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?

Need to catch up? View Opening Remarks
The Debate Is On
Moderator
Refik Hodzic
Communications Director, ICTJ

As we enter the second stage of the debate on the role of media in transitional justice, my task as the moderator becomes increasingly challenging. There are simply too many issues emerging from this discussion for my modest abilities to do them all justice by summing them up in this post. I say this with a great deal of satisfaction, as it testifies to the success of the project and the salience of the question we asked: Should the media actively support transitional justice efforts?

Although the opening statements of our protagonists, Carlos Dada and Dejan Anastasijevic, suggested that the separation line between their “yes” and “no” responses is blurry rather than clear, they raised some key questions catalyzing a rich stream of commentary from other participants: Can media be expected to “support” institutional efforts at justice and truth without sacrificing its sacred independence? What would such support entail? Is it fair to expect media to mediate public perceptions of flawed transitional justice efforts?

No
Dejan Anastasijevic
Correspondent, Tanjug

The debate has raised a number of issues. For me, by far the most important one is about the general role of the media in post-conflict societies, and their role as what Nerma Jelacic refers to as “watchdogs” or, as Lisa Laplante put it, the “gatekeepers” of information. With due respect to both canines and professional sportsmen, I find such metaphors slightly disturbing, but maybe it’s just me.

Yes
Carlos Dada
Founder and Editor, El Faro

If the victims had been denied the right to tell their stories or if the judge had clearly denied justice instead of delivering it, by reporting on the trial journalists would have also been denouncing a flawed process. And that is also a very good way to support transitional justice efforts.

Guest
Olga Lucía Lozano
Creative Editor, La Silla Vacía

Transitional justice processes can only achieve their desired effects if the media stop trying to approach reality as editors and instead engage with it. They should interact with all those who take part in the narrative and generate a shared sense of responsibility with the users or the audiences, where we are all responsible for ensuring that agreements are implemented.

Guest
Adama Dieng
UN Under Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

I strongly believe that the media has a natural and indispensable role in galvanizing public opinion on the importance of transitional justice. I say this because I believe that every citizen and institution has a civic and complementary duty to ensure that events of the past do not reoccur through addressing comprehensively acts or grievances that led to such events. Further, those responsible for the events of the past should be objectively identified and held to account based on appropriate legal and political framework determined by the concerned society.

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