World Press Freedom Day & Role of Media and Technology in Peacebuilding

As part of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the BBC World Service Trust and the Swiss Development Agency (SDC) hosted a debate on the role (if any) media and technology in conflict resolution.

My presentation covered the many ways through which media could play a role, through public service values and professionalism in reporting, conflict transformation in a context such as Sri Lanka. My presentation, a brief one that lasted for 10 minutes, also touched upon the ways through which InfoShare had engineered several ICT for Peace (ICT4Peace) initiatives in Sri Lanka.

The presentation, well received, generated a questions from a member of the audience (representing a prominent and well known British funding body) as to whether there was any concrete example of the media actually resulting in greater peace! His argument was that with the millions of dollars poured into projects that were intended to reform the media, it was nevertheless unclear as to just how much of impact the projects had in changing the mindsets of journalists and reforming the media.

This is not a new question for those of us who have been asking ourselves this questions for a while. In sum, there is a need for the creation of performative measures of a project that take into account the inherently long term nature of social change. Conflicts don’t arise overnight. They certainly can’t be resolved overnight. The European Union, seen as a social engineering saproject, for instance, took decades to get where it is now from World War II. Ethnic conflict and complex political emergencies may take generations for the wounds to heal. In this respect, I emphasised the need for donors to take into account the long term emphasis required for project assessments as opposed to expecting measurable change in the space of 3 – 4 years.

On the other hand, I also acknowledged that far greater collaboration between the donors themselves (firstly) and their implementing partners and agencies (secondly) needed to undergird a holistic perspective and approach to funding and peacebuilding. Media reform, seen in this light, is a result of simultaneous, long term initiatives aimed at strengthening the freedom of expression, right to information, capacity building of journalists, conflict sensitive journalism, safety training etc. No one project can attain all these objectives, but a number of project, working in concert towards a common goal with a group of committed journalists could.

The presentation ended with a thought that I believe is the foundation of ICT4Peace – a deep humanism. Humans, ultimately, make peace or war. Within and between ourselves, peace and war both reside. The quest of ICT4Peace is to find ways through which we can connect with each other to strengthen that which is peaceful and leads to peace, and in doing so, hopefully silence the violence we all have within ourselves.

As I mentioned in my paper Daring to Dream – CSCW, ICT and Peacebuilding (speaking of Computer Supported Collaborative Work – CSCW – but as applicable to ICT):

CSCW is not about the search for the perfect computer system to help peace process. It is about the design of processes and tools which organically develop local capacities for non-violent conflict transformation. It is about the design of systems and frameworks for virtual engagements in a peace process that are sensitive to the heightened emotions and mental frameworks of key stakeholders. It is about the design of tools that help negotiations grapple with the real world complexities of communicating across mistrust and different cultures, about the search for determinants of trust to bring peoples together and about the never ending search for creative ways – physically and virtually – to help prevent and mitigate violent ethno-political conflict.

This then is the ultimate vision of CSCW in the framework and domain of peacebuilding.

To help, wherever and whenever it can, processes which at the end of the day can help those in conflict get a glimpse of the one thing (or artefact) that looks the same in virtual or physical domains.


2 thoughts on “World Press Freedom Day & Role of Media and Technology in Peacebuilding

  1. Something that I thought was really cool was a program that I saw once that bought kids from conflicting neighbourhoods in Belfast (Catholic and Protestant) to North America where they met each other without all the old trappings and actually found that they liked each other. Mick

  2. Rockwatching,

    Great idea – technology such as Skypecasting that I write about in offer a great way to open up such powerful programmes of inter-communal / inter-ethnic communication even when funding is extremely limited.

    However, the power of the project that you mention seems to be in taking children out of a context of violence and into a context, removed from home, that allowed them the freedom to see each other in a different light.

    Some of that liberation can also be achieved by technology – the latest version of Skype allows for some really decent video conversations (as part of the BBC / SDC event I mention in this post, there was a video link between Sri Lanka and Basra that worked really well through Skype), audio conversations, web bulletin board, email LISTSERV’s or through online education.

    The point is that it’s not always possible to do what’s ideal for peace, but with the growing power of technology to aid peacebuilding, much of what was previously limited to big NGOs with access to large amounts of funding is now available to the smaller community baased organisations (CBOs) and grassroots NGOs as well – which I think is a very good thing.

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