Manual provides guidance for journos on conflict reporting
Dialogue Fiji launched the Conflict Sensitive Reporting Manual for Fijian Journalists at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Campus in Suva on 8 August 2023. The manual was produced with the financial assistance of Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World – aid agency of the Protestant regional and free churches in Germany). Image: Supplied/Fiji Government
By ZIFIRAH VUNILEBA
Conflict and lack of social cohesion are Fiji’s most damaging and complex problems with no overnight solution. It requires commitment from every sector of the nation and the media are no exception, says Pacific media expert Associate Professor Dr Shailendra Singh.
In this regard, Dr Singh said conflict-sensitive reporting could be seen as the national media’s contribution to social cohesion and nation building.
While delivering the keynote at the recent launch of Dialogue Fiji’s Conflict Sensitive Reporting Manual for Fijian Journalists in Suva, Dr Singh said most violent conflicts were rooted in resource or land disputes, but fought with strong references to ethnic, cultural, and religious identities.
“According to critics, the news media tend to focus on the manifestations of conflict, such as the tensions, violence, and damage, rather than the root causes, which is an approach that risks feeding prejudices and fueling misconceptions,” said Dr Singh, the coordinator of the Journalism Programme at The University of the South Pacific.
“Conflict sensitive reporting, on the other hand, takes a nuanced approach to the coverage of conflicts, in that it does not regard conflict, as run-of-the mill, daily news reporting, but something that needs extra attention because the consequences of getting it wrong can be highly damaging.”
He said conflict sensitive reporting was an informed and considered approach, based on a commitment to understanding the roots of a conflict and reporting in an in-depth and circumspect manner.
“The idea is to not only ‘not do harm’ but report stories with the aim of facilitating solutions to conflict. Conflict sensitive reporting is still being developed. It is an idea that’s worth a try,” Dr Singh said.
Dr Singh had reviewed the manual produced by Dialogue Fiji with financial assistance of Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World – aid agency of the Protestant regional and free churches in Germany).
He said there was a need to first look at how the media reported conflict before conflict sensitive reporting could assist the national media and contribute to social cohesion.
“Conflict is behind the coup culture that we have been experiencing since 1987,” Dr Singh said.
“And the coup culture has been the cause of a lot of damage. The coup culture has contributed to us being an underdeveloped country, we have not realised our full potential.”
As an example, Dr Singh said research published by Professor Paresh Narayan and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad, in 2008, indicated a 20-year infrastructure deficit of $3.4 billion, partly due to instability.
“Likewise, Professor Wadan Narsey, in his 2013 article, estimates that by 2011, Fiji had lost $1,700 million because of the 2006 coup alone,” Dr Singh shared.
Dr Singh said Fiji was still struggling with social cohesion more than 50 years after independence.
Prominent Suva lawyer and former journalist, Richard Naidu, acknowledged Dr Singh’s keynote that the idea of conflict sensitive reporting was still in development and would also be a little controversial.
“Social cohesion I believe is somewhat neglected in our country and this is why Dialogue Fiji’s efforts are all the more commendable,” he said.
He said the launch of the report was timely with the media being free from media legislation and having the opportunity to evaluate ‘where it is at and where it is going to next’.
“For mainstream media to remain credible and competitive, it has got to think about different ways in which it presents news,” he told Wansolwara.
“I was a journalist 35 years ago; it is a much more complex environment now for mainstream media because you have all the competition from various platforms.”
Dialogue Fiji executive director Nilesh Lal said as an organisation that worked towards building a culture of peace in Fiji, they believed that the media played a crucial role in shaping public opinion and promoting peaceful coexistence in society.
He said the manual aimed to provide guidance for journalists on how to report conflicts in a way that was sensitive to the context, the actors involved and the potential impact on society.
“The manual equips our journalists with a compass to navigate the complexities of reporting in an environment where the stakes are high, and the consequences of misrepresentation are profound,” Mr Lal said.
“The new Fijian Government has taken a bold step of repealing the draconian Media Industry Development Act of 2010.
“This repeal marks the turning point where the shackles have been cast aside allowing the media to breathe freely and truly serve as the fourth estate.
“We are now in an era where journalists can be sound without constraints, where information can be disseminated without fear and where ideas can be formed.”
Mr Lal said the manual emphasized the need for accuracy , impartiality, sensitivity and the avoidance of stereotypes.
Those principles, he said, when applied consistently could help prevent the escalation of conflicts and promote understanding and peaceful resolution.
“The manual provides practical tips and techniques for conflict-sensitive reporting, such as effective interviewing, fact-checking, and verification.
“It encourages journalists to use a range of sources and perspectives to provide a balanced view of the conflict and highlights the importance of ethical considerations, such as informed consent, minimizing harm and avoiding bias,” Mr Lal said.
The Assistant Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Sakiusa Tubuna, launched the conflict sensitive reporting manual.
He acknowledged Dialogue Fiji for promoting media freedom and responsible journalism, leading to resilient and progressive journalism and society.
Zifirah Vunileba is a final-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus, Suva. She is also the Wansolwara national news editor for Semester 2, 2023.