Communication and peace

  • Part 1 – Introduction (This page)
  • Part 2 – Media in war and peace
  • Part 3 – Non-violent communciation
  • Part 4 – Peace Journalism


People worldwide are surrounded by media images of violence, and yet, nearly all of us want peace in our own lives and in our world.   We are also surrounded by images of distant and unobtainable wealth when what we really need are authentic stories about how people like us cope with the challenges of life.  Why is there such a contradiction between our personal needs and the focus of our  communications media?

Journalists worldwide are trained to cover conflict, aggression, violence and  destruction, yet none of them would wish these things on their friends or neighbors. At some stage of their careers, most of them would like to be “war correspondents,” but none aspire to the opposite status, whatever that might be.  In other words, journalists tend to want peace, yet they may be contributing to the culture of violence.

Historically, the mass media has promoted both peace and war in various times and locations, but the emphasis has usually been on conflict rather than reconciliation.

In the 2oth century, a new appreciation for the social and ethical  responsibilities of the mass media emerged with an understanding of its power.  When it comes to issues of peace, there are at several areas of the Communications discipline to consider:

  • Principles of social responsibility, particularly as applied to the media, such as those deliniated in the Nuremberg Principles, the Rwanda Tribunal, and the Hutchins Commission and MacBride Commission reports.    (This page)
  • Historical views of  the role of media in promoting war,  and the reaction to it in the form of Peace Journalism.  (Next page)
  • Communications theory, especially “cultivation theory” involving the relationship between consumption of media violence and the expectation of violence and interpersonal communications theory, expecially non-violent communication.   (Following pages)

Social responsibility

Principles of social responsibility for the media include:

  • The Nuremberg Principles—  A set of guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime, the Nuremberg Principles emerged from the post-WWII trials of Nazi government officials and their accomplices in the mass media.  Especially important from the media standpoint is Principle VII which states, “Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity … is a crime under international law.”Tried under Principle VII was  Julius Streicher, editor of Dur Sturmer,  a Nazi newspaper that forcefully advocated  extermination of Jews. Streicher was convicted of crimes against humanity and executed at Nuremberg in 1946. Others who made films for the Nazis were imprisoned.  Leni Rheifenstahl, whose 1936  Triumph of the Will   was a celebration of a Nazi rally, spent three years in detention.  Fritz Hipper, who made The Eternal Jew  in 1939 for the Nazis, spent two years in prison as a war criminal.  For more information see the  Nuremberg Trials documentary.
  • The Hutchins Commission — During and after World War II, questions about press responsibility led to a commission
    financed by Time Magazine publisher Henry Luce. Leading the commission was Robert Maynard Hutchins, then chancellor at the University of Chicago, whose ideas about education had focused on communication as central to a lifetime of learning. The Hutchins Commission found that freedom of expression had been imperiled by accelerating technology and by arrogant and irresponsible publishers. The commission urged publishers to “regard themselves as common carriers of information and discussion” and recommended five major points that it said society was entitled to demand of its press:
  1. a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning;
  2.   a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism;
  3.   the projection of a representative picture of the constituent groups in the society;
  4.   the presentation and clarification of the goals and values of the society; and
  5.   full access to the day’s intelligence.

“Where freedom of expression exists, the beginnings of a free society and a means for every extension of liberty are already present. Free expression is therefore unique among liberties: it promotes and protects all the rest,” the commission said.

  • The UNESCO MacBride Commissionreport  of 1980,  Many Voices, One World, by a Commission on International Communication for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chaired by Nobel Laureate Seán  MacBride. The commission said that the communications revolution had created dangers as well as opportunities.  The unequal flow of communication was making developing nations dependent on the cultural products of the industrial West. Centuries-old customs, time-honored cultural practices and simple life styles were being threatened. The one-way flow of information from industrial nations to developing nations was also a problem, the report said.
  • News about the developing world in North American and Europe was dominated by spot reports on disasters and military coups, but the underlying realities and developments were ignored.One recommendation was for more professional international training for journalists on both sides of the divide between industrial and developing nations.Another recommendation involved protection of journalists and freedom of the press.Another recommendation was that small nations should foster internal media development, have more control over the cultural processes of modernization and find ways to reduce the commercialization of communication. These recommendations amounted to an international theory of social responsibility for the media—a Hutchins Commission report on a global scale. But the recommendations, and subsequent proposals for a New World Information and Communication Order were seen as opening the door to increased media regulation by non-democratic nations, and the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ), among others, issued strong denunciations of the NWICO. The US and Britain withdrew from UNESCO in protest in 1984 and 1985 (although they later rejoined in 2003 and 1997, respectively).The MacBride report’s authors “had the foresight to hope for a kind of ‘globalization’ that, rather than signify divisions among citizens of the world, acknowledged our common humanity,” said Andrew Calabrese in a 25th anniversary article on the report. “With all of its flaws, for which progressive communication activists understandably have distanced themselves over the past twenty-five years, the MacBride Report projects a spirit of hopefulness about how a better world is possible, (and) about the continued importance of public institutions as means to ensure global justice” (Calabrese, 2005).
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda   — The newspaper Kangura, published in Rwanda in the early 1990s, advocated genocide of Tutsi people. In 1994, an estimated 800,000 were killed by Hutus at the urging of Kangura and Radio Rwanda. Kangura’s editor, Hassan Ngeze, along with broadcast colleagues, was convicted of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment, reaffirming the international legal principle that leaders of the mass media organizations can be held responsible for inciting genocide. (See “Journalism as Genocide,”  in “The Wire.”
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
  • Serbian television was bombed by NATO planes in 1999 during the Kosovo war.