Gender, Conflict & Journalism: A handbook for South Asia

The idea of a handbook that combines the challenges of reporting on gender and conflict and how the two intersect was conceived during the planning for the UNESCO-Nepal Press Institute’s first Roundtable on The Gender Perspective in Conflict Reporting in 2004.

Although neither of the authors is from South Asia – the main focus of the handbook – both have extensive backgrounds in conflict journalism. Fiona Lloyd is a South African journalist who is the co-founder of Reporting for Peace, an organization that teaches journalists how to report effectively on conflicts. Ross Howard is a Vancouver-based journalist and consultant specializing in media development in conflict-stressed states and emerging democracies. He also teaches journalism at Langara College in Vancouver and is the president of Media & Democracy Group, a journalist development consortium.

The handbook, a short, yet comprehensive and practical guide connecting gender, conflict, and journalism, is divided into three sections. The first part of the handbook focuses on the current media environment and challenges facing journalists when reporting on gender and conflict. The second section provides practical strategies and skills for working journalists. The last part of the handbook recommends resources on gender and conflict reporting for further learning.

In discussing gender and conflict, Lloyd and Howard shun the “add women and stir formula” described as merely adding women to a story, getting women’s perspectives, and assigning female journalists to write “gender” stories. Instead they advocate redefining conflict from a gendered perspective – emphasizing balance, sensitivity to gender issues, and the inclusion of marginalized groups in reporting.

The authors believe the media has a role to play as mediators in conflicts and journalists should work to diffuse tension by promoting communication and understanding. A major question raised in the handbook is: “If we consciously try to write about conflict from a gender perspective, and consciously try to be conflict-sensitive, are we in danger of losing our neutrality as journalists?” Lloyd and Howard argue that thoroughly analyzing gender and conflict allows journalists to exercise more fairness and balance. Despite the discussion of fairness, balance, and objectivity, the view of the media as a mediator is prevalent throughout the text.

The first section also includes an interesting discussion of challenges facing journalists in their roles as reporter and activists, a look at the problems in media culture – including commercialization, commodification, and concentration – as well as a discussion of the challenges inherent in newsroom culture, including affirmative action and issues faced by female journalists.

The second section, skills and strategies for working journalists, provides practical strategies for journalists reporting on gender and conflict in South Asia. The section begins with a discussion of how journalists choose to frame conflict. Lloyd and Howard argue that journalists choose what they report on and what they leave out, which can lead to gender stereotyping and escalation in tensions.

The authors define “conflict sensitive” reporting, the approach they advocate, as having three main aspects: accuracy, balance, and responsibility. Accuracy is defined as more than just precision and fact-checking; it also includes context and differentiating propaganda from the truth. Balance also is more than merely giving equal coverage to each side. To Lloyd and Howard it includes fairness and impartiality. Responsibility is defined simply as “tell the truth and do no harm.”

The second section includes practical tips, such as how to determine the source of the conflict – lack of food and resources or xenophobia for example – how to mediate conflict through reporting, how to choose what to cover, and how to get away from the use of inappropriate language and labels in reporting.

Just one of the interesting examples the authors use to illustrate the necessity of conflict sensitive reporting is the analysis of the language used by journalists reporting on the first Gulf War who compare “us” westerners and “them,” the Iraqis. We have an army, while they have a war machine, we suppress, they destroy, we are brave, they are fanatical. This case study is one of the few examples of conflicts outside of South Asia in the handbook.

Lloyd and Howard give advice on how to gain access to women’s voices, official comments, and opinions of non-governmental organizations. The end of the section focuses on minimizing harm both for victims of trauma, and for journalists themselves, complete with case studies from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The third section is dedicated to resources for journalists. Each website, book, and other resource is described in detail by the authors.

The Gender, Conflict & Journalism handbook is a good resource for journalists reporting on conflict in South Asia. Section two with practical advice for working journalists and section three with descriptions of other resources are particularly useful.

The main weakness of the handbook is its narrow focus – its primary relevance is in South Asia, although some of the practical tips could be used elsewhere –and its neglect to adequately answer questions of neutrality and objectivity, though this is briefly discussed in both the first and second sections.

Overall, Lloyd and Howard’s handbook is a well-written, easily digested and yet thorough look at gender and conflict and how journalists should report on these issues. In the future, journalists in regions such as the Middle East and Africa could benefit by the development of similar handbooks.

The reporter’s battle: Objectivity and independence on the frontlines in Afghanistan

On his most recent visit to Afghanistan in June, Jas Johal met a 27-year-old soldier from Kingston, Ont.

