I: Different conceptual and methodological considerations
Rethinking peace journalism in light of ubuntu
Colin Chasi and Tlva Rodny-Gumede
Recognizing the need to articulate a role for journalism that addresses the tendency towards socio-political dissonance, violence and war that beset many postcolonial African states, much has been said about media transformation and about the transformation of the news media in postcolonial African contexts. Some who have addressed the problem of socio-political dissonance, violence and war with the role of the media in mind have quested for new models of journalism through ethics of listening (Wasserman 2013), Peace Journalism (Hyde- Clarke 2011; Rodny-Gumede 2015b, 2016) and ubuntu journalism (Christians 2015; Fourie 2011; Metz 2015; Rodny-Gumede 2015a). Salient in these works and in the broader debate about the role of journalism is the quest for developing a new ethos for reporting in various local contexts as well as finding ways of ‘talking back’ to ideas and practices that have shaped the reporting of issues and events regarding Africa and Africans by local, as well as, international media outlets and journalists.
We note and assume that journalistic discourses are materials with which communities build social imaginaries (Taylor 2004). These social imaginaries include notions of national spaces and frames of conflict as well as harmonious forms of co-existence that draw out the boundaries of everyday existence. Journalistic coverage, we also recognize, is part of social constructive processes, and journalism does not operate in a vacuum; it is shaped by varying moral, ethical and religious values found in different countries around the world, despite the supposedly homogenizing effect of globalization (Merrill 2004, 4). The greater the legitimation gained by a journalistic mode of production, the more it is likely to be prized or valued by communities. The converse is also likely to be true. Evidently, then, we do not see the news media as a unitary field that is without distinction. In valuing distinctions between differing contexts of media practices, modes of production and sources, we take it that there is socio-political value that can be gained by imbuing local and international media practices with values that express and conduce to locally desired mores.
Given that local consumers of media compare local and international productions to draw out notional standards of excellence, we think it matters that local journalistic productions should keep in mind the pitfalls of dominant Western production values. Where news media practices informed by the moral philosophy of ubunlu, for example, may be informed by tendencies towards cooperation, it appears that Western media practices are driven to promote confrontation (Tavernaro-Haidarian 2016). We also note that because local realities are the subject of local and international media interest, and because local and international media coverage bear on the production of local socio-political imaginar- ies, there is a curious need for articulation of a journalistic ethos that promotes or at least conduces to harmony locally, and that is locally relevant as well as consistent with globally accepted best practices associated with excellent news coverage locally, nationally and internationally.
However, much journalism, locally as well as internationally is still shaped by ideas as well as practices emanating from decidedly ‘Western’ normative ideas of journalism that leaves little room for exploring alternative models of practices as well as the underlying ethos of reporting. This is also emphasized through postcolonial theory that has deliberated on, and critiqued, the normative ideas around media function/s, media performance and ethics entrenched in Western philosophical belief systems essentially ignoring non-Western philosophical ideas on how the media should or could function in society. The argument is that for societies shaped by centuries of slavery, colonialism—and as in South Africa, apartheid and its aberrations—a different way of theorizing as well as conducting journalism is needed (Rodny-Gumede 2015a, 113).
By way of example, research shows that there is an awareness among selected foreign correspondents covering the African continent of alternative practices and models of reporting and that practices and ideas of an ‘ideal’ journalistic framework and/or ethos of reporting in many ways conform to what has been labelled PJ (Rodny-Gumede 2016). Equally, it has been suggested that local reporting, as for example, the reporting of service delivery protests in South Africa could be substantially improved through taking heed of some of the central tenets of PJ (Rodny-Gumede 2015b). This argument has also been extended to the analysis of the South African mainstream news media’s reporting of the horrific massacre of 34 miners at Marikana in August 2012 (ibid.). And, where the coverage of the massacre by the South African mainstream news media in many ways conformed to what media scholar Johan Galtung (1986) has labelled ‘war reporting’, characterized by sensationalism, polarization of viewpoints, lack of contextualization and an overall emphasis on conflict, coverage could have been improved by the adoption of practices aligned to PJ (ibid.). PJ has also been suggested as a model that more broadly could underline a new ethos of local reporting and serve as a basis for the reporting of African affairs and communities (Lynch and McGoldrick 2012), whether by local or international media organizations.
