Beverly Horvit, Carlos A. Cortés-Martínez and Kimberly Kelling

23Journalism, War, and Peace

Abstract: Scholars have formulated theories about the possible relationships between news coverage and the likelihood of peace or war since at least 1964 with the founding of the Journal of Peace Research. The topic seems to have taken on new urgency since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and declared a de facto war on terror, and since the world witnessed the Arab Spring. As the technology for waging war has changed, so has the technology for reporting on war and governments’ methods for attempting to influence the message. In addition, digital technologies and relatively new non-Western news outlets such as Al Jazeera have allowed more voices to be heard in the global village. But as wars and terrorism continue, some scholars have argued that how journalists cover war actually encourages violence, leading many researchers to seriously consider Johan Galtung’s concept of peace journalism. His normative suggestions for journalists have since been debated, expanded, and studied empirically. The precepts of peace journalism include an emphasis on people- vs. elite-oriented reporting and reporting that encompasses explaining the root causes and long-term consequences of violence. They also offer a strong framework for organizing the vast body of research into how conflicts have been framed by elite news organizations within the same country, as well as cross-national comparisons.

Keywords: war journalism, peace journalism, foreign policy, framing analysis, terrorism


Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the protests and revolutions of the Arab Spring, and the ongoing presence of groups such as al-Qaida, the Islamic State and al-Shabab have kept scholars focused on evaluating the news media’s coverage of conflicts and factors that influence that coverage. Consider, for example, the introduction of the open access Conflict & Communication Online journal in 2002 and the new Media, War and Conflict journal in 2008. For its part, Conflict & Communication Online regularly publishes issues dedicated to the debate over how to enhance conflict coverage and to empirical evaluations of war and peace journalism. Although international relations scholars associated with the International Crisis Behavior Project (Brecher & Wilkenfeld 2000; Brecher et al. 2017) have taken great care to define various types of interstate crises, communication scholars have tended to be less precise. As a result, this chapter will address research on a range of conflicts, including one or more nation-states’ military action against another nation-state or a nonstate actor, as well as political violence within a country, whether labeled as a revolution, civil war, or simply internal strife. In addition, although an earlier chapter in this handbook has focused on the rise of citizen journalism, this chapter will focus on the mass media and only address citizen journalism to the extent to which the work of citizen journalists has been promoted by the mass media.

Generally, scholars find that the media fall short of normative obligations to provide independent reporting on foreign policy crises, including the lead-up and execution of wars. In some cases, governments, ranging from the ostensibly democratic to authoritarian, employ direct means to shape news coverage. In other cases, government influences occur indirectly, seemingly by osmosis.

After examining the role of governments, this chapter will review scholars’ efforts to evaluate media coverage of war, terrorism, and other violent crises. Research on the performance of elite Western news organizations, as well as numerous cross-national comparisons, will be reviewed. Typically, scholars have undertaken either framing analyses or critical discourse analysis such as that inspired by Said (1978) or Habermas (1979), and some have employed Herman and Chomsky’s (2002) propaganda model and Bourdieu’s (1998) field theory to explain media content.

Finally, this chapter will explore Johan Galtung’s concept of peace journalism, tracing its evolution as a concept, as well as critics’ concerns about its adoption. Numerous scholars have undertaken empirical studies to evaluate the presence of peace journalism framing in journalists’ reporting, as well as its potential impact on audiences’ and journalists’ perceptions of its precepts. Those studies will be examined, and the section will conclude with an exploration of peace journalism’s potential to serve as an organizational and heuristic framework for future research.

2Factors that influence content during war and other crises

In normative democratic theory, a government’s ability to wage war depends partly on public approval, based on independent, objective information provided by the news media. For many media scholars, the 2003 US-led war on Iraq serves as a prime example of media failing to uphold their professional values of independence and verification, facilitating a US administration determined to wage war on questionable pretenses (Entman 2004; Lynch & McGoldrick 2005; Tunstall 2009).

Scholars have developed numerous theories to explain the news media’s limited ability to counter governmental narratives in foreign policy. Those theories include the indexing hypothesis (Bennett 1990) and all its iterations (see, for example, Althaus et al. 1996); the propaganda model (Herman & Chomsky 2002); the spheres of consensus, legitimate controversy and deviance (Hallin 1986); and the cascading activation model (Entman 2004). These theories involve indirect means of governmental influence on news reporting. Once a military conflict begins, however, governments also use direct means to steer reporting, including embedding journalists with military units, holding numerous press briefings to capture the attention of the 24-hour news cycle and censoring news accounts (Hachten & Scotton 2016). Nonetheless, relatively young media such as Al Jazeera and other digital and social media have been able to counter governments’ efforts in some cases.

