Media Mediation

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 ???).

The idea that I came up with was again, and this is somewhat why I give you this background, was somewhat based on my experience with Nightline reporting of the conflict in South Africa. What I realized having studying mediation and third party intervention was that Nightline had a format where Ted Koppel was very often sitting between two or more parties in a dispute, which to me looked very much like a third party intervention, if you will, mediation model. If not; it was at least a facilitation model.

Q: A media mediation model?

A: And this idea of media mediation and to what extent it is, then became the focus of my dissertation. My dissertation topic was then really about the comparison between the conventional mediator as we know it in the literature, and the media moderator, Ted Koppel, and the question... I don't want to go into it too much. That's not really what you asked. But the interesting thing for me was that I could show by looking at the tasks and roles of third party mediators as the literature describes it since 1952. In fact, Walden Glen wrote an article in which they looked at all the roles of the third party since 1952 and I could use that as the a basis of a content analysis for the programs in South Africa well as the follow up show that Ted Koppel then did 3 years later in Israel. Remember in South Africa they only had Pik Botha and Tutu. Whereas in Israel they managed to have three representatives on the Israeli side, a fourth one pulled out, and 4 from the political spectrum from all the different political parties in Israel and that was a live townhall meeting where as the one in South Africa was a taped debate.

Nightline says in their book that Ted Koppel and Gibson wrote about the first 15 years on Nightline that was based on the experience of South Africa they did what they called "South Africa 2," which was the live townhall in Israel. So when I content analyzed both those shows, looking at specifically the moderator, Koppel, and what he did, the major finding was if you look at all the things that mediators do, starting off with who wants to speak and asking just for information questions and then slowly moving into much more challenging questions and reality checking that I could see that all the things that a mediator and/or a facilitative model of mediation do to be found back in the work that Koppel did in those shows. There was one difference. The difference was that in the field of conflict resolution is that we have the ethic of staying with a conflict until it's either resolved or the party has really asked us to leave.

Whereas, journalism really has a hit and run approach to how they deal with media and conflict. There's an event, something happens, South Africa has been a long ongoing conflict but there were things that happened in South Africa. Ted Koppel went to South Africa in 1985, and that was just after the tricameral parliament was created after a referendum in South Africa and a huge backlash of black South African violence. It was an event that sent him to South Africa, right, which sort of foreshadows something that I will talk to you later about and that is that there is no real reporting of process in the way that we report these things. The only difference then is what I showed in my doctoral dissertation was that the moderator Ted Koppel does all the things in terms of media of skills and techniques up to laying down the ground rules to keeping in charge, using a little humor here and there.

There's a whole long list of things that are all very similar, but the only difference is that when we do it in the field, we are ethically bound to stay with it. Whereas the media do the show for an hour or two and then they say we're going home and go to the next conflict which is normally again built on an event. In one of my later interviews with Ted Koppel for this project, I asked him about that and he said, "To cover the event in South Africa, it cost about a million dollars a day." That means that the media are a business.


But the gist of the story, I might've gone into much more detail then you wanted me to, is that I can show even for serious journalism, it's in the interests of the, if you will, financial organization of the business. For example, South Africa was a big conflict. Israel at the time when they went there in '88 was a big dispute, it still is, but that attracted viewers and they could justify it that way. From a business point of view, they could justify covering these conflicts. And more from a social science point of view, Ted Koppel had many of the skills and abilities of the third party and actually used many of them. However, he felt no moral obligation to stay connected with that. Once he's done with it, he leaves.