and power is meaningless if it is not relational. Power, to be power, requires resistance. To be a reporter today trying to disentangle the story from the facts is to peer into a hall of mirrors. We live in a time when everyone is media-savvy and anyone can be famous for fifteen minutes. And, as Thomas Hanitzsch has pointed out, the role of audience is crucial and cannot be left out. It is hard to convince people of the virtue of peace journalism, especially when they engage in a conflict in which their existence is at stake.
Objectivity is an evergreen debate, and journalists are brought up to “tell it how it is,” so we should start off by questioning the society.

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Filed under Essay, Human Rights, Journalism, Peace Journalism

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