In 2011 and 2012, USIP held a Priority Grant Competition entitled “Communication for Peacebuilding” to support research and practitioner projects on the ways that communication flows and communication technologies can contribute to the prevention and resolution of conflict.
At the conclusion of the three projects, Internews convened a learning group meeting in which the three project directors discussed lessons learned from their projects. CGCS Post- Doctoral Fellow Lauren Kogen along with Nina Sheth of Internews prepared a detailed report on this meeting. USIP’s Elizabeth Murray discusses the main findings of the report.
Why is it important to focus on communication flows in conflict-affected or conflict-prone countries?
At the beginning of a conflict, inflammatory declarations from rival leaders can stoke tensions and promote violence. Similarly, carefully worded statements can steer the public towards peaceable behavior. During negotiations, balanced journalism can keep the public informed and ensure that leaders are aware of their constituents’ concerns, just as biased reporting risks derailing peace processes. Peace media productions can teach children tolerance and understanding, and social media can be used just as easily to educate and empower as it can be used to incite violence. In sum, all forms of communication can be used destructively or constructively, and at each point in a conflict, individuals face decisions about what messages they want to transmit and how they want to transmit them.
What are the main findings of the learning group report?
Together with the three project directors (Susan Benesch of World Policy Institute, Sylvain Richard of Radio la Benevolencija, and Jeroen Corduwener of Internews), the authors of the report developed a framework for understanding the various points of intervention for media peacebuilding projects. The report also discussed when peacebuilding media projects are most likely to be successful, and shared important insights on the challenges of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) in peacebuilding and development programs.
The framework identified the three levels of the media where peacebuilding interventions can take place: policy, production, and audience. In terms of policy, the peacebuilding potential of the media is strengthened when efforts are taken to discourage dangerous speech without curbing freedom of expression. Through her USIP-funded project, Susan Benesch of World Policy Institute has advised the Kenyan government on how to put in place policies that discourage the harmful rhetoric that contributed to post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 and 2008.
At the media production level, journalism training projects can build the capacity of local media outlets to produce balanced, professional reporting and valuable educational content. In the eastern DRC, the Radio la Benevolencija project trained radio producers to create easy-to-understand broadcasts that transmitted important messages about the upcoming elections.
At the audience level, media interventions can counteract hate speech in two ways: by dispelling false rumors or by sensitizing the public about the dangers of incitement and how to react when confronted with it. Through two radio sketches, the Radio la Benevolencija project taught the public about how to respond when faced with hate speech. Another useful category of interventions at the audience level are projects that seek to connect media producers with media consumers who can put the information to good use. By networking a group of community radio stations in Central African Republic and producing a daily e-bulletin for the humanitarian community, the Internews project was able to provide much-needed information to organizations that could provide valuable assistance to rural communities.
Speaking more broadly, the group also concluded that the most empowering variety of media peacebuilding are programs that provide people with information that allows them to make decisions for the good of their communities. All three project directors agreed that when individuals have access to accurate and timely information, they are less likely to engage in violence.
Read the full interview here.
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