Media urged to question its role in 'culture of confrontation'

By staff writers
June 25, 2007

Received ideas about neutrality, ‘news values’ and the place of reporting in current events must be questioned as a result of the changing global role of the media in an age of conflict, a commentator will suggest at a meeting in St Ethelburga's Centre, London, tomorrow night.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the UK think tank Ekklesia, which looks at the controversial issue of religion in politics, is leading a discussion on changing the agenda in war and peace reporting from 6.30pm on 26 June 2007 – at a city of London church which has been reclaimed as a place of reconciliation after being partly destroyed during an IRA bombing campaign in the capital.

He will ask why concrete attempts at conflict transformation (rather than just ‘resolution’) rarely feature in mainstream reporting – even though, in places like Ireland, South Africa and the Middle East, they turn out to be of crucial importance.

The meeting will also look at how ‘citizen journalism’ and other grassroots features of the new media environment can help challenge our perceptions about what really counts as ‘news’ – and what role broadcasting, commenting and reporting has in shaping it.

Ekklesia, which also offers a regular news briefing service and works both with major media outlets and alternative sources, played a part in handling the story of the kidnapping of four Christian peacemakers in Iraq last year - including Briton Norman Kember. Lessons and stories from these events will feature as part of the meeting.

“The nature and ethics of journalism is under pressure as never before in a 24/7 environment where every fence you try to sit on turns out to have been electrified by somebody or other”, observes Barrow.

“Reporting is now so locked into perpetuating a ‘culture of confrontation’ over values, political claims, religion, culture and social position that different approaches to seeing and relaying ‘what is really going on’ get squeezed out almost instantly”, he adds. “But there is nothing inevitable about this. It can change.”

“Journalists can no longer pretend to be mere onlookers – and yet, ironically, distinguishing the reporting agenda from the web of vested interests it has to engage with has never been more important.”

The discussion on ‘Making peace headline news’ will take place at St Ethelburga’s, 78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG, starting at 6.30pm on Tuesday 26 June. Attendance is open, but those intending to come along are asked to drop an email to the Centre here.

St Ethelburga’s is five minutes walk from both Bank and Liverpool Street stations (Zone 1). You can walk over the bridge from London Bridge Station in about 15 minutes. View the location online at Streetmap.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.