At a fundamental level, Mandela and peace journalists share an understanding of the importance of language. One key tenant of peace journalism is that the words we as journalists use matter—that they can either soothe or inflame passions. Mandela might have gone one step further, noting not only journalists’ responsibility to choose their words carefully, but also their duty to use language in a way that bridges divides and brings people together. Mandela said, “Without language, we cannot talk to people and understand them. One cannot share their hopes and aspirations, learn their history, appreciate their poetry and savor their songs. I again realize that we are not different people with separate language; we are one people with different tongues.” (http://africa.waccglobal.org/what%20is%20peace%20journalism_.pdf )
Another value peace journalists share with Mandela is a commitment to ongoing dialogue, like the kind begun under Mandela’s post-apartheid Peace and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is continuing that work today, offering “a non-partisan platform for public discourse on important social issues…that contribute to policy decision-making.” (nelsonmandela.org) Peace journalists, of course, can provide this platform, but not just to those in power. We seek to give a voice to all parties, with a special emphasis on giving voice to the voiceless.
I hope Mr. Mandela would be proud of the work that one group of peace reporters just concluded in Lebanon. These reporters told the stories of Syrian refugees living in Beirut in a way that demystified the stereotypes about these individuals while fostering a dialogue within Lebanese society about how to accommodate and protect 440,000 refugees.
Many of Mandela’s principles not only align with peace journalism, but also lay out a blueprint for successful peace journalists.
This blueprint for peace journalists can be found, succinctly, in the UN’s written declaration of July 18th as Nelson Mandela International Day. The UN declaration “recognizes Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the uplifting of poor and underdeveloped communities. It acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.” (masterpeace.org).
This statement is not only Mandela’s legacy, it is his charge to all of us, but especially to those of us who subscribe to the notion that we as journalists have a higher responsibility. This means that we must study and understand conflict resolution, and apply that knowledge to balanced reporting that gives proportionate voice to those who seek peace rather than exclusively to those who rattle the sabers of violence. Mandela’s legacy charges peace journalists with facilitating meaningful dialogues on race, and empowering those in our society who are marginalized (women, children, and the poor). This means that along with peace journalism, we should practice development journalism, using our platforms to focus attention on societal problems and solutions.
Most of all, this legacy charges journalists with putting the spotlight on the Nelson Mandelas in each society—those who seek peace and reconciliation. Mandela’s statement during his 1964 trial is a testimony to the positive power of language, and to journalism’s responsibility to give voice to those who seek a peaceful path. Mandela told the court, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (transcend.org)
- REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: Scene from outside Mandela’s hospital- Obama meets Mandela’s family in South Africa trip (foxnews.com)