THE MEDIA IN POST-CONFLICT SOCIETIES:
A Background Paper for the UNESCO World Press Day Conference in Geneva
Monroe E. Price
Observers of the harsh ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, which disturb the glow of a post-Cold War peace, often remarked upon a new and dangerous tendency: the increased use of the media—and especially the electronic media—to encourage and sustain genocidal tendencies. Crudity and skill combined to produce propaganda extraordinary in terms of the nature and endurance of the resulting conflict, and the brutality of the elements of force. But this broadcasting-based genesis also had a significant impact on the texture and challenges of the post-conflict environment. A great deal has now been written about the patterns of media exploitation as they contribute to a vortex of destruction. Less has been elaborated about the efforts of international governmental organisations ("IGOs") and non-governmental organisations ("NGOs") to intervene so as to maintain a more stable and peaceful world order either in anticipation of conflict, during the conflict or in the ordeal following the conflict. This paper focuses, as a background for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ("UNESCO") Geneva Conference, in May 2000, on post-conflict patterns that emerge, primarily drawing from four case studies—Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Cambodia.
After Rwanda, after the seeds of hate were cast in Yugoslavia, proposals began to be made for concerted action by the international community to forestall genocidal use of broadcast media that promoted or accentuated devastating, often genocidal, conflict. Some proposed an "information intervention unit" of the United Nations to respond to broadcasting efforts that might be used to incite violence in troubled areas." Such a unit would have three primary functions: "monitoring, peace broadcasting, and, in extreme cases, jamming radio and television broadcasts. It became a matter of common understanding to point to the explosive mobilising role Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines ("RTLM") had in Rwanda with its repetitious and explicit incitement for Hutu to slaughter Tutsi. That became the textbook example where preventive intervention by the international community should have been deemed suitable and, perhaps, necessary. Information intervention would be a way to broaden the range of intermediary opportunities available to the UN, NATO, or the United States as it engaged in peacekeeping measures in ethnic and other conflicts. There were increased voices contending that the world community's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda exposed the weakness of an international system that forces states to choose between the extremes of massive, armed humanitarian intervention and mere symbolic action. Given the rise in the potential for conflict-fostering and genocidal media, the time had come to develop, refine, and institutionalise information-based responses to what Jamie Metzl called "incendiary mass communications."
The problem of what to do when the flames of conflict were temporarily under control, and when the effort at reconstruction would begin, posed different problems. In Cambodia, as a result of the 1991 Paris Agreements, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia [*2] ("UNTAC"), sought techniques and approaches to alter the structure and practice of information distribution prior to the 1993 elections. Shortly thereafter, under the Dayton Accords, Stabilisation Force ("Sfor"), the Office of High Commissioner, together with OSCE and a wide variety of NGO's, took steps to reshape and reform the media space in Bosnia-Herzegovina, recognising the critical relationship of altering the media as part of reconstructing society. It became clear that a new approach by the international community was emerging, with vastly important constitutional, political, and structural implications. All of a sudden, the kind of machinery of administration was put in place, regarding the structure of media, that had not been seen as an imposition of the international community for almost half a century. In addition to the function of several international organisations, a variety of NGO's entered the field, also intent on building a media system that would contribute to achieving a more stable, plural, democratic society. Only recently, in Kosovo, variations on the Bosnia-Herzegovina themes were repeated, as the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe ("OSCE") was given administrative responsibilities for reconstructing the devastated Kosovar infrastructure in connection with peacekeeping there.
Taken all together, in Bosnia, in the ensuing Kosovo theatre, in Cambodia and Rwanda and in relation to peacekeeping efforts worldwide, it could be said that two approaches, dichotomous to some extent, were tested, though the objectives were similar. First, there have been those who believed that to counter war and hate propaganda in most post-conflict situations, the international governmental organisations (however constituted) had to create alternative media outlets that were, at least initially, under IGO control. These modes often preempt media outlets associated with the belligerents or opposing ethnic factions. The logic is simple: to achieve content that is neutral and peace-oriented, a structure that is neutral and peace-oriented is required.
A second approach, fostered and encouraged more by NGOs than IGOs, appears less controlling. It focuses on strengthening local, indigenous media outlets, particularly those that strike a new voice, in the hopes of building a public sphere, a civil society, and the long-term machinery for peace and reconstruction. The idea has been that constructing a network independent of the IGO's means that there would be a heritage of non-partisan information, the infrastructure for a pluralism would be established, and an informed electorate would emerge.
