Speech on Media and Peacebuilding at Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) – July 2005, United Nations in New York

·      On behalf of the organizers & the ECCP, let me welcome you all to this conference and the working group on peace media. Thank you for participating at this conference and working group in particular.

·      I am joined in the facilitation of this working group by Sandra Malone from the Search for Common Ground in place of Francis Rolt, from the same organization, with whom I had worked over the past couple of months on matters related to the design of this working group but had to pull out due to extraordinary circumstances.

·      We are both helped by Alicia Miller, a student of law at the City University of New York and presently a volunteer at the UN.

·      I am very thankful to both of them for helping me in this endeavour and hope that our combined efforts will engender some thought provoking discussions in these sessions.

·      We gather at this august assembly mindful of the fact that we leave behind, in the places we call home and other places that we have worked in, people and experiences that unfortunately cannot be brought in to these chambers. Those who are fortunate to join us today and share their experiences speak on behalf of numerous others, who outnumber us by the thousands, perhaps even millions, who work in media and peacebuilding, but are rarely heard outside of their own domains. As the cries for the resolution of conflict through the enfilade of guns grows louder, the work of these individuals assumes an added significance to processes that need desperately need our attention and support. These individuals and organizations – journalists, peace activists, teachers, farmers, children, mothers, ex-combatants, local government officials – who often work in the vernacular, behind the limelight, support fragile processes that go far beyond 3 day global conferences of this magnitude.

·      The cynic or pessimist in all of us will rightly question the value of this gathering in New York, a city that is not unused to terrorism and the travails of reporting horrific events and processes in an accurate, fair, impartial and responsible manner. There are a number of questions that spring to mind. Are we to staunchly eschew the verbiage that results from conferences such as this in the form of a final declaration in favour of more concrete efforts on the ground to help those who are at the frontlines of peacebuilding? With what audacity can we even speak on behalf of those who know nothing but conflict and know little of what all of us in this room take for granted – a shared hope for a better future? Are the discussions that we are engaged in today and in the days to come far removed from your personal experience and those of your friends and colleagues? Writ large, what place is there for theory in a world that is increasingly violent? Can we really use media not just as a bulkwark against violent conflict, but also as a tool to prevent its outbreak in the first place?

·      This cynicism however undermines the optimism and passion necessary to under gird our individual and shared commitment to our work to prevent conflict. We are in this room bound by a mutual dedication to devote our energies to prevent violent conflict when we can, help stakeholders manage violence constructively when it stains the social fabric, and support measures for peacebuilding to create just and sustainable peace.

·      This is no easy task and there are significant challenges we encounter, some of which are:

  1. Sustainability of conflict sensitive media in post-conflict scenarios – what happens when the donors move on?
  2. The timing, nature and duration of programming, content and interventions – who determines what?
  3. The collective and unique roles of local and international media – complementary or divergent? How can the unique strengths of the two be use to address weaknesses in each other?
  4. Access to media – who do the voices of media for peace represent? Who are the audience? What do those who are excluded from mainstream media intervention read, listen to and watch? Are all tiers of polity and society addressed by media reform?
  5. Impact assessment / evaluation of peace building media are in its infancy. Tools for such purposes are under-developed, understanding of suitable frameworks poor. On-going violence in post-conflict contexts makes evaluation harder, coupled with the inability to conduct baseline or any large scale surveys in places where basic data is inaccurate at best.

·      There are other challenges that are outlined in the background note written for this working group and included in your conference brochure. The timbre of our discussions much resonate with these challenges, recognizing that whatever we discuss needs to be juxtaposed with the existing caucus of work in the field. We need to strengthen our efforts, not just duplicate the work of others or worse, reinvent the wheel to create anew processes that don’t augment the life work of those who have dedicated their lives to create peace.

·      It is our hope that the discussions in the days to follow are symbiotic – taking the best from our experiences and theory to create dynamics that respond to our unique and shared challenges in the field of peace media. It is also our hope that what we discuss will be mutually strengthening for all our work – wherever in the world we come from. Some of us in this room know what it is like to see our friends die and have bloodied hands and scarred minds in lives spent in the entrails of violence. We must acknowledge these realities and with equal passion explore ways to create better, just, peaceful, sustainable and equitable futures for future generations.

·      The larger goal of peace talks and conflict transformation is to enhance the capacity of a society to manage its own conflicts without resorting to armed violence. Peace talks and conflict transformation processes however, do not take place in a normative void and usually take place in a highly charged and unstable media environment, one in which information is scarce and often suspect.

·      We recognize that media plays a central and cross cutting role in all of the themes of this conference. Conflict sells – but so should peace, and it is up to all of us to ensure this.

·      Let us then begin to explore these ways.

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