Debates

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?

Should the Media Actively Support Transitional Justice Efforts?
Moderator
Refik Hodzic
Communications Director, ICTJ

In the hope of catalyzing a far-reaching debate among the various “sides” invested in this issue, we decided to posit a more direct question: “Should the media actively support transitional justice efforts?”

Going beyond simple declarations of support for the notions of truth or justice, we asked if the media should be a neutral observer of transitional justice measures, objectively and critically reporting on what they deem to be of interest to 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?

Yes
Carlos Dada
Founder and Editor, El Faro

Is it fair to stand with victims and look with sympathy on their demands for justice? It is. Can a journalist actively support transitional justice processes? Yes. The question is where we should draw the line separating journalism from activism. And journalism from propaganda.

No
Dejan Anastasijević
Correspondent, Tanjug

It’s easy to proclaim that the media should support justice, transitional or otherwise, but when it comes to specifics, the moral compass starts to reel. Should we, as journalists, support a flawed court because it was conceived of with the best intentions? Is it better to have some sort of justice, however inadequate or perverted, than none at all? Tell me, and I’ll report it.

Guest
Lisa J. Laplante
Associate Professor of Law & Director, Center for International Law and Policy

Ultimately, journalists often mediate public deliberation. They are the gatekeepers of information deciding what voices, messages, and narratives get into the public domain—voices of victims and their supporters, or alleged perpetrators and their advocates. The way journalists frame the information they receive may either ease longstanding strife or exacerbate it. They can flip a constructive debate about the past into a tug of war over whose version of the past takes precedent. Far from a form of healthy democratic debate, the violent battles of the past can turn into media warfare that can re-victimize the already traumatized, and create societal instability.

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