This section will first examine the indirect and direct influence of government on media during foreign policy crises, then the impact of the changing nature of war combined with the economics of war coverage. Finally, this section will discuss how other digital and social media have been employed by the mass media during crises.

2.1Indirect and direct governmental influences on foreign policy coverage

To make sense of the government’s indirect involvement in foreign policy coverage, several scholars have developed theories that account for the relationship between government and journalism. Bennett (1990) argued that journalists tended to “index” their coverage to the public debates of US policymakers. In other words, the reports featured the main threads of those debates but offered little independent analysis. However, because of journalists’ professional norms of objectivity, if US policymakers offered a unified response, then journalists sought contrary viewpoints from non-US officials. Althaus et al. (1996) referred to the phenomenon as “indexing to power”, with US sources still dominating. Entman (2004) explained this phenomenon (and the impact on public opinion, which is beyond the scope of this chapter) with his model of cascading network activation. His model places a president and his administration at the top of the flow, giving them the most influence. He concluded that journalists tend to report more on procedural debates – for example, how much leeway a president has to wage war with or without Congress’ blessing – than substantive debates, such as what’s to be gained or lost by going to war and what other alternatives are available. Similarly, Hallin (1986) uses spheres to explain when journalists, who typically strive for objectivity, feel comfortable questioning foreign policy decisions. He posits three concentric spheres: consensus, legitimate controversy, and deviance. In the sphere of consensus, journalists take basic assumptions – for example, that the United States is a peace-loving, democratic country – for granted. In the sphere of legitimate controversy, much like the indexing hypothesis suggests, journalists report on disagreements between the two political parties. Finally, in the sphere of deviance, journalists feel free to dismiss outliers of public opinion.

Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (2002) has also been used to explain the outsized influence of the executive branch in influencing the tone of war and conflict coverage. According to the model, both economic and governmental powers have tremendous influence in shaping news coverage due to five factors: the concentration of ownership and wealth in mass media; the media’s dependency on advertising for revenue; the media’s need for easily accessible expert sources; flak directed at news organizations and journalists who publish narratives that don’t match the interests of those in power; and an abhorrence of communism that leads to avoiding coverage that could be perceived as sympathetic. Herman and Chomsky argue: “The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news ‘objectively’ and on the basis of professional news values” (Herman & Chomsky 2002: 2). In other words, the system of “manufacturing consent” works so well that government does not need to overtly censor or dictate coverage, but the result is the same.

All these theories of government’s indirect influence successfully predict the predominant use of US administration sources in US news reporting on foreign-policy crises. One recent example includes elite press reporting on Syria (Cozma & Kozman 2015). In their analysis of conflict coverage in The New York Times and Washington Post, Cozma and Kozman (2015) found that the most cited sources used in the two newspapers were US officials, followed by international officials.

Of course, US journalists are not the only journalists susceptible to overvaluing their government’s claims. Scholars documented the same phenomenon in other countries (see, for example, Al Nahed’s (2016) analysis of BBC Arabic’s coverage of the 2011 Libyan uprising). Unsurprisingly, news organizations in countries Freedom House says do not have a free press – China and Qatar (home of Al Jazeera), for example – also produce coverage that aligns with the foreign policy of their home country (see, for example, Al Nahed 2016; Abdul-Nabi 2015; Guo et al. 2015; Zhang 2015).

However, government efforts to tailor media coverage do not just occur through indirect channels. Numerous scholars (Seib 2004; Hachten & Scotton 2016) traced the US government’s evolving methods of limiting coverage during war, whether by delaying when journalists were allowed access to a combat zone, restricting coverage to pools of reporters or by holding excessive news briefings to capture journalists’ time and try to mislead the enemy. With the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the military formalized the practice of embedding journalists – from the US and other countries – with military units. This raised a host of ethical questions, including how journalists can be autonomous and whether they might feel compelled to play a role in combat (Seib 2004). If the practice was designed to create more favorable coverage for the US military, scholars have documented that, indeed, it did. Pfau et al. (2004) found that in major US newspapers, the stories from embedded journalists were more positive toward the military than the reports from others. Pfau et al. (2005) found similar results when examining the reports of embedded vs. non-embedded broadcast journalists with the national networks. More recently, Chinese journalists embedded with the US military in Afghanistan complained to Zhang (2015) about pressure from US press officers to avoid certain topics and instead publicize stories of the military’s choosing. Journalists who did not adhere risked removal.

2.2Economic, technological, and other influences on war reporting

Changes in technology, as well as economic and safety concerns, have also affected how news organizations report on international crises and military conflict. Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to address the changing landscape of global news flow, including the impact of the variously defined “CNN effect” (Robinson 2005; Livingston & Eachus 1995) and now the “Al Jazeera effect” (Seib 2008; Ricchiardi 2011), this section will examine how news organizations have responded to economic realities, safety concerns, the growing prevalence of social media, and the work of citizen journalists.

