Latin America's violent history means journalists need to report in a responsible and sensitive way. A DW Akademie workshop gave reporters new insights on how to cover conflicts and the issues arising from them.
During the second half of the 20th century, many countries in Latin America suffered under military dictatorships or were racked by civil wars and armed conflicts with guerrilla groups. The combination of weak states and internal violence have caused problems such as corruption, unfair land distribution policies, racism, discrimination against minority groups and an overall atmosphere of violence and impunity that can still be felt today. These problems are fueled by media coverage that is often one-sided.
Reconciliation with the past and reflection on the roots of the conflicts are difficult tests for Latin American societies emerging from years or even decades of dictatorship. And journalists often lack the skills to cover these sensitive issues. DW Akademie's recent workshop "Coping with the past and conflict-sensitive journalism" aimed to fill this gap.
Thirteen journalists from Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia and Peru spent two weeks in Guatemala researching the historical backgrounds of the conflicts in their home countries. They also analyzed contemporary problems and examined the role the media can play in increasing understanding of these issues.
For the research aspect of the workshop, DW Akademie was fortunate to have Guatemala's Historical Archive of the National Police as a cooperation partner. The archive consists of an estimated 80 million documents dating from the late 1800s and include the period of Guatemala's civil war from 1960 to 1996.
The participants were able to access the archive allowing them a unique insight into the persecution, spying, torture, murder and disappearances of tens of thousands of people. The National Police were disbanded in 1996 at the end of the civil war but it wasn't until 2005 that their archives were discovered in an abandoned police compound. Since then, researchers have painstakingly been conserving and digitizing the documents.
Commemoration and sensitivity
The workshop also included critical analysis of the role of journalists in conflict regions as well as a presentation of the role of the media in Germany's own democratization process after World War Two.
"The participants engaged in heated, passionate but respectful debates about the situation in their own countries," said DW Akademie trainer Roberto Herrscher.
The Latin American journalists were especially interested in the culture of remembrance in Germany, where the victims of World War Two and the East German dictatorship are commemorated in numerous museums, monuments and even simple memorials, such as the Stolpersteine - small brass blocks set into the pavement outside the houses of victims of the Nazi regime.
The participants had thoughtful conversations about the marginalization and stigma faced by those affected by conflict in their own countries, where victims are often members of indigenous groups.
A broader view
Two guest speakers gave the group valuable insights into Guatemala's own process of reconciling with the past. The speakers, human rights activist Rosalina Tuyuc of the indigenous Kaqchikel Maya people and Claudia Paz y Paz, a public prosecutor, clearly detailed the background of the country's civil war, whose aftermath is still being felt today.
Toward the end of the workshop, the participants proposed topics for a workshop magazine. The journalists then spent two days conducting research for their articles. While most stayed in Guatemala City, one team traveled to the northern part of the country to report on the burial of a victim's remains, which had only recently been identified.
The resulting publication, "Retrovisor" ("Rearview"), is a multifaceted magazine that sensitively explores the theme of dealing with the past in Latin America. It draws on the participants' own experiences as well as what they had learned, discussed and discovered in the workshop.
"We worked extremely hard," said trainer Herrscher. "But, we were able to laugh together as well."