Fourie (2011, 35) argues that new ways of conceptualizing journalism and the role ofjournalism should be explored from indigenous epistemologies, and as such moving away from Western and Eurocentric biases implied in normative theories of the press. We take head of such calls and posit that PJ be enhanced by, and with, consideration of the African moral philosophy and relational ethic of ubuntu. Indeed, in the quest for alternative models to underpin a new ethos for reporting, the quintessential African moral philosophy of ubuntu has been cited in relation to the development of a new ethos for journalism as well as the media more generally (Chasi 2015, 2016; Christians 2004, 2015; Fourie 2011; Mboti 2015; Metz 2015; Rodny-Gumede 2015a; Tomaselli 2009, 2016; Wasserman 2010).
Hence, we seek insights into a journalism, that not only provides news audiences with better insight in to Africa, African communities and African people, but that also provides a model and reporting ethic for journalism that affords accuracy and dignity to the issues and people reported on. Further, and consistent with the ethos of ubuntu, we intend that this journalism should speak to the possibility of harmonious cooperative existence that enable individuals to become the most that they can be. This journalism, we contend, should be internationally legitimate in the ways in which it seeks out and distributes information fairly and accurately so that individuals in their communities can act to achieve peaceful and productive lives. As such we take systematic cognizance of how ubuntu as a relational ethic uniquely underpinning African philosophical accounts of human and social relations can contribute to a re-appraisal and re-imagine of PJ. While we do not portend to set out a new framework for journalism, we nevertheless hope to set out some of the more salient aspect of what the underlying ethos of each, contribute to the other. In doing so, it is our wish that scholars, as well as, practitioners can further develop these ideas and eventually turn theory in to practice.
Reporting on ‘Africa’
Critique has been levelled against reporting on ‘Africa’ and against foreign coverage and coverage of war and violence in particular. Galtung (1986) proposes that much coverage of war and violence conforms to what he labels ‘war journalism’, a form ofjournalism that has a value bias towards violence and violent groups that leads audiences to overvalue violent responses to conflict and ignore non-violent alternatives. Importantly, reporting that conforms to ‘war journalism’ tends to assume that the needs of one side can only be met by the other side’s compromise or defeat, polarizing viewpoints rather than valuing similarities, cooperation, agreements reached, and progress on common issues and interests (ibid.).
A study by Rodny-Gumede (2016) however shows that there is a degree of awareness of the critique levelled against coverage of the African continent among selected foreign correspondents, and importantly that such critique is ‘fair’ and that much could be done to improve reporting. The study also shows that there is an awareness towards alternative narratives and news frames, practices and models for journalism, including practices and an ethos associated with PJ as an alternative form of reporting, with many of the tenets of PJ being already engrained in journalistic practices and codes of ethics (Rodny-Gumede 2016, 91). The same study also shows that foreign correspondents working on the African continent, rather than emphasizing war and conflict as ‘bad news’ tend to sell newspapers (Carruthers 2011, 5), instead emphasize that there is often little ground for reporting peace or absence of war (Rodny-Gumede 2016, 90). However, the journalists interviewed also state that more could be done to broaden the scope of stories and to make sure that a multitude of voices and sources are included in coverage, in order to avoid an overt polarization of the views of main stakeholders (Rodny-Gumede 2016, 90).
In addition, research shows that with regard to ubuntu as a framework for a new journalistic framework and reporting ethic, many South African journalists, while finding the idea of ubuntu journalism compelling with a particular emphasis on the idea that journalism must never become too removed from the communities it serves and the issues that concern the audience, seem wary of not being dictated to in terms of how to report and there is a fear of government interference and that ubuntu is touted as a way to try to enforce a particular form ofjournalism dictated by the current ANC-led government (Rodny-Gumede 2015a). Further to this Rodny-Gumede’s (2015a) research shows that with a limited understanding of what ubuntu journalism might entail, the journalists interviewed found it difficult to link it to particular journalistic practices.
