Bosnia's Open Broadcast Network: A Brief but Illustrative Foray into Peace Journalism Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study engages in the examination of the role of journalism in a time of violent conflict and explores the discourse that has come to be known under the umbrella term "peace journalism." Through a case study of the Open Broadcast Network (OBN) coverage of the Bosnian conflict, the study analyzes the initial lessons learned from one of the original implementations of peace journalism precepts in violent conflict. As demonstrated by the fleeting and partial success of OBN, the news media can play a role in transformation of conflict but the feasibility and accomplishments of such practice depend upon a variety of variables. Keywords: Peace, Journalism, Conflict, Media, Bosnia; Open Broadcast Network.

Introduction

If there is no fire, then what the wind does is not so important. But if there is a fire, then the nature of the wind - how strong, which direction it is blowing - can have a major effect on what happens to the fire. (Wolfsfeld, 2004)

Ethnic conflicts during the last decade of the 20th century have made a profound impact on all spheres of public life, not only in the societies in conflict but also in societies that indirectly engaged with their resolution. The conflicts in post-colonial Rwanda/Burundi and post-communist Yugoslavia challenged the core principles of modern journalism and prompted reexamination of the role of journalism in a time of violent conflict. The sacrosanct journalistic values of objectivity and detachment that ordained balanced coverage of victims and aggressors as the ultimate goal disappointed many in the profession and the academic sphere. In 1997, veteran BBC war reporter Martin Bell stirred up the journalistic world when he renounced the ideal of objectivity and proposed a counter-thesis of journalism of attachment, or engaged journalism (1998). At the same time, one of the most influential political scientists in conflict resolution, Johan Galtung (1997), promoted a similar concept called peace journalism. As a result, a debate regarding the role of journalists and journalism during violent conflicts was launched and a set of postulates and recommendations emerged.

This study of the organization, mission, and impact of Open Broadcast Network's (OBN) programming in Bosnia engages in the rich discourse of the debate of what has come to be known under the umbrella term "peace journalism." Today peace journalism is part of a major worldwide media reform movement growing out of the strong critique of dominant mainstream media practices. The well-documented elite domination, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and conflict escalation of the media are particular points of concern within the field. While significant distinctions divide various proponents of peace journalism, peace journalism participants seek generally to change journalistic practices that too stringently control and limit access to the media and too narrowly define information that is worthy of broad dissemination. Hence the emerging field of peace journalism lies at the nexus of concerns about the rights to communicate and to receive information regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, or nationality.

Through the following case study of the Open Broadcast Network's (OBN) coverage of the Bosnian conflict, we analyze the initial lessons learned from what may be viewed as one of the original implementations of peace journalism precepts in violent conflict. To develop a thorough description of the conditions that contributed to the rise and demise of OBN, a thorough inventory of information was compiled through a triangulation of research strategies: interviews with the local experts, journalists, and practitioners; text analysis of the related news accounts; and secondary analysis of audience survey research. These data provide a detailed portrait of OBN in which the Bosnian conflict serves as a testing ground for media contributions to peace development.

As a context for the exploration of this specific case, this article begins with a summary of contemporary research on the standards and effects of traditional media coverage of violent conflicts. …