The second day of the Global Media Forum for Media in Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention in Bonn saw far more participation and lively debate from the delegates, which was very welcome. A fascinating debate about responsibility between a former Bureau chief at Al Hayat, a representative from Al Arabia and the Head of Programming at Al Jazeera ensued as part of a session on perception and prejudice in the Middle East. It seems that even amongst this eloquent group, a degree of intolerance existed and the moderator had a job to steer conversation onto issues of media and away from the legalities of the war in Iraq.
One thing has bothered me since the start of the conference and that is the image of a small boy holding an automatic weapon who stands behind the right shoulder of every speaker on the podium. The image was taken from the photographic exhibition of child soldiers that was hosted by Deutsche Welle at the event, and I wondered about its place, branding a conference where we were exploring not just peace prevention, but peace building. How useful are images of kids with guns in preventing conflict? I asked around. The Plenary Chamber was full of irked African’s at the time, who had witnessed a moving debate on African journalists caught between battle lines. Many delegates I spoke to were appalled by the images and pointed out that the images in the Conference trailer also confused the issues, and did not promote peace journalism.
The trailer opens dramatically with, “The media have a responsibility” and people in the margins of this conference were starting to discuss what that really meant. Israeli Editor David Witzthum appeared to take issue with the statement, and said his responsibility was simply to report news as accurately as possible. A Kenyan academic pointed out that it was editors and not journalists who had the real responsibility – as they would ultimately make decisions about what stays and what goes. Whilst I accept that the media have responsibility, I believe what media we choose to expose ourselves to, is the responsibility of every one of us. There is so much “media” out there, that I know I can find a channel that will support my own political beliefs, no matter how extreme. My own responsibility, I feel, is to take in a broad selection of media sources. Sadly I think individuals tend to find the “news” that backs up their already preconceived ideas. So whilst Salameh B. Nematt may have been furious that Al Jazeera was glamorizing terrorism, the responsibility for this is complex – the audience has some responsibility to take – they are not passive in the process. As I have written before, the responsibility lies with every single one of us.
With many thanks to Deutsche Welle for organizing this forum and generating such stimulating debate.