Ralf Hering, Bernd Schuppener & Nina Schuppener
Kommunikation in der Krise. Einsichten und Erfahrungen
Bern, Stuttgart, Wien: Haupt Verlag; 2009
rezensiert von Martin Löffelholz für das Rezensionsforum r:k:m
Media and the Path to Peace
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 271 pp.,
Reviewed by Thomas Hanitzsch, Ilmenau University of Technology
There is a vast body of literature dealing with the role
the media play in times of war and conflict. On the contrary,
only a few scholars attempted to assess the news media’s
workings in an ongoing peace process. Gadi Wolfsfeld, Professor
of Political Science and Communication at the Hebrew University
of Jerusalem, is one of those scholars who converted their
focus on communication about war to communication about peace.
In this regard, his recent book Media and the Path to Peace
is an expansion of his previous volume Media and Political
Wolfsfeld, who believes that journalists have an ethical
obligation to encourage reconciliation between hostile populations,
examined three major cases: the Oslo peace process between
Israel and the Palestinians, the peace process between Israel
and Jordan and the process surrounding the Good Friday agreement
in Northern Ireland. His central argument is that due to a
fundamental contradiction between the nature of a peace process
and news values, the media tend to play a destructive role.
To put it bluntly, peace and news make for awkward bedfellows
as peace building is a complex process which requires patience,
while the news media deal with simple events and demand immediacy.
Consequently, the news media are more likely to sour the
political atmosphere than to improve it, more likely to encourage
violence than to discourage it, more likely to lower and intensify
the level of internal debate than to raise it, and more likely
to lower the legitimacy of a pro-peace government than to
enhance it. Nevertheless, variations in the political and
media environment affect how the media behave. While the media
played a mainly destructive role in the Oslo peace process,
it was more constructive during the Israel-Jordan process
and in Northern Ireland.
With his recent book, Wolfsfeld delivered a valuable and systematic
account on how the media communicate peace processes. The
analysis goes well beyond single, and sometimes singular,
case studies. One particular virtue of the book is that it
identified some essential conditions under which the news
media may give a constructive contribution to efforts at making
peace. While Wolfsfeld’s first study emphasized the
importance of the political environment, his recent work also
examines the effects of varying media environments and the
ways in which the news media and the political environment
interact with one another.
The focus on media environments, however, invited some conceptual
problems which could have been solved through taking advantage
of the rich literature on structural aspects of corporate
journalism. Notwithstanding the state-of-the-art of theorizing
journalism, the news media remain a rather vague idea in Wolfsfeld’s
book. No distinction is made between the media and journalism,
both representing different types of organizations pursuing
different goals. There is no theoretical framework or coherent
heuristic which guides the author through the assessment of
More specifically, Wolfsfeld seems to suggest that it is
the journalists who are responsible for the news media focusing
on conflict rather than on peace building. The author holds
that journalists become famous and win awards for covering
stories about wars and conflict; and becoming war correspondents
is considered the height of professional accomplishment. In
the next paragraph, Wolfsfeld maintains that the flaws of
journalism are rooted in the professional norms and routines
that dictate how journalists construct news about peace. Subsequently,
he tries to bridge the obvious gap between individual and
structural explanations with a reference to the “principle
of unintended consequences”.
Another problem of the book is that the nuances of journalism’s
workings are not adequately emphasized. There is no consensus
among the news media on how to report conflict and peace building.
The popular media operates differently from the so-called
“serious” press. Public media mostly emphasize
different aspects of reality as do their commercial counterparts.
And most importantly, the audience has a choice and does choose,
as we know from many studies across cultural boundaries.
And this brings us to news values, which have been permanently
criticized by peace research from Galtung’s work to
present. As do many others in this line of thinking, Wolfsfeld
conceptualizes news values as exclusive structures of journalism.
Most research on audiences, however, provided empirical evidence
supporting the view that news values evolved from public communication,
including journalism and its audiences. There is, in fact,
a great deal of commonality between what is considered newsworthy
by journalists and their readers, viewers and listeners. Consequently,
the critical assessment of news values has to also make reference
to the audience, instead of limiting the discussion to journalism.
Finally, I see some problems with the research design. Wolfsfeld
selected three cases of peace building processes for comparison.
Although the discussion of comparative methodology in the
field of communication studies just has begun, we know that
case selection is essential for meaningful comparison. This
raises the question of what makes the three cases, the Oslo
and Israel-Jordan peace processes and the Good Friday agreement,
eligible for comparison. What are the criteria of selection?
The differences between the political and media environments
alone do not explain case selection.
Overall, Media and the Path to Peace will definitely serve
as prominent source in the ongoing discussion on media coverage
of conflict and peace building. The scope of the analysis
is not limited to a particular case and thus useful for an
approximation to a general theory of media and conflict/peace.
To embed the study in recent journalism theory and extend
it to other conflicts across the globe would be a fascinating
job for the years to come.