In the US, mainstream news organizations have needed to cover multiple wars, including the war on terror, while also facing declining revenues and increased costs of security. As a result, they have relied more heavily on freelancers instead of full-time employees (Palmer 2015). In 2014, Nieman Reports devoted almost an entire edition to the opportunities, challenges, and risks for freelancers – including a greater probability of being kidnapped and/or killed (see Dyer 2014; Hammer 2014). The greater risks stem partly from the fact that extremist groups no longer need journalists to disseminate their messages; those groups can now send messages directly to a mass audience using social media (Hammer 2014).

The working conditions of freelancers, and all international correspondents, can be better understood through the lens of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1998), whose field theory suggests every field needs three types of capital, or resources: cultural, economic, and social. Cultural capital in journalism refers to the accumulation of knowledge and experience that is unique to the field and “encompasses such things as educational credentials, technical expertise, general knowledge, verbal abilities, and artistic sensibilities” (Benson 2006: 189). Economic capital relates directly to financial resources, such as money or assets that have monetary value. Finally, social capital refers to the sum of one’s personal network (Vandevoordt 2017). In theory, the more capital agents obtain in the field, the more power they have in negotiating their autonomy from external and internal pressures (Schudson 2005). In analyzing Dutch and Flemish reporters covering Syria, Vandevoordt (2017) concluded that more economic resources enabled journalists to capture alternative viewpoints and in-depth reports on people’s lives. Journalists with less economic capital were more likely to focus on official statements or breaking news. Vandevoordt found that journalists with more social capital, that is, connections in the field, were better able to evaluate their sources’ claims, while journalists with less social capital were forced to rely on fixers, local individuals who help negotiate the reporting process.

Vandevoordt’s findings mesh with the research of Palmer and Fontan (2007), who analyzed journalists’ reliance on fixers in the second Iraq war. Few of the French and British journalists spoke Arabic and relied on their fixers for everything from arranging transportation to finding sources and conducting interviews. The fixers were unimpressed with their employers’ level of cultural competence. Journalists have reported that the reliance on fixers was largely due to safety concerns (see Garrels 2003; Sites 2007). Although Plaut (2017) credits the BBC with providing its correspondents weeklong courses about staying safe in conflict zones, he notes that journalists covering conflicts in Africa, for example, are often at the mercy of international aid organizations or even rebel groups for information and access to sources.

In another example, Palmer (2015) does not cite Bourdieu directly, but her critical analysis fits nicely with concerns about economic and social capital. She argues that the digital era contributes to freelancers’ expendability. With fewer full-time positions available, more journalists are competing for freelance jobs. One could argue that freelancers’ social capital fits “somewhere in between the staff correspondent and the amateur ‘citizen journalist’ on the spectrum of journalistic authority” (Palmer 2015: 228). Because the freelancers are not full-time network employees, she argues, the networks can choose to distance themselves from the freelancers when a narrative becomes politically difficult – in a commercial media market, who wants to show US audiences a US soldier shooting a defenseless Iraqi? Nonetheless, Palmer found that freelancer Kevin Sites was able to use his own digital sphere – his personal blog – to successfully counter the narrative promulgated by NBC News.

When journalists have not had the economic, social, or cultural resources to obtain firsthand accounts from individuals affected by violence, they have often had to supplement their work with reports from citizen journalists. The Syrian conflict that started in 2011 is a perfect example and led to The New York Times posting citizen-produced clips on its website (Wall & El Zahed 2015). Ali and Fahmy (2013) argue that citizen journalism has the most impact when it is promulgated within mainstream media content. Although user-generated content could be seen as taking the place of a traditional interview, Ali and Fahmy suggest that media have maintained their gatekeeping roles. In analyzing protests after the Iranian elections in 2009, and repercussions of the Arab Spring in 2011, they concluded: “Social media might have created the opportunity for citizen journalists to get their voices heard, but it was the traditional media’s practices of gatekeeping that selected the information that would reach the wider audience” (Ali & Fahmy 2013: 66).

In other contexts, the term “citizen journalist” is used to describe members of the public who have received training from the media and/or nongovernmental organizations to provide reports on their experiences and/or communities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the Association of Media Women of South Kivu trained more than 500 women in rural areas to collaborate with urban journalists to create hundreds of radio programs (García-Mingo 2017). The goal was for the women to be able to tell their own stories of survival.

