Just before the holidays I participated in a UN conference on the role of the public sphere in post-conflict societies. The one-day event, titled “Media and Communication in Peacebuilding” was organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in collaboration with the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office. The goal of the conference was to review the international community’s contribution to enhance communication between governments, media, civil society and citizens as part of integrated peacebuilding efforts to assist countries emerging from conflict.
Three panels provided different viewpoints on communication related post-conflict challenges. The first panel, featuring the Minister of Information from Sierra Leone, the Burundian Minister of Information, Communication and Relations with Parliament as well as the Permanent Representative of Timor-Leste, provided the government perspective; during the second panel journalists discussed the challenges of media professionals and the international support they receive, while on the third panel representatives from UNDP, UNESCO, Search for Common Ground, the US Institute of Peace, and CommGap debated the involvement of international actors in addressing communication challenges. In the audience were diplomats, UN-staff, journalists, and NGO representatives.
In my eyes this conference was a much welcomed and somewhat overdue step towards an overhaul of current UN operations. It was the first time that the UN discussed media and communication as a central part of post-conflict peacebuilding efforts and recognized the organization’s need to change its ad-hoc approach in this area. I was happy to contribute to the proceedings and hope that the deliberations of that day have given DPI enough of a mandate to put in place meaningful follow-up actions that will bring a real change to UN policy and practice. I equally hope that our discussions will somewhat inform and impact the work of the Peacebuilding Support Commission. With a changed policy in place the UN could become a significant contributor to the development of dynamic and democratic public spheres in post-conflict countries; ensuring that communication between media, government and civil society is considered a cornerstone of UN peacebuilding efforts in a post-conflict country is a necessary prerequisite. It seems we are moving this way; this might be a promising beginning for 2009.
Photo Credit: Flickr user gebauer