Peace journalism and elections

In the contemporary fast-paced globalising world, peaceful national elections are fundamental for nurturing inclusive democratic processes in national development.

The role of a reflective, interpretative and watchdog media in supporting such peace architecture during national elections riven with potential political conflicts is no longer a matter for contestation.

As the call for peaceful elections becomes louder ahead of the May 21 2019 elections in the country, the centrality of the media in successful national elections management cannot be overemphasised.

Already, there is broad consensus across the political divide and civil society actors recognising the media as a unifying instrument of peace and nation building, especially during watershed national elections.

Actually, it is inconceivable to imagine an election without the media’s role in providing the much-needed space to political actors to exchange ideas and transfer information to influence and shape broad-based policy processes through electoral manifestos.

Since time immemorial, the media has remained steadfast in providing a singular platform for heterogeneous dialogue to build an informed citizenry for decision-making of issue-based politics.

In addition, as a conveyor-belt of information, the media has the wherewithal to galvanise masses for a common and just cause towards a vibrant national development discourse to shape a sustained development trajectory for the country.

During the presentation of presidential nomination papers from 4-8 February 2019, chairperson of the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), Justice Dr Jane Ansah, severally spoke on the need for presidential aspirants to practise civilised campaigns and consign backward politics of mudslinging to antiquity.

This timely call for civilised politics, personal integrity and character of our political players ought to equally extend to the media in our collective efforts to achieve peaceful, free, fair, transparent, credible and inclusive elections through ethical reporting.

Politics is conflictual and anarchic in nature because of the ceaseless self-interested quest for power by human beings. That’s why political philosopher George Bernard Shaw described an election as “a moral horror, as bad as a battle excerpt for the blood, a mud bath for every soul concerned on it.”

Nevertheless, conflicts are inevitable and must be positively viewed as opportunities for peace-building and social cohesion and coexistence.

In that light, it is important, therefore, for the media to rise up to the occasion and play its rightful role as a paragon of peace in times of potential political conflicts of an electoral process of this nature.

Across the continent, there is an array of evidence where the media has typically amplified negative and racially divisive messages with fatal consequences in the electoral aftermath. Countries such as Kenya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Egypt, and Ivory Coast quickly come to mind.

Fortunately, we in Malawi, are yet reach to such pitiable levels of barbarism but there is every reason to worry if due care by the media is not taken seriously ahead of these high-stake and potentially conflictual elections.

In a political environment laced by political conflicts fuelled by a plurality of ideologies, it becomes a Kantian principle of a moral and ethical imperative for journalists to champion solutions and peace journalism and contribute to peaceful and free elections.

Peace journalism demands news reporters and editors to make useful choices about what to report and how to report to create opportunities for society to consider and value a Gandhian model of non-violent responses to conflicts.

A strong gate-keeping mechanism is required to support this peace journalism in the entire news value chain to mitigate, prevent and manage electoral conflicts through media outlets. 

Conceptually, journalism exists as a choice and service to society, providing illumination through cogent, relevant and unbiased information for people to make own decisions. n

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