3Evaluating war reporting via framing and discourse analysis

3.1What citizens can learn from elite news organizations

Scholars’ conviction that news coverage shapes how citizens and policymakers respond to issues of war and peace has sparked thousands of framing analyses. Framing involves “selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described” (Entman 1993: 52). In many cases, frames are open-ended, with researchers examining news content about an event or issue for differences that might be predicted by Hallin’s spheres model (1986) or Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (2002). Conflict, human interest, economic impact, morality, and responsibility are common frames for international coverage (Semetko & Valkenburg 2000). Episodic vs. thematic distinctions (Iyengar 1994) and the differences between Eastern and Western framing (Mahony 2010) also have been investigated.

In examining the coverage of elite western news organizations, scholars typically find that the reporting lends itself to allowing citizens to not ask tough questions about official policy. Cozma and Kozman (2015), for example, found that Washington Post and The New York Times coverage of chemical attacks on Syrian citizens in August 2013 focused on a conflict frame, thereby limiting space for efforts to humanize the story or assess responsibility for the attacks. Although Cozma and Kozman praised the thematic nature of the elite US press coverage, they found that sourcing patterns heavily favored government officials. Syrians on the ground did not especially have their stories told to the American public. Graber (2017) was more critical in his assessment of large US newspapers’ coverage of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Graber concluded that the largest US newspapers falsely accused Palestinian militants of using human shields. He found the newspapers’ reporting “lacking”, saying they had “done little to explain to the public the complexities of a highly destructive and deadly region of the world, nuance that could allow citizens to participate more fully in a democratic solution for peace” (Graber 2017: 303). Similarly, Boyd-Barrett (2017) argued that in coverage of the Ukrainian–Russian crisis of 2013–2015, reporters for mainstream Western media such as The New York Times and Washington Post offered factually questionable coverage because, as predicted by Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model (2002), they privileged the US government’s perspectives and interpretations.

Given the increased prominence of Galtung’s concept of peace journalism, it will be discussed in the final section of this chapter. The next section will focus on cross-national research.

3.2Cross-national comparisons: Are these the same wars?

The comparative literature identifies sourcing, as well as political and cultural context, as significant factors that shape coverage of war. Scholars have found that the news coverage from Western news organizations is more supportive of Western policies than the news coverage from Al Jazeera (Damanhoury & Saleh 2017), a relative newcomer to the international scene. Other researchers have found connections between countries’ religious backgrounds and war coverage (Maslog et al. 2006), and significant differences in the language used to describe terrorists (Mahony 2010).

Damanhoury and Saleh (2017) offer a helpful meta-analysis of nine studies comparing Al Jazeera’s coverage to that of Western news organizations. Their summary noted that Al Jazeera’s coverage was more likely to use Palestinian sources, support Palestinian ideas, use a more critical tone when discussing the military actions of the US and its allies, and to focus more on protesters during the Arab Spring and on Iraqis during the United States’ invasion of Iraq. The Western networks – NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN – all relied more on US military sources during the invasion of Iraq. Similarly, when Al Nahed (2016) compared framing of the 2011 Libyan uprising by BBC Arabic and Al Jazeera Arabic, she concluded that the news coverage reflected their respective home country’s national interests. That said, she found the BBC’s coverage more balanced, using less emotive language than Al Jazeera.

Religion has also seemed to play a role in coverage. In examining Asian newspapers’ coverage of the Iraq war, for example, Maslog et al. (2006) found that support for either the US or the Iraqis varied according to the religion of a newspaper’s home country. With one exception, coverage in predominantly Muslim countries favored the Iraqis, while coverage in non-Muslim countries favored the US. The dominant religion in a country also appears to affect the language used to describe terrorists. Mahony (2010) chose theories of racism, Said’s Orientalism, and cultural hegemony for her critical discourse analysis of Australian vs. Indonesian coverage of terror attacks in Indonesia to explain “the ways in which social hierarchies and power are naturalized and reproduced in discourse, through the Othering of particular social groups” (Mahony 2010: 741). She found that Australian coverage of the bombings contributed to negative stereotypes about Muslims, a group she argues is already the most marginalized in Australia. The Australian coverage omitted key pieces of context and tended to add the words “Islamic” or “Muslim” to modify the words “extremists” or “radicals”. The Indonesian press did not use religion as an identifier for the perpetrators. Mahony discussed her findings in light of Galtung’s (2000) recommended practice of peace journalism, a model gaining scholarly attention in conflict and war reporting (for example, see Lee & Maslog 2005; Maslog et al. 2006; Lee et al. 2006).

4Peace journalism

Johan Galtung’s basic premise is that journalists who use peace journalism framing increase the odds of peaceful resolutions, while journalists who employ war journalism framing do the opposite. Numerous scholars have raised ethical and practical concerns related to peace journalism, and others have used Galtung’s framework to evaluate conflict coverage. This section will explain and trace the history of the peace journalism concept, and then summarize scholars’ critiques of the concept, as well as provide examples of researchers’ efforts to analyze content, audience perceptions, and journalists’ perceptions. Finally, this chapter will show how peace journalism serves as an important heuristic device for organizing and understanding war coverage. Distinguishing between peace and war journalism, for example, requires scholars to scrutinize journalists’ use of sources and language, as well as their ability to objectively evaluate claims made by all sides in war.

