Media Workshop Brings Together Journalists from the NK Conflict Context
In December 2013, Armenian and Azerbaijani media professionals attended a workshop in Tbilisi on professional ethics and experiences of cross-border work in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. The event was organised by International Alert as part of ongoing work with journalists reporting on the conflict. Some participants had limited experience of cross-conflict activities, while others had taken part in previous events such as the residential school for journalists organised by Alert in Bosnia and Herzegovina last March.
The societies affected by the NK conflict remain divided by closed borders and are increasingly isolated from one another. Media actors on different sides have little contact. As tensions escalate around the conflict, war rhetoric and enemy images dominate the media.
A rigorous two-day training programme on professional ethics held as part of the workshop gave journalists and editors from the region a rare chance to explore ethical issues and challenge their own practices in conflict reporting in a joint setting. The programme included creative group work and debates on media misrepresentation of the conflict. One exercise featured Bosnia and Herzegovina as a case study on media bias in conflict reporting from different sides.
Participants in the previous residential school were able to refer back to their joint study experience and bring in their knowledge of the Bosnian context. Another highlight was the final session, during which three mixed groups of Armenian and Azerbaijani participants developed competing media outputs covering a spate of incidents on the frontline, observing ethical principles discussed, and presented their ideal conflict coverage to the group.
In a separate component of the workshop, participants learned first-hand about cross-divide peacebuilding activities from experts involved in Alert’s comparative learning project from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh and filmmakers who work together in Conciliation Resources’ project ‘Dialogue through Film’. The group learned from the filmmakers about their experience of collaborating on the film “Memories without Borders”, and watched and discussed the film itself.
Experts from Alert’s comparative learning activities shared thoughts from their joint studies of the Northern Irish conflict, and journalists who took part in the joint study trip to Northern Ireland in EPNK-1 contributed their views. An open atmosphere allowed for animated discussion. In getting to know key local peacebuilding actors, the journalists uncovered new sources of information on efforts for peace taking place at civil society level, as well as inspiration for cross-border media initiatives.
Particularly noteworthy was the opportunity for the journalists to speak to experts from the other side of the conflict. Following the workshop, some featured their quotes and interviews in articles and blogs in the mainstream media1. The experts, in turn, welcomed more coverage of their joint work, which will increase understanding and support for peacebuilding in the societies and promote tolerance.
Participants shared the experience of the workshop with their audiences in the South Caucasus, Turkey and Russia (see links below2.) Reflecting on the event, one participant wrote that “training programmes like this one help us prevent counterproductive escalation in the media and find ways to deliver news in the tough context of the conflict without offending people on the other side”. Another commented that “communication helps us to leave aside stereotypes and recognise individual people on the other side of the divide”.
An informal discussion group has been set up for participants to continue developing professional links made at the event, share information and discuss topics of common interest.
In reflections, several participants emphasised the value of interacting face to face with colleagues from the other side. One journalist said: “I have realised that there is a lot in common between us, and that there is a chance that at some point we will be able to interact again as good neighbours”. Another, taking part in Alert’s cross-border work with media professionals for the third time, commented: “This workshop has renewed my thinking and forced me to question myself. I have changed through the process of taking part in the three events”.
International Alert plans to continue facilitating professional development and cross-border collaboration among journalists reporting on the NK conflict, as well as supporting links between mainstream media and the peacebuilding sector in the region.