Archived May 03, 2014 - June 18, 2014

Should the Media Actively Support Transitional Justice Efforts?

In the aftermath of mass atrocity or years of dictatorship and repression, efforts to achieve accountability and reform often materialize through criminal prosecutions, commissions of inquiry and truth commissions, reparations, and institutional reform. In the short term, these measures— often referred to as transitional justice—aim to provide redress to victims, address perpetrators’ responsibility, clarify the underlying causes of abuses, and seek to ensure they are not repeated. In the longer term, they seek to catalyze social change: from a climate in which no person is safe if they belong to a targeted group, to a sustainable peace where rule of law reigns and citizens trust the state to be a guarantor of their rights.

In polarized contexts of social and political transitions, the media can decisively shape public perception and social impact of transitional justice efforts. In fact, the mere inception of such efforts opens political processes that have a fundamentally public dimension, often mediated by professional communicators and, increasingly, social networks. It is with this in mind that we ask the question: should the media be a neutral observer of transitional justice measures, objectively and critically reporting on what they deem interests their audiences; or must it take a proactive role to support these measures, seeing justice for past abuses as a matter of utmost public interest?

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Refik Hodzic
Communications Director, ICTJ

The relationship between the media and transitional justice is of enormous importance to the processes of social change faced by societies in the aftermath of massive human rights abuses. Yet, it remains one of the most understudied aspects of the discourse on transitional justice, with not more than a handful of serious academic works on the subject, and discussions usually limited to the “need for journalists to be trained” in order to report on complex trials, truth commissions, and reparations programs. It was this gap in knowledge that motivated us to ask the question—Should media actively support transitional justice efforts?—in ICTJ’s first online debate.

The choice of those we invited to argue “pro” and “con” was made with careful deliberation. Apart from their impressive records as seasoned, award-winning investigative reporters, Carlos Dada and Dejan Anastasijevic brought with them their experience rooted in the realities of El Salvador and Serbia, societies still struggling with legacies of brutal conflicts and difficult, turbulent transitions. And although they approached the question from opposing vantage points, it soon became clear that their positions are not too far apart when it comes to the underlying principles of the role of journalism in transitional societies. Rather, the debate began exploring some of the key misconceptions about the power of both media and transitional justice to affect change, in what are clearly political and cultural processes amounting to transformations of values by which societies function.

Carlos Dada
Founder and Editor, El Faro

Journalism has also an obligation with fairness. This goes beyond what we call a “fair story.” Journalism should include the narrative of victims of conflicts, which is also one of the major elements of transitional justice processes (fair and just are the same in Spanish: justo). So I effectively believe journalism –and media—should support transitional justice efforts, as long as the duties of both meet in the same place.

Dejan Anastasijevic
Correspondent, Tanjug

There is only so much that journalists can do, provided that they even get a chance to stand up to warmongering propaganda during the conflict, or revisionist interpretations in the aftermath. In the days when governments and special interest groups have so much power over media, the notion that free press can really shape or change the public opinion is becoming preposterous. But we can, and should always be that sole dissenting voice, the one that spoils the public order established by the scoundrels.

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