Kenya: How to practice conflict sensitive journalism

dsc_9952Journalist Mary Kiio has trained fellow reporters in conflict sensitivity for the last five years in Kenya. She works with BBC Media Action training journalists around the country. We interviewed her to learn more about her work.

Why is there need for conflict sensitive reporting?
The way journalists report during a time of conflict may either exacerbate or quell a situation. I used an exercise with vernacular journalists to help them understand how language contributed to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007/8.

When journalists reported “My people are being attacked” or “Our people are being attacked” in vernacular language, it gave the impression that they were siding with their own communities. This reporting may have led more people to fear that their whole community was under attack and react negatively. In reality, the attacks may have only involved a few people.

How do you train journalists effectively?
I use experiential methods. I create role plays and exercises so that journalists can identify with a certain situation, discuss the issue, and come up with their own solutions.

What role does language play during a time of conflict?
It’s not usually what one says, but how one says something that may lead to further problems. For instance, if 10 people die during a conflict between two communities, a journalist who reports “two warring communities” gives the wrong information. The word “war” is usually used when armed conflict takes place especially between nations, resulting in many fatalities. The journalist needs to consider the appropriate words and wording for the story, for example, “Fighting between two communities has resulted in the death of 10 people.”

How can Christian journalists report effectively on inter-religious conflict?
Christian reporters need to find the real cause of a religious conflict. For a longstanding feud, dig into the genesis of the conflict, how it escalated and analyze the current situation with all the facts.

Journalists must ask themselves fundamental questions prior to reporting, including: Do I prefer one of the religious groups involved in this inter-religious conflict? Do I have any negative perceptions about any of the religious groups involved? Acknowledging this often leads journalists to realize personal shortcomings in reporting on an issue. But this awareness can also provide impetus to go beyond their perceptions and stereotypes to tell the true story.

What key lessons you have learned?
Conflict sensitive journalism is hard work and requires the truth be told, but in a responsible manner. It is not soft journalism or hiding of truths. It may require that a journalist holds back a few more minutes when she has a breaking news story on conflict. She first checks all the facts and ensures that she doesn’t contribute to further conflict.

One needs a keen eye to detail and to ask the hard questions to be able to tell the truth without being perceived as being biased against one group or community.

If journalists around the world would embrace conflict sensitive reporting, there would be more peaceful coexistence among the people that they seek to inform.

Soul Food for Pastors, Churches in Latin America

Scheduled for release in 2012, the Latin America Bible Commentary (LABC) will provide spiritual food for Christian pastors and leaders in Latin America and help alleviate a famine of Biblical resources there.  Many leaders in both rural and urban areas lack materials to teach and shepherd the Church, which faces long-standing difficulties of poverty and isolation, plus new challenges such as unemployment and post-modernity. This dearth of quality resources has allowed the prosperity gospel and other unorthodox Christian offshoots to gain popularity.

The one-volume commentary, which will be published in Spanish, Portuguese and English, targets Latin America’s burgeoning evangelical community. At present, Evangelicals comprise roughly 15 percent of the Latin American population. Since few original texts have been published by and for this relatively young group, the LABC symbolizes a next step in equipping Latin American evangelical leaders. While the commentary will not address Latin America’s Catholic majority, Catholic consultants will examine the commentary to prevent unnecessary offense.    

Following a style similar to the Africa Bible Commentary but with unique origins, the LABC promises to provide scholarly interpretation of the Bible’s 66 books, as well as ‘bridge articles’ that help its readers draw parallels between the Bible and Latin American society. These articles will tackle hard issues facing Latin American Christian today such as spiritism, addiction, revolutionary violence and prostitution. 

Writers include 130 Latin American Christian scholars and leaders hailing from all corners of the continent. These contributors represent Latin America’s diverse theological and cultural heritage, which the commentary will reflect in its interpretive and bridge articles. Diversity, however, comes at a cost. Because the commentary’s articles are written in either Spanish or Portuguese, translation requires an extra stage in production. 

Besides supplying a need for biblical resources, the commentary offers the subsidiary benefit of promoting indigenous writing. “One of the commentary’s spinoffs is that it will encourage people to write more,” says Ian Darke, the commentary’s Project Coordinator and MAI’s Latin America regional trainer. “There is a big group of people [in Latin America] who have never published anything, so it will be exciting for them to see their names in print.”

Pastors and Christian leaders anticipate the commentary’s release with fervor. Many will participate in focus groups to assist the editors in final preparations.

>>Watch a short Youtube video clip with Ian Darke, project coordinator of the LABC

>>More background on the LABC 

>>An interview with the New Testament editor of the LABC

By Jennifer Lewis, former MAI intern