How peace journalism is taking root in Cyprus
Students from Eastern Mediterranean University discuss peace journalism. Photo taken by Sarah Stout.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the latest edition of The Peace Journalist, a semi-annual publication of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Mo. It is being republished here with permission from the Center.
The island of Cyprus has been divided into the Turkish North and Greek South since a 1974 war. The reminders of the war still remain. In Famagusta in the north, there is an abandoned area called Varosha. It was once the most exclusive of resorts, but now stands a vacant ghost city, closed off with fences and signs warning to keep out. Varosha underscores the need for the island to tear down the walls that isolate, both outside the buildings and in the hearts of the people.
While the intervention of the UN and others has prevented violence since the war, the island still seeks peace that will allow it to function as a whole.
The media from both sides have had a detrimental influence on the conflict, publicizing predominantly negative narratives about the other side, according to Cypriot journalists. To combat these narratives, there is a belief that applying peace journalism principles could be one element that might bring the two sides together. The practice of peace journalism in Cyprus would lead journalists and journalism organizations to disseminate news that would be fair, balanced, accurate, anti-stereotype, peace oriented, and feature perspectives from both sides instead of one. Peace journalism taking hold in Cyprus could be a start in breaking the current negative narratives, and establishing a foundation for resolution and eventually peace.
A recent peace journalism project was launched in hopes of planting the seeds for the wide scale practice of peace journalism in Cyprus. “This may be a small project, but it will be big step for the future activities,” said Assistant Prof. Dr. Metin Ersoy, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies at Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU) in Famagusta, North Cyprus.
Planting the Seeds
The 2014 Spring Peace Journalism Cyprus mission was led by Steven Youngblood, director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism and associate professor of communication at Park University in Parkville, Missouri USA.
The project began with a lecture by Youngblood on Monday, March 10, at EMU. The lecture on Monday included some challenging questions from communications department faculty. One attendee was peace journalism teacher and PhD student Ayca Atay, who will use the lecture to enhance her teaching at EMU.
“I think it was a good seminar which renewed my knowledge on peace journalism,” she said. “Currently, I am teaching peace journalism on the undergraduate level in Turkish. I am going to translate and use Professor oungblood’s content analysis rubric in my class. In times of peace, media may not have powerful effects on the formation of public opinion, but in times of conflict, especially violent conflict, media’s effects amplify as people depend more on the information flow from the media.
“The traditional journalism tends to add fuel to fire with its news values that prioritize violence over nonviolence. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, as the saying goes. We need to work more for peace journalism to gain a strongerfoothold,” Atay commented.
Dean of Communications at EMU, Professor Dr. Suleyman Irvan, agreed that the lecture was educational. He noted, “good examples were given for how to practice peace journalism.”
A second lecture for students was held on day two of the Cyprus Project at EMU. The students were high-energy and eager to learn. They learned the foundations of peace journalism at a fundamental level, not through a textbook, not from a flyer, but from Prof. Youngblood’s hands-on lecture.
The room full of 33 inquisitive and adept minds included doctoral graduate student Elnaz Nasehi. She remarked, “I didn’t have a rich academic background in peace journalism, and this workshop brought some new interesting ideas to me. I appreciate Professor Youngblood’s efforts to travel around the world to spread the idea of PJ.”
Cyprus Community Media Centre
The second half of peace journalism training was held in Nicosia, the capital of the Republic of Cyprus, at the Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC). The CCMC is located in the United Nations controlled Buffer Zone—a sort of no-man’s land between north and south Cyprus. The PJ seminar was held on Thursday March 13 and Friday March 14.
The purpose of the training was to teach the fundamentals of peace journalism to the participants, who were a mixed group from both north and south. The attendees included NGO professionals, journalists, and graduate students. Attendees were taught to seek social responsibility in reporting, and to ask themselves some key questions: “Am I going to cause a riot? Will what I write drive a wedge between conflicted parties?” These are questions that help journalists understand their role in peace building in Cyprus.
Participants were also introduced to the idea of breaking stereotypical media narratives in the Cyprus conflict. Participants noted that press treatment of “the other side” is usually negative and distorted — that the northern media are negative about the south, and vice-versa.
“Because of our culture we think there is this one truth; we don’t have a lot of critical thinking skills. We are no good at conflict…lack of empathy, maybe it’s a Mediterranean thing, has to do with everything here, it’s all politicalized,” said seminar participant Eleni Christodoulou, political science PhD student.
Professor Youngblood worked with the participants on how to apply principles of peace journalism in practice. The journalists expressed their hesitation that it is hard to report in a peace sensitive fashion for fear of being labeled boring, and that sometimes you have to report in a sensational way so that you will get printed. Youngblood countered by saying that sensationalism isn’t necessary and that there will always be a market for good peace journalism style storytelling.
On Friday, the last day of the training, the participants were assigned to interview refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, and begin to create a story that acted as a counter-narrative to the usually negative stories about migrants. What they came up with were compelling stories about a refugee and his cat; a Pakistani student discussing Cyprus and how it welcomes immigrants; an asylum seeker from Togo; and a Syrian immigrant who is working hard to assist those escaping the mayhem in Syria.
Later, participants created proposals for a large-scale peace journalism project in Cyprus. Project goals included raising public awareness on commonalities between the two sides, increasing interaction between the two sides, and creating a peace journalism website for Cyprus that would include articles on current events, educational resources, profiles on prominent figures, photos, videos, PSAs on peace, and re-writing of mainstream media pieces.
“The (CCMC) training was valuable for me to see the responsibilities of the journalist contrary to dealing with PJ as a utopia academic venture,” said attendee Cem Cicek, public information officer for UNFIC. “Going out of the classroom to practice PJ was the most valuable for me as it allows me to form a relation with what is written in the books and with the work of journalism. As a reader in Cyprus, I believe that we have been trained to accept only one view – the view of the elite. In this regard, as readers we have to start demanding other views however in order to start demanding, the journalists must give us the taste of other views. Therefore the journalists must have the awareness to ‘give a voice to the voiceless’,” Cicek added.
The future for peace journalism in Cyprus is bright. Recognizing the benefits of organizing as a unit, CCMC seminar participant John Theodore-Edevu offered an idea to form a Turkish-Cypriot Greek Cypriot journalist group, and call it Association for Peace Journalists in Cyprus (APJC). Some of the group came together after the seminar to form the APJC, which will soon be hosting an organizational meeting. In addition, the Center for Global Peace Journalism, EMU, and the CCMC have started making plans for a more comprehensive peace journalism project in Cyprus.
The seeds have taken root.
Sarah is a Park University student majoring in English Writing. She also has minors in Leadership Communications and Fitness and Wellness. Stout was part of a Peace Journalism mission to Cyprus in March 2014.