Galtung has promoted the peace journalism concept since the 1960s (Youngblood 2017) and founded the Journal of Peace Research in 1964. Through his work, he has distinguished between peace and war journalism, arguing that the latter is the most prevalent type of conflict reporting. As a framework of conflict coverage, war journalism reflects the privileging of official sourcing, nationalism, and violence. Conversely, peace journalism reports on the root causes and long-term consequences of war, not just the episodic “here and now”; it reports on the impact on culture and society, not just the visible effects of death and destruction; it gives voice to the people, not just the powerful; it avoids dichotomizing between us vs. them or the good guys and bad guys; it tells the truth about all sides involved in the conflict; it uses language carefully to avoid taking sides, avoid exaggeration, and avoid victimization; it points to areas where the parties to a conflict agree, not just those areas where they disagree (Galtung & Vincent 1992). Proponents argue that peace journalism also contributes to avoiding direct violence by addressing two other types of violence – structural and cultural – before direct violence erupts. Structural violence emphasizes the consequences of power in society, showing the inequalities citizens face in terms of access to basic resources (Ho 2007). Cultural violence, on the other hand, manifests itself through religion, language, art, information, and entertainment, reinforcing power inequalities in society (Galtung 1990; Youngblood 2017).

Galtung’s work has been championed and extended by journalists-turned-scholars Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick, who published the book Peace Journalism (2005) to outline the main principles of the movement. In addition, the Center for Global Peace Journalism promotes the movement through seminars, lectures, and conferences, as well as The Peace Journalist magazine, launched in 2012. Although the basic tenets of peace journalism might sound, as McGoldrick and Lynch (2000) say, like journalism that is holistic, analytical, ethical, or constructive, several scholars have taken issue with the practice. Their concerns will be addressed next.

4.1Critiques of peace journalism

Hanitzsch (2004) is one of the most prominent detractors of peace journalism. He questions the assumption that peace journalists would be more objective than war journalists, noting that no one person can report the one true version of reality as all reporting is based on selection. In addition, he argues that the advocates of peace journalism overstate journalism’s potential impact on society and states that journalism’s main duty is to inform, not to take responsibility for fixing the world’s problems. However, peace journalism advocates argue that journalism perhaps unwittingly plays an active role in the creation, exacerbation, development, and maintenance of conflict – a role journalists could change. Peleg (2006), for instance, says journalism must serve as a mediator between parties in conflict.

Hanitzsch (2004) agrees that journalists should provide background and context; he considers that the job of all good journalism. In addition, he argues that journalists should report the news they have and not withhold information for fear of how the public might react. “If journalists do not report even on controversial issues, the subsequent information vacuum may be filled by other communicators such as PR people, politicians, military spokespersons, demagogues, radicals, fanatics and others who distribute information from a highly partial stance” (Hanitzsch 2004: 171–172). In response to this criticism, Lynch and McGoldrick (2005) argue that peace journalism does not call for withholding information but urges journalists to be reflective – that is, to consider why a source would want the information released – to confirm the information if possible, to explain to audiences if the information cannot be confirmed, and to report the actions of all sides in conflicts.

Another critic of peace journalism says that the news values of traditional journalism are incompatible with the news values of peace journalism. Wolfsfeld (1997) argues that the process of negotiating peace is too slow, too complex and too secretive to meet the needs of journalists who want to cover breaking news. Lynch and McGoldrick (2005) take issue, however, with assuming that officials negotiating behind closed doors will be able to secure peace. In the meantime, the peace journalism advocates would want journalists to keep reporting on people’s lives.

Regardless of where one stands on peace journalism as a normative framework or media theory, scholars have invested considerable energy recently studying the approach. Empirical studies have primarily focused on analyzing content, both visual and textual, and a handful of studies have also investigated effects on audiences’ and journalists’ perceptions of the characteristics associated with peace and war journalism. These studies will be addressed in the next section.

4.2Empirical analyses of peace journalism: news content, audience reactions and journalists’ perceptions

Early studies on peace journalism focused on coding news stories and visual images for various characteristics of war vs. peace journalism framing suggested by Galtung. Important variables appear to be the proximity of a conflict, the degree of involvement of a news organization’s home country; the type of content (news vs. editorial); and the type publication.

