Recruiting young journalists for peace

(This piece first appeared in the October 2018 edition of The Peace Journalist published by the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University, USA. It was titled ‘Workshop examines Indian media narratives’.)

India is going through a time of tremendous political churning, and the media industry itself has become a battleground for conflicting ideologies. What is worrisome at this moment is the trust deficit I hear in the voices of readers and viewers because a lot of journalism is beginning to sound incendiary, propagandist and utterly crass.

Imagine journalists broadcasting fake news about activists, instigating violence against minority groups, and covering up acts of murder. We have all of it happening in 2018. This scenario is discouraging for journalism students who have gravitated towards this field because they see it as a place for exposing malpractices, highlighting social justice efforts, and speaking truth to power. It is important for advocates of peace journalism like myself to go out there and interact with these students so that they do not lose hope.

On June 25, 2018, the MOP Vaishnav College for Women and the Prajnya Trust in Chennai, India, invited me to deliver a talk on peace journalism with a large auditorium full of media students in attendance. They had been briefed about my work focusing on India-Pakistan dialogue, and were keen that I share some anecdotes from the field. I tend to prefer the workshop mode over the lecture method, so I found ways to make the experience more participatory.

We began with a theatre activity that got the students to examine their perceptions about Pakistanis, and the influence of media narratives in shaping these views. It was followed by an exercise wherein students had to imagine that they were part of a delegation of Indian journalists invited to Pakistan who had the freedom to travel anywhere in the country, and pursue any story ideas they wanted to. They had to work in pairs, and come up with pitches for newspaper, television and digital media editors.

They came up with a variety of interesting pitches for beats such as politics, sports, travel, arts and culture, gender, fashion, entertainment, crime, education, and more. Their teachers seemed really proud of them. After this, I shared with them the war journalism versus peace journalism framework created by Johan Galtung, discussed some of the articles I have worked on as a freelance journalist, and also answered their questions about challenges faced by journalists who prefer to highlight non-violent responses to conflict in a media-saturated world that thrives on sensationalism.

I loved their energy, and their openness to what I offered: the premise that journalists can play a constructive role in their societies by amplifying the voices of the marginalized instead of serving as mouthpieces of the powerful, showcasing efforts at conflict resolution and reconciliation, and exposing lies and cover-ups from all regardless of political affiliation.

They wanted to know about the challenges faced by journalists who prioritize peace journalism over war journalism. I gladly shared my experience of not being taken seriously by colleagues at times, and being turned down by editors who think of me as a peacenik floating in la-la land. If you want to work for peace, a sense of humour is incredibly useful to have.

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