Open Session (Internal): Conflict Prevention and Resolution

The minutes are from an open session during the internal days of the Global Voices Summit (8 May 2010). The session was about the role of Global Voices in conflict prevention and resolution, and includes a proposal for future activity.

Notes by: Vilhelm Konnander with Onnik Krikorian

Global Voices has a great potential as a facilitator but not as an actor in terms of citizen media as a tool for conflict prevention and resolution. Experiences from reporting on evolving, ongoing, and post-conflict situations are manifold, portraying a frequently more nuanced picture as well as alternative and on-the-ground perspectives from these and similar situations. However, lessons learnt still lack in documentation, why there is a hazard in lack of institutional memory.

Global Voices’ role is not as actor, and awareness of this is fundamental in reporting and other activities. Principles of independence, objectivity, and neutrality. This is a matter not only for reporting but also in outreach and potential cooperation with external parties. Global Voices should not get hijacked by the agendas of parties to a conflict or organizations engaged in conflict prevention and resolution. Thus, Global Voices may aim to contribute to conflict understanding, as well as to cover conflict once mainstream media has lost interest.

The rising role of citizen media in conflict is obvious and Global Voices possesses a unique position in disseminating trends and patterns, both in negative terms in exacerbating conflict and in positive as a tool for conflict prevention and resolution, the latter not least in raising awareness and spreading correct information. Contributing to a higher degree of objectivity and neutrality in reporting on conflicts may break down mental barriers, misperceptions, and prejudice. Once cooperation and dialogue start, opposed positions may be put aside. Bringing citizen media activists from opposing sides together may be a nucleus for change by increasing the scope for mutual communication. Especially in long-term conflicts, people may have lost sight of the reasons for conflict, providing an opportunity to open up discussions on the situation.

Information exchange and understanding should be in focus. Anger and disinformation must be confronted by facts and reasoning. The more voices that are represented, the greater is the potential for explaining and disseminating the reasons for conflict that may enable people to make informed decisions in the direction of conflict resolution.

Forming an agenda to address activities in relation to conflict would be of benefit to Global Voices to get a knowledge-base in order to facilitate our activities within the field and to avoid reiterating previous mistakes. A first step in this direction could be to collect lessons learnt from previous experiences. Examples of constructive output and internal cooperation are inter alia the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict and bridge-building in the Caucasus, not least in relation to Armenia and Azerbaijan. A more precarious example may be found in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where positions at times have been so entrenched and perceptions predisposed to the point that they even impede internal cooperation.

To resolve such situations, a position of war and conflict editor may be considered, to whom editors and authors could turn for advice, and who could create structures necessary for dealing with conflict reporting. A first step in assisting editors and authors in their work could be to elaborate a special code, e.g. in terms of general or advisory guidelines for activities related to war and conflict, not least on the basis of previous experiences and dissemination of lessons learned. This also applies to Lingua, as the use of certain terms and definitions during conflict often tend to signal partisanship. As translation is voluntary, this may also lead to a skewed representation to what languages posts are translated, potentially resulting in unbalance between various Lingua sites.

[Onnik: My work on Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict as well as that covered on Global Voices Online’s Caucasus section has been particularly noticed by civil society organizations working such as the Model Caucasus Parliament and Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation who are now using new and social media tools in their work as well as those bloggers particularly from Azerbaijan who were first popularized through GV. BBC Azeri Service has also followed and covered the potential for using new/social media in conflict transformation as a result and other organizations such as Oxfam have also written on that example set which has also included joint presentations]

There is a growing need for direction on an editorial level and to widen the scope of contributors among the parties to a conflict, as this lack of varied representation tends to pose a dilemma for editors and authors. Variety in character and longevity of conflict is one matter to be considered if elaborating guidelines. Standards for dealing with conflict reporting, by way of codes of conduct, should however not be implicit censorship. Both editors and authors need initiated knowledge. Lack of knowledge and basic facts of not least small countries in conflict may be addressed in a variety of ways. One option is to communicate with local activists in citizen media in fact-finding, not least as for the background of conflict, with due consideration of taking the positions of both parties to conflict into consideration.

Another approach is to link to Wikipedia or mainstream media for basic background facts. A third alternative is to do our own background texts, e.g. as part of special coverage as was the case with coverage of the Russo-Georgian conflict. This is to be considered on a case-by-case basis. A basic question is how we get the facts to reign over rumors. Could citizen media draw attention to larger disinformation campaign and expose stereotypes? To what extent may citizen media counter disinformation? Realizing that there is no such thing as completely neutral representation in conflict, there is a need to reach out to both parties to a conflict to present their respective stories. An open question if whether or not to cover both peacemakers and war-mongers? As for the latter, what are the root causes for non-conciliatory bloggers? Another question is if Global Voices could cover the voices of refugees better, e.g. by way of Rising Voices?

[Onnik: One ethnic Azeri refugee who fled Armenia at the age of 4 in the early 1990s has contacted me after posts from Global Voices Online’s Caucasus section were presented as part of her course in conflict transformation/resolution at the School for International Studies. It is hoped that she will soon start blogging, possibly as an author for GV. There are other developments linked to GV’s Caucasus coverage too.]

The overall need for a proactive approach in Global Voices’ conflict reporting seems evident. Based on experiences and lessons learnt, there is both a need for improved internal work-methods as a great potential to develop projects addressing the role of citizen media for conflict resolution in an external context. The role of media in conflict zones is already well covered, but as for citizen media there is a lack of insight and competence. There are ongoing projects addressing these issues. However, Global Voices has a unique competence and expertise within this area that could be further developed. There would thus be funders willing to finance Global Voices in such projects. As described above, a starting point would be to draw up a few lines to structure how guidelines for new media in conflict resolution might look like, increasing awareness of how we should focus the work of Global Voices within this field. In addition to internal usage, this could possibly provide initial suggestions for planning a potential pilot project. To summarize, a structured approach could serve as a starting-point to filling the gap in understanding the role of citizen media in conflict resolution.

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