Thus, what seems apparent in the discussions around alternative frameworks for journalism is a lack of a clear articulation of, and guidance, in terms of practical applications and practices. What follows is a discussion of PJ as well as ubuntu journalism as currently articulated in scholarly literature. We then proceed to re-evaluate PJ in light of ubuntu and ideas of ubuntu journalism and set out some of the more salient aspects of what each framework can contribute to the other.
Coined by Johan Galtung already in the 1970s, PJ (Cottle 2006) stands as a challenge to hegemonic discourses that have for long framed coverage of conflict as binaries of us and them, war and peace, good and bad with little attention paid to conflict resolution, conflict mitigation, underlying causes of conflict, consensus seeking, alternative news sources, and a usage language that do not over emphasize conflict frames (Rodny-Gumede 2015b). PJ instead is concerned with how journalism and journalists “create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict” (Lynch and McGoldrick 2005, 5). Thus, PJ essentially stands as a response to journalistic practices that thrives on a logic that seeks out conflict (Allan 2011; Brock-Utne 2011; Dente Ross 2007; Galtung 2000; Hyde-Clarke 2011; Lynch 2008; Lynch and Galtung 2010; Lynch and McGoldrick 2005; Rodny-Gumede 2012, 2015b; Teranian 2002), and instead emphasizes journalistic practices that goes towards emphasizing peace and peaceful solutions to war, conflict and violence (Bratic and Schirch 2007; Car- ruthers 2011; Galtung and Ruge 1965; Hyde-Clarke 2011, 2012; Lynch 2008; Lynch and Galtung 2010; Rodny-Gumede 2012, 2015b).
In later years PJ has been examined from perspectives of social movements and alternative media (Hackett 2011), human rights (Seaga Shaw 2001), gender biases in the language and structures of the media (Brock-Utne 2011; Tivona 2011) and how notions of empathy (McGoldric 2011) and objectivity as seen through normative liberal biases of Western coverage (Hackett 2011) are challenged through PJ. The main criticism brought forward through such explorations have been directed towards how mainstream journalism and news media coverage leads to reality being distorted and ethics and professional standards forsaken (cf. Allan 2011; Brock-Utne 2011; Dente Ross 2007; Galtung2000; Hyde-Clarke 2011; Lynch 2008; Lynch and Galtung 2010; Lynch and McGoldrick 2005; Rodny-Gumede 2012, 2015b; Teranian 2002).
However, little has been said of the violations such coverage brings to those reported on and in the extension, audiences and receivers of news. The question is whether the PJ model could be re-assessed and re-developed, not only in the context of foreign reporting but also in the context, and interest, of developing a new ethos for local and national reporting, through taking cognizance of the relational ethic of ubuntu that uniquely underpins African philosophical accounts of human and social relations. This is in the interest of developing a journalism that values common ground, consensus and contributes to conflict resolution.
Ubuntu and ideas of ubuntu journalism
The quintessential African philosophy of ubuntu, much like European ideas of communitarianism, hold the community as “ontologically prior to person and serves as an antidote to mainstream libertarianism” (Christians 2004, 235). Metz (2011, 532) argues that ubuntu provides guidance on how to resolve disputes about justice and morality. This is done through its grounding in moral conceptions by which human beings have dignity by virtue of their capacity for constructing community through identifying, and exhibiting solidarity with others. This is particularly pertinent to ideas of media ethics (and often inscribed in codes of conduct and ethical guidelines), emphasizing that the news media must show empathy with and minimalize harm done to the people about whom they report (Rodny-Gumede 2015a, 114). And if taken as a normative framework for journalism ethics, ‘ubuntu communitarianism’ (Christians 2004, 235) will encourage a journalism that:
... empowers citizens to come to agreement about social problems and solutions among themselves rather than depending on the political elite or professional experts.
