The Media's Role in Preventing and Moderating Conflict
By Robert Karl Manoff
This Article Summary written by: Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Robert Karl Manoff, "The Media's Role in Preventing and Moderating Conflict". This paper was prepared for the Virtual Diplomacy conference hosted by United States Institute of Peacein Washington, D.C. on April 1 and 2, 1997
Manoff describes a number of roles which the media could play in preventing and moderating conflicts. He also offers examples of media peace initiatives.
The media can publicize the principles of human rights and other moral norms, and can act to enforce those norms by publicizing violations. They can also focus public censure on hate groups. They can publicize and support peace-keeping operations.
The media can act as a go-between for parties who lack any other means of communication. When the parties were unwilling to meet, the South African "Peace Cafe" program interviewed each side separately, edited the videos into a presentations of each side's case, and then showed the tape to the other side. This process eventually led to direct negotiations between the parties. In a more direct mediation, Walter Cronkite served as a very public mediator between Sadat and Begin, and helped pave the way for Sadat's historic trip to Jerusalem. The media can draw attention to brewing conflicts, and so create pressure to address the conflict. They can also give early warning of potential conflicts.
The media can educate the parties about each other's interests, needs, and core values, and help to confirm the parties' claims of transparency. They can help to undermine harmful stereotypes and promote rehumanization of the parties. Education in general is helpful for conflict resolution. The "Capitol to Capitol" broadcast in 1986 filled some of these roles by bringing together American and Soviet lawmakers in a live interactive program. Both the lawmakers and the audience were able to see the other side as simply other human beings. Similarly, the "Ism Project" gives college students video cameras with which to create video diaries of their experiences with intergroup conflict. These video diaries are later broadcast.
The media can help educate the parties and public about existing conflict resolution resources, and about other successful cases of conflict management. The Voice of America radio broadcasts take this approach. The Akron Beacon Journal took a much more active approach seeking to reduce racial tensions in that city. The Journal convened meeting, hired facilitators, brought in community groups, and got over 20,000 citizens to pledge to work for racial harmony.
The media may itself reframe the issues in ways which make the conflict more tractable. They may aid the parties in reframing issues, and in formulating possible solutions. The media may also help maintain or achieve a balance of power between the parties, or work to strengthen the morally superior position.
The media can reinforce leaders' credibility with their constituents, and engage in other confidence-building activities. The media can work to deflate rumors and propaganda. The "Radio Boat" was one such, albeit unsuccessful, attempt. A private European organization stationed a boat in the Adriatic to counter xenophobic propaganda in Yugoslavia with more objective reporting. Unfortunately, the boats broadcast range was sharply limited by mountains. The media can offer an outlet for the parties' emotions, and otherwise aid in the healing and reconciliation process. The "Ism Project" described above fills this role also.
The media can respect the need for privacy and confidentiality in the negotiation process. They can also reinforce settlements by publicizing them as important, shared historical events.