The Media and Peace Building
July 19, 2021
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Media in Democracy journal spells out the role the media plays in the democratic process, and defines the correlation between successful democracy and stability when it stated: “The text of democracy is the quality of public debate, transparency and tolerance in society. It is the media that the people look to for the cultural richness and opinion, ideas, and thoughts which exist in every community and which provide the raw material for democratic debate. Journalism can be a catalyst for social change…if democracy fails, the results as recent events in Europe and Africa have shown, can be tragic and devastating.”
There are different perceptions as to the media’s role in Africa. While the journalists see themselves as societal watchdogs and communicators for democracy, good governance, citizenship and peace, the political elite largely regards them as nosey parkers.
A former president of Cote d’Ivoire, Henri Konan Bedie, once delivered a stinging indictment of his country’s media when he said: “there is a gutter press in Cote d’Ivoire which threatens stability because it thrives on provocation and defamation”. Bedie’s outburst against the fourth estate was understandable. He was among the old species of African leaders infected with the sit-tight bug. To them, the fourth estate is always in an unspoken alliance with opposition politicians. Thus, journalists are usually classified among those threatening national security.
However, it is sad to admit that history later proved Bedie right. Sections of the Ivorian press brought the profession into disrepute for the role they played during the civil war in that country. When the war broke out in September 2002, the media stoked, rather than help to put out the fire. Media channels openly took sides in the conflict, like the Ivorian Radio and Television Services (RTI) which simply became a propaganda arm of the government, and TOMPI FM, that supported the cause of the Forces Nouvelles. Much has also been said and written about the negative role some sections of the media played during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
The media in West Africa must learn from such past mistakes, and make sure it never happens again. The media’s role in peace building and during conflict situations is very important, and sensitive. This role is captured clearly in the words, years ago, of Agnes Adama Campbell of ActionAid Gambia: “There are always many parts to a conflict. There are those who are active combatants and there are those who are influential and the media and the media is in that category. They have a voice in terms of reaching out, disseminating information, and for me the non-violent means of resolving conflict should be sold by the media as an alternative strategy by which people can come together, discuss and dialogue in a forum where multi-voices could be heard and solutions sought. Such process just doesn’t come from the political leaders.”
True. Much as the onus is politicians to ensure peace, there is a limit to what they can do, especially when it comes to reaching out to the people. This is where the media comes in. As The Gambia head towards elections, the fourth estate must play the part of informing the people, and effecting positive changes for peace to reign in the country.