It is the function of this review paper to set the stage for discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, for debating the appropriateness of various techniques in particular contexts, and for discussing their harmony, immediately and over the long run with deeply-held free speech principles. The studies that are included, most by outstanding journalists familiar with the regions, canvas the varying strategies and comment on their efficacy in the recent zones of experience (Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo).
Based on the papers, we can ask whether these two approaches are truly dichotomous. We can also examine some of the benefits and drawbacks that underlie each approach. For example, imposing or constructing an alternate, imposed, media can alienate substantial portions of an indigenous population. Such populations may perceive a press that is administered, or too closely associated with international organisation and government funding, as foreign, alien, and to be spurned for the media that had their allegiance before. Local journalists [*3] sometimes resist working for those deemed outsiders or react negatively to the control that intergovernmental organisations exercise over the display of information that these outlets direct at the local journalists' own countrymen. When these internationally-sponsored media are successful, on the other hand, because of their relative affluence, the best journalists might be siphoned off from the local media, weakening the long-term potential for developing a civil society. Composing editorial teams can also be extremely sensitive and these teams are often built at the expense of local media outlets who often cannot compete with the alternative media in terms of employee work conditions and output quality. Finally, investment costs in creating the alternative media outlets can be very high and, once the international mandate is complete and the established infrastructure withdrawn, an immense void in the information space can be left.
Focusing primarily on local, indigenous media outlets also has its drawbacks. In post-conflict contexts where the society was torn asunder through words as well as other weapons, almost all stations are often affiliated with a highly partisan political party or a local power. Patterns of professional journalistic ethics and responsibility are often in decline and, as a result, the level of professionalism of local media outlets is often relatively low when measured against international standards. This lack of professionalism further undermines any claim of independence that these local media outlets claim. Neutrality and objectivity may not be the currency of the day. The international community often feels itself threatened by the lasting embers of bitterness as displayed in the media while local and foreign journalists may also become victims of intimidation or violence.
FACTORS FOR ANALYSIS
As one reviews the four instances of international media intervention in a post-conflict environment, it should be against a purposive background: given military concerns, inordinately difficult circumstances on the ground, and the usual intercine contests within the international community itself, how can the processes of media restructuring and support take place in a way most consistent with international norms of freedom to receive and impart information? In distinguishing among the four case studies (and as a way of considering other sites for post-conflict information intervention) a number of other questions might be highlighted:
a. What is the relationship between the structure and role of the media in fuelling conflict and the needs for reshaping the media space of a particular state in the post-conflict arena? What was the media structure on the ground at the initiation of the post-conflict assessment? Is the conflict-related media still intact, in terms of structure and personnel? Was there a tradition of media independent of the state, and was such media pluralistic? Is there access to a core of professional journalists with national experience?
b. What demographic aspects of the post-conflict context impact on the nature of the media-related strategy? What role do neighbouring states and their media play in the conflict and post-conflict era?
c. What was the authority of the international community in terms of media intervention as it began to deal with the post-conflict atmosphere? How well established were indigenous NGOs prior to the conflict? [*4]
d. What changes in the environment might lead to shifts in strategies and the appropriateness of differing international responses? For example, what is the residuum of hate and intimidation and to what extent is it affected by the use of the media space?
e. What issues of coordination, among IGOs and between IGOs and NGOs, present challenges to optimal implementation of various strategies? To what extent are the coordinating problems, military versus civilian, short-term versus long-term, instead ones of budget constraints?
Once we have examined these factors we are better prepared to address, or reformulate, more fundamental issues involving long-term commitments that enhance democratic institutions and develop an environment hospitable to international free speech norms. Then, there will be a better understanding of what strategies the international community should adopt concerning the local media during peace keeping operations and how such strategies can prevent or modulate programming that intensively promote hate, racist, and fiercely nationalistic speech in an incendiary way. Then, too, strategies can be fostered that encourage greater professionalism in the journalistic and publishing community and, as well, among regulators. In these environments, special care must be taken to assure that non-partisan information is provided to local populations without exercising control over the editorial content of this information. Finally, these are contexts in which the physical safety of local and international journalists is questionable and, if an atmosphere approaching the international norm protecting freedom of speech is to be approached, questions of safety and security must be addressed.
With this as an introduction, we turn to the case studies.
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