War and Peace, and the Media

Professor Suggests Early-Warning System to Avert Escalating Violence

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, JAN. 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Do the media help spread peace — or violence?

Cees Hamelink, for one, believes that the media focus on conflict because that is what people want. The professor at the University of Amsterdam and author of “Perspectives of Public Communication: A Study of the Churches” and “The Ethics of Cyberspace,” contends that the media will change only when citizens demand it.

Hamelink, former president of the International Association of Media Communication Research, recently spoke with ZENIT about the media.

Q: Do you think that we talk a lot about media and peace, while very often media encourage war?

Hamelink: I think that the media by and large are better at reinforcing and inciting violent conflicts than at making peace. Whereas the technological capacity for intercultural exchanges rapidly improves, we observe enormous failures in communication between ethnic communities.

An international media alert system is needed that monitors media contents in areas of conflict. This system would provide an “early warning” where and when media set the climate for crimes against humanity and begin to motivate people to kill others.

Rather than standing accused of complicity through silence, it should be seen as an essential moral responsibility for our community of media researchers to proactively intervene when human integrity is at stake.

Q: Should we be afraid about the power of the media?

Hamelink: As so many people around the world are primarily informed about the state of the world by the world; as our knowledge about almost anything that happens in the world is mediated through the media; as the media can inform us, disinform us and simply not inform us — they do indeed represent one of the most formidable forces in modern society.

Q: Is the media structure essentially dark, powerful and dangerous?

Hamelink: The media structures are not necessarily dark, but certainly powerful and dangerous. There is worldwide only a small number of media that really count: These are megaconglomerates controlled by industrial and advertising interests.

The global media market is characterized by conglomeration, concentration and commercialization and this is, socially and politically, a highly undesirable situation.

Q: Are media innocent tools, just prepared to be used in a positive or negative way?

Hamelink: No technology is just neutral. Technologies, including the media, are always designed to serve specific functions. There may be a change with the introduction of network technologies — Internet, for example — but so far media technologies are best at serving the purposes for which they were initially designed: advertising and propaganda.

Q: Peaceful stories don’t seem to interest editors much; they prefer conflict. How can we change this trend?

Hamelink: Change has to come from media clients. Only when citizens who use the media take their public responsibility and demand different media will the media change.

Q: From a Christian communications point of view, media are still gifts of God?

Hamelink: Yes indeed, and as with so many of God’s gifts we are failing in good stewardship. Here all of us have an awesome responsibility.

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