As for the proximity of a conflict, Lee and Maslog (2005) determined that war framing dominated Asian newspapers’ coverage of conflicts in their region, while Maslog et al. (2006) found that Asian newspapers’ coverage of the US war in Iraq tended slightly toward peace journalism. For Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English, coverage of other Middle Eastern conflicts – those in Syria and Bahrain – showed war journalism framing (Abdul-Nabi 2015). Similarly, Turkish newspapers reporting on two jets, one Turkish and one Syrian, being shot down by the other country’s army, used war journalism framing. The results suggest journalists find it difficult to avoid us vs. them framing, the more they or their news organizations identify with “us”.

The type of news content also seems to affect the framing. When gatekeepers at the Asian newspapers selected hard news stories from wire services, those stories were more likely to have a war journalism frame (Lee & Maslog 2005), while feature/opinion pieces were more likely to display peace journalism framing (Lee et al. 2006). The feature and opinion pieces likely allowed more room for nuance and context. In examining visual images of the Syrian conflict from 2011–2012, Greenwood and Jenkins (2015) determined that public affairs magazines were more likely to show photographs related to peace framing.

In addition to analyzing how coverage is framed, some scholars have investigated the impact of peace vs. war journalism framing on audiences. In these studies, the researchers have manipulated content and measured audience reactions in controlled settings. Schaefer (2006) altered texts to promote either the escalation or de-escalation of conflict, and found that readers of the de-escalation-oriented texts were less likely to favor military responses. McGoldrick and Lynch (2016) conducted a similar study using video and found that stories with a strong protagonist – someone to humanize a particular issue – “prompted and equipped participants to engage with unfamiliar arguments; arguments that challenged propaganda and dominant frames and narratives” (McGoldrick & Lynch 2016: 635). Of course, whether individuals – or policymakers – would seek out and pay attention to these type of news stories during the course of their everyday lives is another question.

Another important question is how those actually practicing journalism view the peace journalism movement and/or its basic principles. Neumann and Fahmy (2016) surveyed members of The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and found that the journalists found it equally important to report on the visible and invisible effects (including sociocultural damage and psychological harm) of conflict. Neumann and Fahmy did not explicitly tell the respondents they were studying attitudes toward peace vs. war journalism, so it remains unclear what percentage of journalists have heard about the peace journalism model. Overall, however, the journalists surveyed expressed higher agreement with the peace journalism traits presented. Interestingly, journalists with more experience covering conflict placed greater value on the peace journalism traits with one exception: They were more likely to report on differences than agreements. That said, Neumann and Fahmy found that journalists covering the Middle East put less value on explaining the root causes of a conflict and covering its aftermath.

While the journalists surveyed by Neumann and Fahmy generally reported for fairly large, mainstream Western news organizations, García-Mingo (2017) interviewed “mamas in the newsroom”, professional and citizen female journalists working for small radio stations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These women had already explicitly signed on for stations with peace journalism missions, but García-Mingo wanted to see how they perceived their journalistic role. She concluded that they chose an activist role in seeking out and telling the stories of women affected by sexual violence during armed conflict. However, Frère’s research in neighboring Burundi illustrates the profound impact political context can have on journalists’ role perceptions. Frère notes: “Even though every single journalist was affected by the war in his personal life, professionalism [in January 2015] seemed to be about succeeding in overcoming one’s own story to be able to listen to and understand all the perspectives in the Burundian society” (Frère 2017: 11). After a coup attempt in May 2015 that resulted in about 80 journalists being kicked out of the country, the exiled journalists felt their task impossible.

4.3Peace journalism as an organizational and heuristic framework

Unlike Bourdieu’s theory of capital specific to the journalistic field or Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model, peace journalism is not a theory capable of explaining or predicting media content – the work journalists produce. Galtung’s model does, however, give a name to content Herman and Chomsky’s model predicts: war journalism. Whether the implementation of the peace journalism model can help predict peace or violence likely depends on multiple factors, including the gravity of the conflict. Do journalists want that responsibility? Quite reasonably, Hanitzch (2004) argues no. Nevertheless, the peace journalism model presents a normative model for conflict coverage and important variables to consider in evaluating content. In that vein, the peace journalism model also serves as a heuristic device and organizing principle for exploring the work of journalists in combat zones, as well as in situations that involve structural or cultural violence. In particular, researchers can evaluate content based on the following: Does the reporting (or the research) elucidate the causes and consequences of war? Do journalists work to verify the claims of all sides, or have they fallen prey to propaganda? Have journalists carefully chosen their language so as to convey facts as neutrally as possible and avoid demonization of the “other”? Have journalists allowed citizens and their concerns to be heard in a meaningful way? Each of these questions highlights the need to continually evaluate coverage in the hopes of helping journalists raise their standards and counter propaganda.

