Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Conflict and the media

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

As nationalism has made its way into journalism in Cambodia and Thailand igniting hatred, the media in both countries must review their role, says Nguon Serath

As Cambodia and Thailand are now in a serious diplomatic row with threat of a war breaking out, we all have a role to ease the tension and finally to help both countries resolve the conflict. It is time for all - politicians, journalists and the people of both countries - to take a softer position to ensure that they can live peacefully. Taking into consideration the important role played by the media and the mistakes which felled the conflict, it is necessary that this time the journalists in Cambodia and Thailand are careful in their reporting.

When the row between Cambodia and Thailand became serious, journalists in Cambodia, Thailand and other parts of the world were reporting on the conflict. Thus the conflict became widely known. There have been a large number of reports because it was felt that the diplomatic row could affect living conditions in both countries. However, when we are obsessed with reporting on the conflict, we sometimes fail to check if the way we report helps ease the tension and bring about peace for the Cambodian and Thai people.

No one in Cambodia and Thailand wants to see a full-blown conflict erupt into war bringing deaths and damages on both sides. However, do the media in Cambodia and Thailand practise peace journalism, conflict-solution journalism or conflict-sensitive journalism in order to prevent a war?

Reading news stories and watching Cambodian and Thai TV, we notice both positive and negative aspects of media coverage. From the positive aspect, the media in Cambodia and Thailand covered stories which carried a message that the Cambodian and Thai people need peace and they do not want to see the two countries in conflict. They want both governments to solve their differences through peaceful negotiations.

It is still fresh in our minds that Bangkok threatened to shut down the Cambodia-Thai border in retaliation against a move by the Cambodian government which appointed former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra as its economic adviser and refused to extradite him on a request from the Thai government. The threat drew reactions in Bangkok and Phnom Penh because the border closure would affect the people. Thanks to the reaction and the media coverage, the Thai government then changed its position and no longer spoke about closing the border. Thus, the media in Cambodia and Thailand helped prevent a decision which could affect people in both countries.

However, everything is not satisfactory and we must make a thorough review of journalism in both countries if we in the media want to avoid being blamed by the public. Nationalism flared up in Cambodia and Thailand and it could be manipulated by opportunist groups to serve their interests.

The concern is that nationalism made its way into journalism and it brought about a new way of reporting which ignited hatred rather than calming down ultra-nationalism. We in the media failed to promote mutual understanding. There is nothing wrong in nationalism but we we are required to think beyond the border. In other words, journalism is borderless and the journalists' mission is to serve the interest of human beings. It requires us to look at humanism rather than restrict ourselves to nationalism. We have to uphold common interests.

As a journalist, we should not paint ourselves as yellow, red or any colour or attach ourselves to any group. When we attach ourselves to any group or colour, our reports will probably reflect that colour or interest of the group we belong to.

It is better to review a mistake committed by the media in Rwanda 15 years ago when it was blamed for the genocide that took hundreds of thousands of lives. The Rwanda media in 1994 ignited hatred against the Tutsi tribes that resulted in some 500,000 being killed just in 100 days. That was one of the most serious tragedies in human history for which the media were blamed.

None of us want such a tragedy to occur. Thus, it is crucial for the media in Cambodia and Thailand to review their role.

The writer is news editor, Rasmei Kampuchea, a member of ANN

No comments: