The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party in Ethiopia, concluded its annual party convention and came up with a communique this week. Although it touched on numerous issues, it acknowledged the presence of media that intentionally try to create conflict between different ethnic groups. It also raised mistrust within the party and the people as one of the reasons for the exacerbation of recent conflicts. That got me thinking if peace journalism could be used to normalize the circumstances.
The idea of Peace Journalism was first articulated by the Norwegian Peace researcher Johan Galtung in 1965, in his study on foreign news and conflict reporting. However, the term "Peace Journalism" was not coined and didn't exist until the 1970s.
Accordingly, after being introduced by Galtung in the 1970s, and further developed by veteran journalists like Jake Lynch and Annabel Goldrick, "Peace Journalism" offers both a form of critical analysis of existing war reporting, and a set of practical plans and options for journalists. The theoretical foundations of Peace Journalism were postulated on an assumption that if media can move people to conflict it must contain the ability to work in the opposite direction.
Galtung himself defined peace journalism as the capability to serve as the third party to ease tension or settle conflict at the time of mistrust or lack of confidence. On the other hand, Howard (2009) suggested the following idea of peace journalism. "Peace journalism combines journalism with an external aim. It understands itself as a normative mode of responsible and careful media coverage of conflict that aims at contributing to peacemaking, peacekeeping and changing the attitudes of media owners, advertisers, professionals, and audiences toward war and peace. (Howard, 2009:10).
As anyone who is familiar with Ethiopia would know, the history of the country is marred with both internal and external conflicts and wars for long. Its famous history of being the only country in Africa that has never been colonized has to do with its long history of war and the resulting experience that its people pass over to generations. The millennia long monarchical system that was in place until 1974 had an emperor on top with other kings administering their own borders under him.
The traditional 'federal' structure with an emperor on top and numerous kings were causes to a number of conflicts that developed to outright wars in numerous occasions. The most notable of these is the 'era of princes' in the 18th and 19th century where royals of different kingdoms within an empire umbrella fought to ascend as the emperor. The state formation process and expansion to the South also left the country entangled along with ethnic lines. The ethnic skirmishes within the ethnic groups in the South give the country a complete span of conflicts in all corners.
In Ethiopia, media organizations were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. Monarchy being the governance style in the country during those days, the media was obviously considered as the monarch's private belonging. This can be corroborated by the fact that the first Amharic newspaper "Aemro" (intelligence) was given its name by the emperor (Menelik) in 1902/3 and had 200 copies of circulation around the palace.
After the abolition of Monarchy in Ethiopia and the subsequent rise to power of a socialist regime, the major media institutions in the country were state-owned. Private media widely appeared in the country in 1991 with the fall of the socialist regime and the rise to power of the present EPRDF regime.
Ethiopian mass media are polarized, making it difficult to develop consensus on things of national issues. In short, the media are not becoming an agent to create national consensus, instead they are serving as a battle field for the opponents' or power elites' ideology.
Article 4 (1) of the 1992 press law of the country states: "the press stands for the pursuit of fundamental freedom, peace, democracy, justice, equality and for the acceleration of social and economic development". As a genre of journalism that promotes the realization of the ideals the press is supposed to be in pursuit of, Peace Journalism, would be highly feasible in the Ethiopian press framework.
As has been the case with the adoption of Development Journalism concept, the practice of Peace Journalism in the country could be interpreted narrowly by the polarized set of media. The polarized setting in which it would be implemented would identify it as a principle in support of one of the adversary groups, constantly denouncing it without even closely analyzing it. However, the introduction of the genre would do a lot of good tone and it also could incorporate techniques to bring groups with opposing views to an understanding.
Considering the multiethnic, multilingual and multi-religious nature of the Ethiopian society, historical and new developments have contributed to conflicting interests that can be used as the foundation for conflict. The presence of local and foreign forces that work to exploit such conditions for their own use makes the situation even direr. Therefore, the application of peace journalism to tone down potential sources of conflict and form a forum of understanding could be crucial in realizing a more peaceful Ethiopia.