For example, peace journalism’s emphasis on tracing the causes and consequences of conflict provides a helpful framework for evaluating war coverage. The precursors to war often get scant attention from news organizations, especially as legacy news media have closed many of their bureaus across the world. “Arriving late, journalists cover the aftermath of the explosion, not the causes leading to it and not in a timely way that might have alerted the world in time to snuff out the fuse”, states Seib (2004: 24). Of course, Lynch and McGoldrick (2005) acknowledge, how far back one would need to go for sufficient context is a debatable point for each crisis. They argue that the precursor of the US invasion of Iraq could be traced back to any number of dates, including 1096, the first crusade. When Abdul-Nabi (2015) analyzed 2011 events in Syria and Bahrain, she evaluated the coverage based on contextual factors dating from the 1920s in the case of Bahrain & from 1982 in the case of Syria. How often – and how deeply – do journalists provide or make available (via hyperlinks in digital stories, for example) the historical context necessary to make sense of a conflict? More important, could more explanation help nation-states avoid violent conflicts?

Just as researchers fault journalists sometimes for neglecting to provide adequate context leading up to a war, peace journalism also offers a reminder to hold news organizations accountable for “staying on” and reporting the long-term consequences of war. Bachman (2017) faults The New York Times and Washington Post for downplaying the impact of US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, noting that the strikes have led to economic, psychological, and cultural damage that is under-covered as civilians are rarely mentioned compared to those targeted by a strike. Incidentally, when Bachman contacted the Washington Post, an editor justified not running a correction because the paper had relied on information provided by official sources and could not independently verify the information. The example supports Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model, but also illustrates the value of researchers and journalists asking more questions to counter propaganda.

The peace journalism model also points to another important research area: the lingering consequences of war for journalists. Some research has documented post-traumatic stress syndrome among correspondents (McGoldrick 2011), and others suggest researchers take seriously the relationship between role perception and practice in a post-conflict society (Andresen, Hoxha & Godole 2017). In examining Worlds of Journalism survey data for journalists in the Western Balkans, they found that journalists believe they should play an expanded, more activist role in helping their countries transition into full democracies. In another study, Jungblut and Hoxha (2017) examined the growing acceptance of self-censorship in the post-conflict societies of Macedonia, Kosovo, and Serbia. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a peace treaty was signed in 2003, women have been “developing various and simultaneous roles as journalists, political actors, international human rights activists and mothers” (García-Mingo 2017: 217). Also in Africa, Frère (2017) has analyzed how journalists in the post-conflict country of Burundi have had to redefine their roles as the political climate in the country again deteriorates. During Burundi’s civil war from 1993 to 2003, the United Nations and other groups helped create radio stations at which Hutu and Tutsi journalists could work together on peace journalism efforts. After a 2015 coup attempt, Frère (2017) found that exiled journalists, worried about their personal and financial security, felt helpless, undermining “the psychological basis for joint actions around professional shared values” (Frère 2017: 20). More research is needed on how best to help journalists struggling under authoritarianism in a post-conflict society and to understand the impact of those struggles on their work – and their countries’ potential for long-term peace.

In addition to underscoring the need to continue reporting and researching about conflicts’ effects on society, the peace journalism model also calls for journalists to report truth, not propaganda. While Herman and Chomsky’s model explains how relatively easily propaganda can be spread even through a seemingly free and objective press, advocates of peace journalism emphatically ask journalists to be wary of propaganda. Although the numerous studies critical of journalists’ performance can be daunting – the wars and studies seem to keep coming – the critical analysis of journalists’ work must continue. Without those analyses, the propaganda could be spread that much more easily. The peace journalism model requires journalists to assess the claims of all sides in conflicts and not to give preferential treatment or deference to their own side. The work of Graber (2017), who used Habermasian discourse analysis to study coverage of the 2014 Gaza War, aligns nicely with that element of peace journalism, as do the studies on drone coverage (Bachman 2017; Ahmad 2016).

Countering propaganda also requires questioning assumptions. For his part, Seib (2004) asks that journalists take seriously their watchdog role and ask US officials tough questions: What’s an acceptable ratio of civilian to militant casualties? When officials cite national security when refusing to release information, are they really worried more about their own political security? Seib (2004) argues that news organizations also have an obligation to question the legitimacy of tactics, such as torture and “targeted killings”, used to fight terrorism. For Bachman (2017) and Ahmad (2016), US journalists have not asked enough questions and have been too willing to accept US military statements about death tolls. As for international human rights and other legal issues related to the drone strikes, Bachman (2017) carefully documents the complex rules for engagement and legal debates regarding the strikes, then determines that only a handful of stories in two elite US newspapers ever mentioned human rights or human rights law. Acknowledging and pinpointing the deficiency is the first step to addressing it.

