The first online debate hosted by the International Center for Transitional Justice on the role of media in transitional justice has come to a close. The debate aimed to illuminate issues around this complex relationship and was the first in a series ICTJ will host on topics on which there is no consensus in the field.
The relationship between media and transitional justice is of enormous importance to the processes of social change faced by societies in the aftermath of massive human rights abuses. Yet, it remains one of the most understudied aspects of the discourse on transitional justice, with not more than a handful of serious academic works on the subject, and discussions around the issues are usually limited to the "need for journalists to be trained" to report on complex trials, truth commissions and reparations programs. It was this gap in knowledge that motivated us to ask the question, "Should media actively support transitional justice efforts?" in the first ever ICTJ online debate.
The choice of guests in the debate was made with careful deliberation. Apart from their impressive records of seasoned, award-winning investigative reporters, Carlos Dada and Dejan Anastasijevic brought their experience rooted in the realities of El Salvador and Serbia, societies still struggling with legacies of brutal conflicts and difficult, turbulent transitions.
And although they approached the debate's central question from opposing vantage points, it soon became clear that their positions were not too distant, and they acknowledged common ground when it came to the underlying principles of the role of journalism in transitional societies. Rather, the debate began exploring some of the key misconceptions about the power of both media and transitional justice to affect change in what are clearly political and cultural processes amounting to transformations of values by which societies function.
Eric Gordy captured the essence of this dilemma in his contribution:
The richness of the discussion that ensued surpassed all our expectations. Driven through the opening stage and the rebuttals by thoughtful, illuminating contributions by our two main participants and our guest commentators, Lisa Laplante, Olga Lucia Lozano, and Adama Dieng, David Tolbert and others, the debate attracted several thousands of visitors and comments from all corners of the world, proving that it had asked a pertinent question.
Dada and Anastasijevic close the debate not in disagreement, but with different sentiments.
Departing from the position that the main duty of journalism is to "provide public with intellectual tools to make better decisions and to better engage in public debate" to "enlighten its public", Dada examines whether or not supporting transitional justice efforts can be seen as a duty of journalism. He posits:
Anastasijevic does not oppose, but his mood is more somber as he concludes his closing statement:
The closing statements, but also the opening positions and rebuttals, guest commentary and comments from the floor, have made this debate a rich source of material for those interested in the issue, as well as researches who will further explore the questions raised in the discussion. ICTJ will certainly take the points raised in the debate as a point of departure for a deeper analysis of the relationship between media and transitional justice, and continued engagement with journalist and scholars. The debate has closed, but discussion continues, precisely as we had hoped when we launched the series. We look forward to the next one.
The ICTJ debate on media and transitional justice is archived here