Left to right: Evan Jonigkeit plays Specialist Coughlin and Tina Fey plays Kim Baker in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot from Paramount Pictures and Broadway Video/Little Stranger Productions in theatres March 4, 2016.

The soldier was married with a two-year-old son and expressed dedication to his mission.

The two clicked right away and struck up a friendship, said Johal, a television reporter for Global BC. At the end of his six-week stay with the troops in the Kandahar airfield, Johal packed up his belongings, said his goodbyes and left to return to Canada.

On July 4, six Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed when their armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb. After a detour on his return journey that cut him off from the news, Johal arrived home in Vancouver to find out one of the dead soldiers was his friend, Capt. Matthew Dawe.

“There was only a month left before [Dawe] was going to go home,” Johal said. “For the first time, it really hit me.”

Johal realized he had significant footage of Dawe out on patrol and decided to put together a segment about the soldier. It aired on Global National and implied a close relationship between the two men.

“You do your best to provide an accurate, objective view of what’s happening there,” he said. “But it affects you.”

Johal’s experience getting to know Dawe and sharing his story with the world isn’t necessarily characteristic of journalists reporting from Afghanistan, who do their best to maintain some distance from their subjects. But reporters sent to the conflict live directly with the troops, who in turn feed them and give them a place to sleep, write and edit. Journalism ethics are a constant issue because journalists must report critically and objectively on the soldiers who work to keep them alive and have to navigate the wishes of military public officials who make it tricky to tell the whole story.

“In a perfect world, you’d want to live separately,” Johal said. “That’s the toughest part. We go on patrol with these troops. You’re there to ask critical questions, but at the same time, they are responsible for your safety and security.”

Reporters who take a hard line with their interview subjects or pursue controversial stories can’t help but wonder if their tactics will result in decreased access to patrols and meetings.

Johal said it’s only natural to expect journalists embedded with troops to produce stories about soldiers, but these journalists also have a responsibility to expand their coverage.

This sometimes means hiring a fixer – a local guide and translator – in Kandahar and taking to the streets without protection.

“When we’re gone, we’re on our own,” Johal said. “We’re in the city doing interviews as much as possible. We do make a conscious effort to go out. You need to be on the front lines.”

Reporters might make the extra effort to find the untold story, but it’s the responsibility of their newspapers and networks at home to release the content, said Chris Waddell, an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

“The ironic situation is that reporters might actually end up giving a sanitized version of war because legs that are blown off or incinerated, those images are deemed too disturbing to put on TV,” Waddell said.

Still, the concept of embedded journalists has been around since World War II, he said, and reporters today enjoy significantly more freedom in what they can print or show on TV.

“In embedded situations, you can’t report on issues of military significance and you can’t report on things that might benefit whoever the enemy might be,” Waddell said. “You can’t report on casualties before the family has been notified.”

Jonathan Fowlie, a Vancouver Sun reporter who spent six weeks in Afghanistan in the spring reporting for CanWest News Service, said it isn’t uncommon for military public affairs officers to recommend stories or ride along with journalists on patrol.

“There were a few times where I wrote things I was told not to write,” Fowlie said of the military’s close watch on the stories he pursued. “There was a bit of a distressing trend I wasn’t all that happy with.”

When one public affairs officer was unable to accompany Fowlie on a patrol, he asked Fowlie to email him his story before it was published so he might check for factual inaccuracies.

After a talk with his editor, Fowlie agreed to send his story to the officer and the CanWest News Service desk in Ottawa at the same time. When that officer came back with requests that he take out a quote and change the wording in a couple of paragraphs, Fowlie said no. Without any factual errors or details that might put the troops in danger, he wasn’t about to change the story.

“I told him, ‘I don’t feel anything you’ve asked for is valid,’” Fowlie said. “I printed it and it was fine. And the issue was, if you want to go out with the troops you have to go through [that officer]. I just didn’t like it.”

Fowlie knew his desk in Ottawa was ready to back him up, in case his decision to publish the story got him kicked out of his post.

“What if I had a desk that wasn’t willing to back me?” he said. “If you stand on principle and get kicked out, it means your papers don’t have coverage. And you have to live with that. My desk was behind me 100 per cent. I think most desks are like that.”

Ethics in News

Ethics іѕ a word thаt – like professional – іѕ used a great deal bоth hеrе іn thе region, іn оur profession аnd асrоѕѕ mаnу оthеrѕ, but whаt іѕ it? Whаt does thаt mеаn іn practice?