(Christians 2004, 235)
Ubuntu journalism according to Fourie (2011, 38) emphasizes the role of journalists as members of, and active participants in, a community rather than as neutral observers or spectators. As such, the journalist engages in dialogue that reflects the voice and views of the community and assumes the role of mediator in community affairs, where the focus is on consensus, participation and consultation, rather than polarization. Ubuntu journalism thus moves away from ‘Western’ liberal traditions of‘truth’ criteria or conceptualizations of‘facts’ that tend to have little or no regard for cultural or social interpretations generated within a community itself and considered in the interest of the community as a collective (Fourie 2011, 37). Thus, “the public interest in ubuntu journalism becomes an assessment of the value of the media/news report to the community” (Rodny-Gumede 2015a, 115).
Ubuntu should, however not, be read as a prescriptive set of norms or guidelines set out in a formal professional code but rather as a deep-seated general morality that requires journalists to act in accordance with the morality of the community (Fourie 2011, 37). And, like PJ, ubuntu is not explicit in the sense that it has been codified into specific normative ideas as materialized through a journalistic code of conduct, instead the values of ubuntu are transferred through a socialization process much like any other process of internalization of values and similar to how journalistic values are learnt through a socialization process in the newsroom (Rodny-Gumede 2015a, 114).
The question that arises is whether ubuntu offers a path to re-assessing and re-defining PJ through emphasizing social relations as constructed through community building. And in doing so, would ubuntu give increased credence to PJ in the context of coverage in and from an African context?
Ubuntu journalism is distinguishable from war journalism by the practices of communication that underpin it. In this sense Wasserman (2013) is insightful in recognizing that listening is a valuable aspect of the ubuntu ethic of communication, which should be incorporated into thinking on ubuntu. Listening is a vital aspect of how Bantu-speaking peoples, who are much associated with ubuntu, think of harmonious co-existence. Among the Shona of Zimbabwe, for example, people speak of kunzwanana (to stand in elegant relationship with each other, to listen to each other/to get along with each other/to live harmoniously together). Among the Zulu people in South Africa, the word ukuzuiana has a similar breadth of meanings.
What we must not lose sight of is that listening speaks of complex panoply of practices in Bantu cultures. Words for listening for example, in Bantu cultures, often reference a wide range of sensory experiences and practices that include smell, touch, hearing, feeling and intersubjective understanding that are performed contextually or in ways that establish mutuality, and relational or dialogic practices that are foundational to the practice and moral idea of ubuntu (Kyker 2016, 372). Listening, in this sense, therefore unsurprisingly references modes of engagement associated with practices of cooperative communicative interaction.
Listening/kunzwanana/ukuzwana is produced and is aimed at, for example,
- • in traditional African legal processes which are combative but inclusive and open while typically seeking restorative justice (cf. Woodman 2011);
- • or in traditional ‘lobola’ negotiations that are quite confrontational ‘and testy’ but which are also ritually enacted to harmoniously produce a marriage process that should ideally bring divergent families into one new relational whole;
- • or in the dialogic production of music through stressing unique accents that are then orchestrated into musical harmony by synchronizing dialogic beck- and-call sequences with rhythmic clashes and metrical ambiguity (Wilson 1999).
Importantly, Africans do value dialogic interactions that creatively humanize and harmonize different modes of expression - whatever their source.
Therefore, the journalistic practices we are after must embody the creativity to take clashing, competing or inchoate expressions and to situate them in dialogic relationships that conduce to harmonious experiencing. In other words, recalling the span of concerns that relate to listening/kuny.wanana/»Att.?:«>fl«fl—we are after a mode of journalism that seeks, writes, curates or distributes news with a view to producing elegant interrelationships that conduce to people listening, ‘getting along’ and harmoniously encountering the world.
