“If a journalist is doing well, they are helping to make peace,” said Lisa Schnellinger, moderator of “Role of the Media in Peace-building” during the Global Peace Convention 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Lisa Schnellinger’s expertise is in media development, supporting and training emerging local journalists. She has worked in numerous transitioning nations:
- Post-autocratic Indonesia, Iraq and Yemen
- Post-colonial South Pacific
- Post-soviet Georgia and Armenia
- Post-conflict Afghanistan and Timore-Leste
- Liberalizing China, Egypt and Iran
“The flow of information is essential, despite restrictions,” she stated. “The need for information is a human common factor, it happens everywhere and always, people need information.”
During conflict and crisis, journalists can convey essential information for survival: where to get medical treatment, where there is shelter, and where to get basic human needs.
Media also can mitigate ethnic and religious tensions. Lisa Schnellinger told session participants, “It all depends on how the journalist reports the story.” She criticized the approach of many international journalists, who are quick to assume identity groups based on ethnicity. She firmly believes that “local journalists are essential and so much better,” particularly when vocalizing local voices.
Journalists are vital even after crisis and conflicts. They can empower citizens to make informed daily decisions by distributing critical information such as good crops to grow, current market prices, and where development projects such as a road are coming through.
Naver News reported on the National Youth Summit prior to the presidential elections in Kenya.Media can also help avert violence in vulnerable regions and promote democracy. Vote4Peace, a social media campaign promoted national unity during Kenya’s recent national elections. Up to 15 million viewers watched the first ever presidential debate where citizens directly interacted with candidates.
In Egypt, during the first multi-party, multi-candidate elections in 2005, despite an obvious winner, the newspaper, صوتنا, “Our Voice” gave equal space to each candidate. It also talked to ordinary Egyptians and published their concerns. For the first people saw what a balanced election could be. According to Lisa Schnellinger, peaceful and democratic transitions attract large foreign investments.
During the session, other journalists contributed their experiences. A columnist for the Korea Times criticized Korean media for aggravating the tensions between North and South Korea. According to him, Korean media is profit driven, selling popular “propaganda”, rather than stories that facilitate unification. A journalist from Nigeria described how media assuaged panic during the bombings by the Boko Haram. For him, journalism is “a passionate cause you want to pursue.”
When Lisa Schnellinger trains journalists, particularly in developing counties, in addition to journalistic skills, she addresses the entire framework of the country: freedom of press laws, current judicial and legal systems, and the physical safety of the journalists. “The truth sometimes will cause death,” she said. In Iraq she worked reporters who were unable to report the facts for fear of being “gunned down and killed.” Malala Yousafzai, the girl blogger from Afghanistan, who was shot in head by the Taliban, is aa well-known example.
According to Lisa Schnellinger, there is a close connection to development and press freedom. Journalists in developing nations are paid very little, thus remain vulnerable to corruption.
Lisa Schnellinger is currently working with UPI Next, the media development division of UPI that provides mentoring and training for emerging journalists around the world. She brings her years of international experience to the trainees. Her dream is that these local journalists will get all the visibility they deserve, “because they know better than anyone what’s going on in their country.”
Click the Global Peace Convention 2012 Blog to see the full “Role of Media in Peace-building” session.
For the session powerpoint visit Prezi.