Another method for countering propaganda is through an increased reliance on unofficial sources to capture the nature of everyday life for those affected by conflict. Galtung (2000) and Lynch and McGoldrick (2005) draw on the literature of conflict resolution in their call for journalists to invest more time reporting the needs, wants, and daily lives of ordinary citizens and less time reporting what officials, the elite, say. The premise is that people on the ground know better what they need than do officials who might have a different agenda. Galtung’s call for people-oriented reporting comes as dozens of studies, if not more, have shown journalists’ tendency to rely heavily on official sources. This reliance has been called everything from indexing (Bennett 1990) to manufacturing consent (Herman & Chomsky 2002). The result is journalism that privileges – and helps preserve – those in power.

The mandate for truth telling extends beyond providing counter narratives of government propaganda. It also requires the journalist use precise language (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005). Again, the peace journalism framework serves as a strong heuristic by asking scholars and journalists to analyze and reflect more on the use of various words. Indeed, Boyd-Barrett (2017) calls out a Washington Post reporter for referring to protesters in eastern Ukraine as “terrorists” (Boyd-Barrett 2017: 1023). Al Nahed (2016) does not refer to peace journalism in her study of BBC Arabic and Al Jazeera’s framing of the Libyan uprising, but she does carefully notice the networks’ linguistic choices. A majority of Al Jazeera’s stories used the Arabic word for “revolutionaries” to refer to those trying to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi, while the BBC never used the word. Al Nahed states: “The significance of this explicit [revolutionary] framing is that it lends legitimacy to the movement, and its aims and demands” (Al Nahed 2016: 130). A BBC correspondent told her the BBC staff were told not to use the word “revolution” or “revolutionaries” “as doing so would indicate bias” (Al Nahed 2016: 130).

Proponents of peace journalism also call for nuanced reporting that captures the complexity of those involved in conflict, noting that news reports that demonize “the other” can contribute to fatal violence. Indeed, such was the case in the Rwandan genocide and in the former Yugoslavia. One way to avoid demonizing “the other” is to include their voices in reporting. Based on a content analysis comparing professional and nonprofessional publications’ coverage of the Northern Ireland conflict, Armoudian (2015) argued that the norms of professional journalism contribute to more tempered coverage. Again, although Al Nahed (2016) did not refer to peace journalism, her detailed framing analysis did capture the ways in which she believed Al Jazeera Arabic demonized Moammar Gaddafi in its coverage of the Libyan uprising by allowing guests on its shows to call Gaddafi a dictator, murderer, tyrant and the like, as well as comparing him to Israel, “an analogy that would be especially effective in demonizing the Libyan leader in the eyes of Arab audiences, due to widespread support for the Palestinian cause” (Armoudian 2015: 133).


Working to understand how journalists cover conflict and foreign policy is by no means a new undertaking for scholars, but even seemingly radical changes in technology, such as citizen and digital journalism, do not seem to have altered a basic premise: News media in stable countries tend to produce coverage that supports their own countries during crises, in part by relying on official sources. Herman and Chomsky would not be surprised. While their propaganda model successfully predicts the media’s role in helping to manufacture consent, the peace journalism model suggests concrete ways for journalists to counter propaganda and numerous yardsticks by which scholars – and the public – can evaluate pre, during, and post-conflict news coverage. Have journalists tried to report the causes and consequences of violence, whether direct, structural, or cultural? Have journalists worked to ensure they are telling the stories of real people? Have they worked to verify officials’ claims? Whether journalists have the resources to do this vital work is another question.

In many ways, Bourdieu’s concept of economic, social, and cultural capital is helpful in identifying the type of resources needed. Limited economic resources help explain journalism’s tendency toward war journalism. For example, with limited resources and their existing business models, news organizations cannot afford to permanently station as many correspondents in fixed locations across the globe. Instead, they reposition as necessary to respond when violent crises erupt. But journalists also need more cultural capital, both in terms of better understanding other cultures and in terms of learning to question assumptions made about their own. Future research into coverage of conflict and war could benefit from the partnership of field theory and peace journalism, especially as it compares the peace journalism framework to the cultural capital of the journalistic field. In other words, research could explore how peace journalism supports the presuppositions of the field.

Further reading

In Peace Journalism, Lynch and McGoldrick (2005) offer an in-depth explanation of how the principles of conflict analysis can be extended to reporting on war and other crises. Like Seib (2004), their primer provides a normative framework for evaluating journalists’ work. Vandevoordt (2017) draws on the ideas of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1998) to explain the impact of economic, cultural, and social capital in the field. The importance of such capital resonates in the heart-breaking analysis of journalists’ perceptions of themselves in post-conflict Burundi (Frère 2017). From a peace journalism perspective, Ho (2007) and Youngblood (2017) illustrate how journalistic work could contribute to avoiding violent conflict by focusing on the structural and cultural conflict that precedes violence.


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