Ethics аrе a code оf conduct fоr аn individual, associations, corporations аnd governing bodies – designed tо stop thе abuse оf power, corruption аnd behaviour thаt іѕ deemed immoral.

Today thіѕ code оf conduct іѕ bеіng undermined аnd wе саn ѕее thіѕ еvеrу day оn оur news feeds wіth thе behaviour оf President Trump аnd hіѕ administration, tо Brexit, tо thе present UK Government, аѕ wеll аѕ оthеr leaders іn Europe аnd furthеr afield.
Setting аn ethical example

Thіѕ does nоt set a good example fоr uѕ аll аnd саn signal tо individuals, associations аnd corporations thаt it’s OK tо undermine thе principles bеhіnd ethics.

Thе bright spot globally іѕ thаt bесаuѕе оf social media аnd thе ability today tо hаvе platforms thаt open оur views, opinions аnd ideas uр tо a muсh wider audience thаn friends, relatives аnd colleagues – corporations аrе mоrе accountable thаn thе people іn politics.

Authenticity delivers huge benefits tо thоѕе thаt practise іt consistently аnd thіѕ іѕ a lesson thаt mаnу brands аnd individuals hаvе learned, аlthоugh thеrе аrе examples tо thе contrary – Prince Andrew аnd Boeing tо nаmе but twо.

Authenticity іѕ acting ethically, honestly аnd transparently аnd companies аrе seeing thіѕ hаvе a positive impact оn thеіr sales аnd thuѕ bоttоm lines аnd shareholder dividends.

Sо wе nоt оnlу hold thіѕ dear internally but work hard tо ensure thаt оur clients ѕее thе benefits оf ethics аnd authenticity аnd act accordingly.
‘Window dressing’

In thіѕ region, ethics, professionalism аnd corporate social responsibility аrе words аnd phrases thаt аrе used frequently аnd аrе оftеn – sadly – mere window dressing fоr brands аnd companies tо pay thе necessary ‘lip service’ tо thеѕе elements, but іn reality аrе prone tо interpretation.

Wе ѕее thаt mаnу wіthіn thе PR industry subscribe tо ethics, whеthеr іt іѕ оn thеіr websites оr іn thе associations thаt thеу аrе members оf, but іn varying degrees tend tо act іn thеіr оwn self-interest аbоvе аll еlѕе. Wе ѕее thіѕ іn thе area оf recruitment, pitches, client conflicts wіthіn thе ѕаmе agency аnd іn оur media relations work.
‘Self-policing mechanism’

It іѕ subtle іn ѕоmе cases аnd mоrе obvious іn оthеrѕ, but thе fact іѕ thаt іt happens аnd іѕ reliant оn a self-policing mechanism, versus аnу recognised official bоdу оr mediation, аnd thuѕ does nоt hаvе thе ‘bite’ thаt іt does іn оthеr regions оf thе world.

Whеn уоu think оf thе mаnу agencies thаt claim thе title оf PR, іtѕ easy tо ѕее hоw thе issue оf ethics саn gеt lost – thеrе іѕ ѕuсh a wide range оf operations, frоm small оnе- tо two-person operations tо agencies оf 30-plus. Mаnу оf thеm аrе nоt subscribed tо аnу оf thе associations оr bodies thаt require аt lеаѕt ѕоmе guarantee thаt thеу operate ethically, ѕо it’s actually impossible tо say categorically thаt аn ethical approach аnd culture іѕ bеіng applied асrоѕѕ thе industry оr – іn ѕоmе cases – еvеn bеіng acknowledged.

It іѕ important tо state аt thіѕ juncture thаt mаnу іn оur sector dо operate ethically, but wе hаvе witnessed thоѕе thаt don’t аnd whilst іt іѕ frustrating, thеrе іѕ little wе саn dо but adjust tо thе inevitable costs оf thеѕе оn оur business аnd mоvе forward.

Onе оf thе responses tо thіѕ mіght bе thаt clients wіll work оnlу wіth agencies thаt subscribe tо аnd саn illustrate thаt thеу act ethically, but wе know thаt thіѕ isn’t thе case, wіth thе issue rarely, іf еvеr, raised bу clients working оr present іn thіѕ region аѕ раrt оf thе pitch process оr аt thе tіmе оf engagement.

Thеіr focus іѕ оn cost аnd wе аll know whаt happens whеn уоu try tо ‘buy cheap’.