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Dispute Resolution Magazine




Journalism thrives on conflict, a classic "news value," which can make a story newsworthy. As a result, the normal routines of reporters and editors tend to emphasize extreme voices and combative themes, triggering the criticism that news coverage of an event is "more likely to escalate a conflict than to pacify it."

Even so, journalism has made some legendary journeys into conflict resolution. In 1977, for example, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite conducted separate interviews with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, which led directly to Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem. In 1985, Ted Koppel, in an ABC Nightline series, hosted the first formal conversation between representatives of the African National Congress and supporters of South Africa's apartheid system. In 1988, a Nightline series brought the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization onto the same stage for the first time.

Such examples have prompted an emerging group of media scholars and practitioners to experiment with importing conflict resolution techniques into news reporting. The result, sometimes called "peace journalism," has been especially aimed at societies facing conflict, in projects ranging from Burundi to Indonesia.

"A reliable, diverse and independent news media has an almost innate potential for contributing to conflict resolution," according to one proponent, Ross Howard, president of Canada's Media&Democracy Group. "It functions as a channel of communication that counteracts misperceptions. It frames and analyzes the conflict, identifies the interests, defuses mistrust, provides safe emotional outlets, and more."

What follows is a closer look at news reporting and conflict resolution, comparing the normal practices of the journalist to those of the facilitative mediator. The two have much in common. For example, a facilitative mediator brings parties together, communicates, translates, extracts information, and serves as an agent of reality and a watchdog over the integrity of the process. All of these descriptions would apply as easily to Cronkite, Koppel, and any number of news reporters. However, the journalist's role also differs from the mediator's role in important ways. One difference is apparent at the start, as the journalist and the mediator identify just whose conflict is to be heard.

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American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution

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