Peace journalism

by Lubna Jerar Naqvi

In the first week of February 2021, the media reported the murder of four people who were shot dead in Karachi, Pakistan.

The two words ‘murder’ and ‘loss of life’ are enough to reveal the intensity of the tragedy being reported; there is no need to add anything more as it will not add to the story.

However, it seems that some journalists do not agree with this and they seem to feel the need to add more. The above story was further explained that out of the four people who were fatally shot, one was a woman.

Was mentioning the gender of the woman necessary? Did it add to value of the news? Did it make an impact? Does mentioning the gender of one of the victims not change the intensity of the story and add value to the report?

These are some interesting queries that can be put to the reporter and editing team. Some journalist will agree that the victims’ gender was important, while others may ask why this was relevant. One journalist was of the opinion that if the story focussed on ‘passion’ or ‘vengeance’, the gender of the victims was important, otherwise it could have been left out.

This could be a way to dramatize the story and add more tragedy – if that is possible in a story that focusses on four murders.

It is commonly believed that the content put out by the media is produced exactly what the people want. Others argue it is the journalists who lead the way a story is treated. Both statements are true to an extent.

However, journalism is about reporting the facts as they are, not adorning it with extra things to increase its appeal. This is an extremely important factor to keep in mind for women-oriented stories especially violence and crime.

Commenting on this, Pakistani journalist Anum Hanif who works as a producer at Express News said,

“We as journalists have to understand our responsibility when violent conflicts are related to women and children. We have to consider the impact of our news story/story angle on the survivors and their families. The journalists’ responsibility becomes two-fold while reporting on women sexual abuse stories. Otherwise media risk accentuating stigmas that surrounds sexual abuse victims and traumatize the survivors.”

Despite the increase in the number of women in media, stories involving women and children continued to be unnecessarily dramatized. One reason for this could be the lack of women in decision making positions in newsrooms, leaving such stories to be done in a melodramatic way like a tragic play is performed on a stage.

Apart from this, many journalists, including women, are unaware how to tackle sensitive stories. For them tragedy means a mournful montage with sad music, wailing women and close-ups of teary faces because that is how it is being done. Many end up needlessly dramatizing the incident and adding their own content to enhance the intensity.

It does not occur to them that presenting the facts of a tragic incident is enough and there is no need to add to the drama through extra shots or music etc.

Emotional journalism is bad propaganda and only helps to stir emotions and create issues based on an agenda. And such journalism is a dangerous tool. Journalists should not allow anyone to use their content to flame unnecessary emotions.

On the contrary, journalists should try to dampen heighten emotions and build bridges. They need to understand the importance of peace journalism and gender-sensitive reporting.

“Peace journalism might be new to Pakistan but it is time to discuss, understand and practice this kind of journalism.” Said Anum Hanif.

In a world full of hate, war, racism, extremism, journalists need to practice peace journalism and gender sensitive reporting. Such reporting enhances the facts and allows the audience to take whatever they want from it. Journalist don’t need to spoon-feed them and needlessly mould the way they think.

Indian journalist Zeba Warsi who is Special Correspondent, CNN News18 and coversgender and human right said, “Following the principles of peace journalism is crucial, especially while reporting on sensitive issues like gender violence, social inequality and human rights violations. It reminds readers and viewers of our shared problems and tragedies. Women oriented stories offer a great opportunity to shed light on the many similarities in the challenges being faced by women across borders.”

Speaking about journalism on women and disadvantaged communities in Pakistan and India, Zeba Warsi added, “One can draw parallels of the shared struggles of women and other disadvantaged communities in both countries.”

Warsi said,“Success stories and stories of triumph over social evils also equally inspire people beyond borders. Such reports should focus on igniting the core human values of compassion and empathy for survivors of injustice.”

Peace journalism and gender-sensitive reporting should be a priority for every journalist and media organization across the region and the world should conduct peace journalism and gender-sensitive trainings for their staff.

“Maybe it is because of lack of proper training of journalists to practice peace journalism. We have health journalism, political journalism and so on but we rarely talk about peace journalism. So what is peace journalism?” Hanif said. “Peace journalism is when journalists prefer non-violent responses to conflict. In our reporting from international relations to gender based issues – peace journalism is very important to practice.”

All journalists especially women journalists can help to promote positive journalism through the way they do stories. Journalists should be trained to differentiate between facts and sensationalism.

Anum Hanif added, “Media must strive to find some solutions while covering conflicts. Journalists should understand their role when they are reporting on conflicts and sensitive issues. To report the truth without aggravating the situation – sometimes it’s an extremely challenging job for journalists and so they face various dilemmas.”

The other problem is that women-oriented stories are not considered important to be at the top of the rundown in many countries like Pakistan and India, where the situation is similar when it comes to women-oriented stories.

It is important that journalists in both countries compare notes and try to learn from each other. Commenting on the importance of peace journalism,Indian journalist Shreya Pareek,founder of‘The Stories of Change’ said,

“I feel women across the globe face similar issues. Be it wage disparity, sexism or other challenges, women have similar stories to share. Peace journalism helps in bridging the gap between women and brings their stories on a single platform, providing possible solutions and learnings. Peace journalism is extremely important, especially in countries like India and Pakistan which are so similar in nature, yet there is a huge mental divide.”

The easiest way to do peace journalism is through entertainment and lifestyle journalism as it is not only extremely popular but is also a strong revenue earner. This is a strong platform that can help in peace journalism and promoting gender stories.

Lifestyle and entertainment journalist Maria Shirazi believes that light and glamourous stories help spread goodwill in people faster. Maria Shirazi has worked as lifestyle and entertainment journalist with Instep Magazine, The News International, Pakistan for several years and has always found it easier to tell women stories without adding to them already attractive stories. She thinks that the drama should be left to this section of journalism and not for serious stories like crime.

She said, “Art and sport are universal languages and help to promote peace and build bridges. Exchange of different art forms and sports has always helped to build peace as we have seen between Pakistan and India. Being a lifestyle and entertainment journalist I think this is one of the strongest forms of journalism that can help build bridges without being sensational or dramatic. I would like to think that lifestyle and fashion journalism is the best way to build bridges and get to know others. It helps to promote our culture to the world and for us to get to know theirs.”

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