Media @ McGill

Christine Crowther | Post-Conflict Journalism Assistance: Finding a Complement to “Social” Peacebuilding

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It has been twenty years since the end of cold war and the beginning of the UN’s large-scale involvement in “peacebuilding” – assisting countries that are emerging from war rebuild their economic, judicial, media, and political systems in ways that provide peaceful alternatives to violent conflict. Despite an investment of billions of dollars and countless good intentions, critics suggest liberal peacebuilding efforts are not producing the intended results. (Liden, et al, 2009; Paris, 2004; Schmelzle and Fischer, 2009: 5; Walton, 2009) Among the alternatives being offered is what Liden calls “social” peacebuilding. It suggests processes of negotiation and adaptation have more chance of success than the installation of liberal models imported from countries of the global north. (Liden, 2009) The critiques offered by Liden and the others present an opportunity to reconsider all aspects of the liberal peacebuilding framework – including the role of journalism.

Why journalism? The number of international actors engaged in post-conflict media assistance has increased dramatically since the early 1990s. (Kumar, 2006; Norris, 2010) Exact numbers are difficult to verify, but recent studies indicate that donor countries, private foundations, and international organizations spend close to a billion U.S. dollars per year on media assistance. (Myers, 2009; Norris, 2010) Journalism is a field that is the target of much of this funding because there tends to be an assumption that a free press is an essential component of democracy, and that democracy is an essential component of building peace. (Howard, 2003; Norris, 2010; Price et al, 2011; Scammell and Semetko, 2000)

The work I am doing for my doctoral thesis is rooted in critiques of these assumptions – critiques that follow similar lines of thinking to Liden’s. (Allen and Stremlau, 2005; Cammaerts and Carpentier, 2007; Curran and Seaton, 2003; Darby, 2009; Dean, 2009; Jabri, 2007; Jakubowicz, 2004; Nerone, 2009; Richmond and Franks, 2007) Hallin and Mancini for instance suggest it is ironic that - given questions about the legitimacy of the liberal model of journalism in the countries in which it evolved - it is still taken around the world as the normative ideal. (Hallin and Mancini, 2004) The project I propose to undertake with the assistance of a Media@McGill Research Fellowship is an examination of journalism norms that could provide a complement to the alternative framework for peacebuilding that Liden has put forward.

I suggest the concept of “articulation” provides a useful theoretical bridge between peacebuilding and communication theory. (Grossberg, 1986) My research will ask which normative model of journalism opens up local opportunities that may not have been considered by international actors in post-conflict countries. My project will compare three normative models of journalism: the “North Atlantic” model, which tends to be the current standard in peacebuilding missions; “peace” journalism, which is becoming increasingly popular among critics who believe the North Atlantic model is not appropriate for post-conflict countries; and “public” journalism, whose adherents suggest is better suited to 21st century theories of democracy than the traditional model. (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1991; Galtung, 2000; Christians et al, 2009; Habermas, 1996; Hallin and Mancini, 2004; Hanitzsch, 2004; Howard, 2009; Lynch and McGoldrick, 2005; Nip, 2006; Rosen, 1991; Price et al, 2011; Shafer, 1998) It will do so through a combination of literature review and a study of the Cambodian case. Cambodia is relevant for two reasons: it was the first post-conflict country in which a United Nations mission used radio as a peacebuilding tool; it is also a country that was initially celebrated as an example of post-conflict peacebuilding, but is now often found in lists of its failures.

This examination will help form the theoretical framework for my thesis, and will also form the basis of a scholarly article. In keeping with the Media@McGill mission, this work will produce new knowledge related to media policy.