This also chimes with criticism of the news media that if they are to fulfil their democratic role they should draw upon a wider variety of news sources (Schud- son 2003, 152) and as argued by proponents of PJ in particular, the need for going beyond official sources, so dominant in media coverage (Lynch 2008; Lynch and Galtung 2010; Lynch and McGoldrick 2005). In accord with this and in order to truly fulfil a social and democratic function, journalists should not only give a voice to the ‘the voiceless’ but actively foreground and engage with often marginalized sources from a basis of mutuality and equality (Rodny-Gumede 2012, 62).
So, for example, where the news is of violence, the ubuntu journalist thinks holistically about the world of interactions into which this news will fall. The ubuntu journalist recognizes the imperative to allow the unique and authentic pitch of this news to reach audiences. But in doing this the ubuntu journalist does not lose sight of the fact that there are complex stories and angles that play into any story. What is more, the ubuntu journalist is aware that a good story is not as important as good news. Good news, for the ubuntu journalist, happens when the good story is told in ways that dialogically engage with audiences, moving them to listen in ways that co-construct, with others who are party to ‘the conversation’, the kinds of common conceptual grounds that yields harmonious communities. How else as Barkho (2013, 7) asks “can we provide for a value neutral or objective account when we use our own theories and concepts of the social in representing others?” And therefore, the objective of journalists “is not to impose their own discursive criteria and standards of ethics, rationality or intelligibility to explain actors and actions outside of their own discursive and social contexts” (Barkho 2013, 6—7).
Just as under the influence of new communication technologies that challenge time and space Westerners have had to imagine new conceptual grounds for agoras, Africans will need to rethink how to use mediating technologies. In this regard, journalism cannot afford to ignore the fact that new media platforms have created global public spaces beyond those of the more established news organizations and other government and official organs (Matheson and Allan 2010, 187). Social media are rewriting the protocols of war and conflict reporting and can assist the news media in finding alternative voices and a plurality of voices, so central to PJ practices (Rodny-Gumede 2012, 63). Journalists, in the ways in which they capture, curate and express themselves individually and institutionally are challenged to reinvent themselves as legitimated and sought after sources of news. We do well to think here of the connection between the Shona word, sahwira (friend) and the words kuhiva/kunzwa (to listen). The sahwira is the one who owns or takes responsibility (sa ) for listening (ku-hwira). The implications here are quite stark: Journalism that will stand the test of time should seek to be grounded in an ethos of friendship that is experienced by audiences as evidence of journalists who listen, curate and hence express themselves with a sense of responsibility for those whose stories they are given. The prescript to (reproduce harmony within friendship that involves harmony and shared identity has often been recognized by Metz (2007, 339, 2011) as a unique contribution to world philosophy of the moral philosophy of ubunlu.
The pursuit of journalism that furthers the interests of peace, we contend, can be developed in ways that account for how Africans value and conceptualize relationships and therefore also communication. At the very least, PJ when underpinned by ubunlu, provides a way for further minimizing harm in reporting. And where journalistic ethics of minimizing harm is often interpreted as ‘do not do unto others...’, it could also, as in the Confucian reading, be interpreted as positive inference, i.e. “Erect others the way you would desire yourself to be erected and let others get there the way you would desire yourself to get there” (Christians 2010, 26), also emphasized through the ways in which ubunlu stresses ideas of empowering humans to be the best they can be.
Ubunlu journalism thus extends the PJ agenda by giving new and enhanced accent to community and participation through listening. It embraces new ways of listening and cooperating harmoniously that reconstitute communities over space and time which are increasingly less bounded and more complex than ever before. Doing this will necessarily result in new inter- and cross-cultural exchanges that yield new notions of what is legitimate and good. As a relational ethic, ubunlu is built to be rediscovered and renewed in each presentational and representational expression of moral excellence. Ubunlu journalism has a vital role in this, and that role, to the extent that it involves listening and harmony, will likely build peace and will therefore be consistent with the ideals associated with peace journalism.
