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Conflict Sensitive Journalism

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Author: 
Ross Howard
Publication Date: 
April 1, 2004
This handbook for journalists provides a framework for practice in reporting on conflict. Its five sections include: understanding conflict, journalism and conflict, good journalism, conflict-sensitive journalism, and newsroom culture. The initial topics focus on the context for understanding conflict and its causes, both cultural and structural violence, and journalism's roles in reporting. It discusses the power of the media, its influence, the various ways conflict is resolved, alternatives leading to less conflict, and what conflict analysis means for journalists.

It attempts to describe good journalism as including accuracy, impartiality, and responsibility for results that are reliable. The document lists the following as good journalism's roles:
  1. Channelling communication: the two sides speaking to each other through the media.
  2. Educating: exploring each side's struggle to move towards reconciliation.
  3. Confidence-building: reducing suspicion and fear and showing that reconciliation is possible and what local efforts are being made.
  4. Correcting misperceptions of each side and encouraging them to revise their views of each other.
  5. Making "them" human: giving each side names, faces, and voices and describing how the issues affect them.
  6. Identifying underlying interests: asking the tough questions and getting out the real message beyond leaders' interests.
  7. Emotional outlet: allowing both sides to speak their grievances.
  8. Framing the conflict: describing the problem in a way that reduces tension and leads to negotiation..
  9. Face-saving, consensus-building: highlighting efforts of leaders and reaching their constituencies, including refugees and exiles, with that information.
  10. Solution-building: publicising steps of solution-building on a daily basis.
  11. Encouraging a balance of power: fostering negotiations and focusing on a power balance in hearing grievances and seeking solutions.


The handbook provides a checklist for conflict sensitive journalism with examples of what it is and isn't. It elaborates on journalistic choices of language and approaches to description and their effects based on the thinking that: "As journalists, our most powerful tools are the words we use. And the pictures and sounds. We can use our tools to build understanding instead of fears and myths."

Author Ross Howard includes the following specific points:
  • de-emphasise the "two opposing sides," reporting in favour of including voices of all who are affected;
  • avoid quoting the leaders by quoting ordinary people;
  • report on common ground more than division;
  • treat suffering of all sides;
  • avoid inflammatory language like "devastation" and emotional or imprecise words like "massacre"; instead, use the more specific "deliberate killing of innocent, unarmed civilians...";
  • avoid language that takes sides like "terrorist" and substitute what people call themselves;
  • avoid making opinion into fact - use a person's name with their opinion; and
  • don't wait for leaders to suggest solutions - explore peace, put ideas to the leaders, and report their responses.


The section on newsroom culture speaks to the need for professionalism versus patriotism and for reaching the "other side" of any conflict. It includes comparative examples of traditional and conflict sensitive reporting with a "See the difference" analysis section for each. The same format elaborates the topics of prejudice and newsroom diversity with checklists, examples, and analysis.
Number of Pages: 

24

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