An important part of dealing with the past immediately following the resolution of an armed conflict, transitional justice needs more reporting by global media to aid post-conflict societies.
Media coverage often wanes when hostilities subside or when new conflicts flare up elsewhere. To everyone's detriment, said panelists invited to speak about "Reporting on post-conflict societies and frozen conflicts," a session hosted by the German foundation Robert Bosch Stiftung as part of this year's Global Media Forum in Bonn.
"We run after the news, we don't do permanent coverage of places which are still potentially dangerous, which might explode from one minute to the next," said Asiem El Difraoui, a researcher at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Media and Communication Policy in France.
"In an increasingly global world, we do less and less foreign coverage. A lot of papers, a lot of not publicly-funded news outlets, reduce the foreign coverage and are then surprised by the consequences," he said.
Citing the example of Libya, El Difraoui, says we are now seeing concrete proof of journalistic failures. It wasn't until Libya, a failed state, partially contributed to a refugee crisis in Europe that people began to pay attention to the country again. "We really underestimate the intelligence and the curiosity of our own public," said El Difraoui. "People are much more interested in what is happening in foreign countries than what we give them credit for."
Uncovering and coping with the past
That's especially true for readers of Cambodia's first English-language newspaper, The Phnom Penh Post, who read the paper to follow reporting on the genocide tribunal that was formed by the UN and national government in 2006. Sokha Cheang, the newspaper’s Chief of Staff, says following the trials is important for those searching for answers to what led to the killing of two million people in the late 1970s.
"It is the history of Cambodia and the people still want to know the policy that made a lot of people die and the eviction of people from the city to the countryside and the killing of intellectuals – that is still a question we want to know, especially the families of the victims who are waiting for justice."A similar searching is going on in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to Denis Dzidic, Deputy Editor for the Justice Report Project and a journalist for the Balkan Transitional Justice Project and The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). "When you look at Bosnia-Herzegovina, you really don't have to go far to speculate what will happen if you don't systematically deal with the past, if you don't go through determining the truth – and the media plays a big role in that."
Uncovering the issues that led to the conflict in the first place and finding ways to deal with them might be the only sustainable path to peace. The transition process that takes place in the wake of armed conflict, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, rarely receives the attention it deserves.?"We are living in a currently conflict society in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there's just no war going on," said Dzidic.
"Everything about the issues that Bosnia is facing is connected to the war in one way or another. The problem is that it's not in the mainstream media. When we try to make our stories fit a global audience, then we are forced to over-simplify it, to fit it into a simple narrative," he said.
Need for more continuous coverage
The question then becomes one of responsibility for reporting, said discussion moderator Daniel Gerlach, Editor in Chief of zenith Magazine and Director of the Candid Foundation in Germany. If global news networks are not doing their job of reporting on these so-called "frozen conflicts," what role do local and national media play in either inciting or calming the flames?
"Local media is often a part of a conflict pattern," said Marcus Bensmann, a reporter, for CORRECT!V in Germany, whose reporting in the Caucasus region has often led him to modern-day issues that stem from decades-old conflicts.
This problem with local media is one felt heavily in Iraq, said Dana Asaad, Director of the Media Academy Iraq and Editor-in-Chief of Awene.com, who added that a lack of well-trained journalists contributes to the continued conflict. "It's obvious that covering a post-conflict … we need to have qualified people. Before 2003, we had few media outlets, you could count them on your hand and it was the media of the Baathist regime. One color, one opinion, one ideology. There we didn't have media. After 2003, suddenly, hundreds of media outlets came out. Every single political party and every single official had its own media. … but we didn't have journalists. Journalism became the job for jobless people. You fill all those media outlets with people who have no journalism background and they know nothing about the ethics of journalism and those people started to cover the post-conflict time."
"But I'm 36 years old, from Iraq, and I don't remember that I went through a post-conflict period. All my life has been in conflicts and crisis."
Perhaps, then, the question is not one of how to report on frozen or forgotten conflicts but rather on how to maintain awareness and international attention on the issues that might create or flare up conflict. As El Difraoui said, "I'm proposing simply better, more contextualized and more continuous coverage."
International partners and co-hosts
DW's partners for the approximately 40 workshops and events being held at the 2015 Global Media Forum include, among others, Amnesty International, Grimme-Institut, the United Nations, the OSCE, Reporters Without Borders Germany and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The conference is co-hosted by the Foundation for International Dialogue of the Sparkasse Savings Bank in Bonn. Support is also kindly provided by Germany's Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the City of Bonn and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.