The Media as a Tool for Empowerment


Jannie Botes

Assistant Professor, Program on Negotiations and Conflict Management, University of Baltimore

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

My assumption is that journalists have impacts on all conflicts and they should understand that and try to minimize that impact as much as they can and you see that in the fact that parties act and speak in a way that will either excite journalists or get them to write about it. In other words, we, people who are the fodder for the media, we're not stupid. We understand that we have to present the information in a way that will excite them and get them to write about it. Obviously we try to use them to engage them in a way that will further our side of the dispute. Most journalists understand that but again, it's a form of social intervention. The parties and the actors in the conflict are socially intervening with the media and trying to get them to do something.

There are many examples of how the media impacts conflict where this is more visible and that was the case during the Cold War. I believe it was ABC who put cameras on Vesalius Square, which I think is in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. More importantly there are examples of journalists who have done things such as, it happened in South Africa too, where you send a TV crew of people somewhere and then an uprising or a riot will occur because they're acting out for the camera. Journalists have said that they've seen this happen in Israel and Palestine, as well as, in South Africa during the apartheid years, and many times during the break up of the Soviet Union.

Q: So you're saying where they're wouldn't have been cameras; there wouldn't have been a riot.

A: That's right, but sometimes the riots happen and then the cameras come and report on them. But people also understand that to further their side of the dispute to make, for instance, think of Solidarity, part of Solidarity's success is and part of apartheid's success or the end of apartheid or the black movement in South Africa

was to get the international media to become part of them and allay their cause. To say here is a social injustice and to keep on saying here is a social injustice and to keep on showing the horrific things that happen because of the social injustice. So in the case of the camera, people then realize, we have to feed this animal. So whenever they come even if there isn't a riot for the moment, we'll create one. We'll start throwing stones just to make sure that we can keep on with this movement of influencing people through the media. I always describe it as being in part the empowerment issue through the media.

The media empowers parties, especially when it comes to great issues of morality like apartheid, or communism. That is why I think of Solidarity and the black movement in South Africa because the race issue and the apartheid issue were so successful in getting this. They had to do something because news is something important but they did some things that were very, very risky to them in both cases. We now know what happened in South Africa, how many black people disappeared etcetera, etctera, etcetera. So there was a lot of risk involved for them. We also know the Soviet Union at the time took people in places like the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia at the time. So they did things, they were reported on. But what happened in essence is if you see this as two circles that despite their number, the South African government was small in number but they were powerful in having the military, having the coercive force, etcetera, whereas, black South Africans were large in number. If you were to show a diagram in terms of their power at the time, they were much smaller.

However, when they started doing all the things that would start through the unions and all the organizations that they created to make their case known, then the international media, in terms of the coverage that they got, helped them. Slowly you can show on the graph how they got bigger in terms of world perception and powerful and how the media assisted in that to the point where the apartheid government was ready to negotiate with them. I'm not saying that that was all done through the media, there were many other factors, but the media was one of those factors, especially in the way that they got to the international public through the media.