Consensus seeking and deliberation are not alien to journalism. Most ethical frameworks of journalism in one way or the other seek out some variety of Aris- totlean ‘Golden mean’ by attempting to tease out and express objectivity, balance and fairness in reporting. This is often described in terms of efforts to present news that is grounded in a quest for identifying the middle-ground between two standpoints or actions. In this regard, the embracing of values and practices associated with PJ, if underlined by the moral principles and values of ubunlu, are but ways of expanding journalistic ethics.
Re-evaluating PJ in light of ubuntu
PJ is not without its detractors, and has been criticized for being too broad in its conceptualizations and scope, too philosophical, too normative and sometimes labelled as ‘sunshine journalism’. Critics further point to the journalistic genre’s lack of clout and agency for practical application and implementation (cf. Hackett 2007; Hanitzsch 2004; Lyon 2007; McMahon and Chow-White 2011). It is the latter, that has also prevented PJ from making a substantial contribution to a journalism that not only factors in conflict resolution, conflict mitigation and the finding of common ground, but also practices that contribute to a journalism of deliberation, understanding and mutuality in relation to issues as well as communities and individuals covered. Issues particularly pertinent in light of criticism levelled against coverage of Africa and African people.
Equally, communitarianism in an African context as well as uhunlu is a contested notion. Tomaselli (2009, 591) argues that both communitarianism and ubuntu can be exploited by opportunistic and ruthless leaders as means of control that might mis-represent the will of the community. Ubuntu has also been seen as perpetuating essentialist ideas of African culture and communities. In relation to South Africa, Metz (2011, 532) also argues, that as a public morality, ubuntu is too vague and does not acknowledge the value of individual freedom.
However, ubuntu journalism and PJ both stands as ‘challenger-paradigms’ that could form the basis of a complimentary conceptual framework for journalism in much the same way as Seaga Shaw (2011) has argued that human rights journalism could constitute a complimentary conceptual framework for PJ. In addition, Ogenga (2019) argues that there is a need to foreground African PJ as opposed to PJ in Africa. And, if we take PJ to highlight the need for conflict resolution, conflict mitigation and common ground instead of conflict amplification and polarization of viewpoints, and seek ways for PJ to embrace ideas of mutuality, consensus, interdependence, participation and deliberation through ubuntu, a new journalistic ethos can be developed that foregrounds human relations that not only seeks to report on, and find, peaceful solutions to conflict, but that is also participatory in the ways that it centres upon journalists capabilities for working in community with the people they report on. Such journalism would gain credibility through foregrounding truths sought out through deliberation and consensus seeking.
Journalistic practices are, in the first instance, informed by ethical guidelines and codes of conduct. Even though not often enforced in legal frameworks, such codes exist in most liberal democracies overseen by an independent body or Press Council or Broadcasting Complaints Commission with the mandate to rule on, and meter out, sanctions for media houses or individual journalists found in contravention of a code of conduct or ethical guideline. Adherence to such codes form part of a journalistic identity and enforces professionalism within the journalistic corps. For the audience, adherence to professional codes of conduct and journalistic ethics lays the foundation for trust in the practices and contents of the news media. However, journalistic practices are also informed by individual ethics that might or might not cohere with the normative frameworks of the codes of ethics set out by media houses and oversight bodies such as a Press Council. PJ and ubuntu as frameworks for a journalistic ethos that inform practices are, in the current, more aligned to individual values and stances towards the profession and related practices. Thus, the work that lies ahead will relate to how to furnish an understanding of, and mainstream, the central tenets and values underlining both PJ and ubuntu as to form the basis for a new journalistic ethos and model for journalism practices. In this regard, as with so much other work on reinforcing ethics and re-evaluating practices, scholars as well as practitioners will have to engage with, and assess, the ethos and underlying values that PJ and ubuntu represents, and to let this guide them in their development of new ethical guidelines and codes of conduct. Such efforts have the potential to ‘talk back’ to ideas and practices that have shaped the reporting of Africa and Africans by local as well as international media outlets and journalists, and to form the basis of a journalism that affords accuracy and dignity to the issues and people reported on.
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