It’s easy to say that you’re all for peace journalism—not inflaming or exacerbating conflicts while nurturing an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation—when all is well. The challenge is to practice these principles in times of violence and crisis.
Such is the case now in Norway, which is recovering from a series of deadly attacks. I have a Norwegian friend who I just heard from via Facebook. She wrote, “Thank you all so much for your kind thoughts. As of now I don't know anyone who has been hurt but the situation is quite chaotic and they are still locating people. My hope now is that Norway will continue to be the country it was before the attacks and not restrict its people's rights permanently.” She’s right--the bombers and shooters "win" if Norwegians lose their rights.
Yet, the loss of basic rights becomes almost inevitable if the media whips the public into an anti-terror frenzy in which citizens demand action—any action—to make them feel safer. The USA’s post-9/11 Patriot Act comes to mind.
Fortunately, at least so far, several Norwegian media outlets seem to be getting the message. "As we rebuild the government quarters and [Labor Party youth wing] AUF builds up its organization, we will also restore a Norway based on openness and trust," said a day-after editorial in the daily newspaper Dagbladet. The editorial went on to say, “"We shall not have a Norway with new restrictions of freedom of movement, more uniforms, and thus also more interventions in the lives of all those of us who don't want to understand the language of terror." An editorial in the newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv commented, “We need to prove that terrorists are wrong and that we are right. We can only do so by preserving our open and democratic society." (wsj.com)
These comments are hopeful signs indeed. The hardest part will come, I suspect, in the coming weeks and months, as recriminations begin and pressure mounts to do something. It is then that the need will be greatest to practice responsible peace journalism. This means not rushing to judgment. (There were already erroneous reports about the perpetrators in the first hours after the incident). It also means not demonizing the murderers and those with whom they associate. Reports say the youth camp shooter was a conservative Christian. The media must be careful not to paint all conservative Norwegian Christians as fanatics.
Peace journalists should thoughtfully analyze the violent incidents, carefully taking into consideration the consequences of their reporting on society. Should media give voice to those seeking retribution? If they must, at least balance the coverage with moderate voices, like those of my friend, who can see the long term negative consequences from reflexively enacting rules and laws in an atmosphere tainted with anger, revenge, and fear.
--Follow me on Twitter @PeaceJourn and on my blog http://stevenyoungblood.blogspot.,com