The Conference “On Conflict-Sensitive Journalism” was held in February 2020. The research conference was jointly hosted and organized by a coalition of peacebuilding, education, and journalism organizations* and brought together prominent founding figures of Conflict-Sensitive Journalism (CSJ), educators, and academics from South East Asia and Europe as well as hundreds of students from Davao City. How has the CSJ landscape changed since then? What lasting memories did the participants take away from the conference?
The Long Journey of CSJ
CSJ is a relatively young field but has rapidly evolved in Mindanao since 2004, where it came into life through PECOJON, a journalist-driven organization and a strong partner of forumZFD. And what they could not have imagined: Within a couple of years, CSJ succeeded to take roots in Davao City culminating in the first international research conference on the topic worldwide. Sigrun Rottman from the Institute of Journalism at TU Dortmund looked back on her visit to the conference a few months later: "When I was in Davao, there were already five universities where forumZFD and its partners were about to implement CSJ in the curriculum and several universities were in the process of getting there.”
But integrating CSJ in the curriculum was not the only goal as shown by the Media Educators of Mindanao (MEM). MEM wants to transfer CSJ directly to teachers and students in local schools to make journalists more conflict-sensitive and by that journalism more qualitative. MEM is also a symbol of how diverse the organizing team of the conference was, with both international and national organizations emphasizing different aspects of CSJ. The conference promoted collaboration between these diverse organizations as remembered by Dr. Pandeli Pani from GIZ / Deutsche Welle: “In the field of conflict sensitivity journalism training, it was very fruitful to cooperate between such diverse teams.”
Behind the Scenes of the CSJ Conference
Also backstage, the conference led to a strong learning moment in the spirit of CSJ. Like almost every event planned by a partnership of many organizations with different backgrounds, the CSJ Conference came to reality through conflict and compromises. Many organizers translated into many different ideas and expectations of how this conference will be successful. Fortunately, the coalition of peacebuilders organizing the conference did not see these conflicts as a problem but as an opportunity. During moments of disagreements it was sometimes difficult to maintain a hopeful view towards the light at the end of the tunnel. “But we transformed disagreements positively - and it even made us closer” Maya Vandenbroeck (Project Manager forumZFD) concluded.
Now, everybody can look back at a great conference to reflect and learn from. The spirit of CSJ tells us that conflicts, when handled constructively, are always an amazing opportunity for positive change. Following this idea, the team organized a talking round to reflect together on the past months of working as a coalition. It was an emotional and sometimes even tense round but after two hours of talking, listening, and emphasizing everybody became aware that past conflicts were guided by one shared goal: to make this event happen and to make it happen greatly.
The next steps on the path of CSJ in Davao City
The conference also offered a memorable opportunity to exchange ideas about teaching and developing new ideas. An important insight for the teachers in Mindanao was to make students even more aware of their own stereotypes, prejudices, and convictions. In this way, students raise awareness of the negative and positive media effects that arise from biased news articles. “You will produce a generation of journalists who will keep the conflict open for other developments aside from war and violence” Karlon Rama (PECOJON) commented.
Teachers reported several hurdles for their former students that were encountered in applying CSJ in work: “The CSJ conference highlighted that teaching CSJ is not just about teaching CSJ tools, but also about inspiring students to keep their integrity and perseverance as journalists wanting to produce good quality news reports even when this is hard to do.”, Maya Vandenbroeck concluded. In other words: It became very clear that young professionals in the media industry need more support. In order to explore possibilities for this support, the forumZFD project team started The Junior Media Project. This initiative is meant to address these challenges by assisting young media practitioners to integrate CSJ in their daily work on covering conflicts in Mindanao.
All in all, the CSJ conference will be remembered as a rewarding experience for all attendees with valuable learning moments, revealing insights, and closer ties with everyone in the CSJ community. It has left an impact not only on the participants but also on the coalition of peacebuilders behind the scenes.
Vanessa Kraus-Gräbert (M. A.) studied political science at the University of Marburg. In cooperation with forumZFD, she wrote her master thesis on conflict-sensitive journalism in the Philippines.
*The coalition consisted of forumZFD, Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON), Media Educators of Mindanao Inc. (MEM) in partnership with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AIJC), and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AMIC) as well as the higher education institutions of Davao City