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Conflict-Sensitive Journalism

Dev Raj Dahal


The unmet basic needs of bulk of citizens and lingering fear and violence in Nepal indicate that human rights struggle of media persons for freedom, justice and social opportunities remain unfinished. So long as politics is played more on a binary code of friend and foe than coordination of human enterprise for public good and chasm of public life remains unabridged between the high ideal of equality and condition of inequality, conflict will remain as a vital fact of human life. Only a healthy state of constitutional democracy and human security can provide Nepalese citizens autonomous power to deliberate and act beyond structural constraints. In this context, the press, civic society and leadership in public power have to work to minimize the ferocity of violence by means of enforcing the accountability of human rights violators and keeping the citizens in a constant state of vigilance.

Violence shuts up the voice of voiceless and enforces a culture of silence and resignation. Vibrant media, rooted into public sphere, awaken the public to their duty and bridge the gap between power and justice. It enhances the wider awareness and participation of citizens in public affairs. Free, fair and diverse media thus establish the access of public to information, socialize them on conflict consciousness and transform a number of contesting mini-identities of people into meta- identities, citizens and human beings. The socializing power of media helps to create a just state where institutions and laws are well-constituted to regulate citizens' expectations and conflict in the equal interest of all.

The ability of Nepalese media to understand structural condition of the nation, the root causes of conflict from varied perspectives, reflection on conflict experience, analysis of the conduct of numerous actors of society in conflict and peace and presenting those in an impartial manner to the wider public can play a very important role in reconstructing the condition of structural injustice. Conflict-sensitive media rooted in the principles of human rights and social justice can increase the possibility of non-violent communication, build confidence between the conflict actors and provide common ground for conflict resolution. Responsible journalists can play the role of a watchdog by taking a critical look at the various sides of the conflict including the hidden ones and generate public opinion and action to liberate citizens from the blind obedience to the dictate of fear.

In a situation of ongoing conflict, media's role lies in debating impartially about the health of the country and citizens, framing conflicts in a rational manner, offering concrete options rather than just criticism of actors and furnishing practical initiatives to the conflicting parties to resolve the conflict of various kinds—direct, structural, perceptual and latent. Capacity building of journalists on conflict reporting, communication and peace education thus helps to identify and release deep-seated knowledge located within the various sub-systems and systems of society, weigh a range of alternatives and adopt multi-track measures to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Conflict Sensitivity

Conflict sensitive journalism is situated in an array of conditions that are systemic as well as embedded in the intrinsic value complexes of media themselves.

First, the power of media comes under constitutional regulation. Professional standards of media are adjusted to this constraint. Any deviation from this becomes a subject of government "censorship." In an undemocratic regime, censorship marks the limits to critical reporting and the ability of the journalist to guarantee citizen's right to information. The monitoring of human rights conditions and the state of democracy is, therefore, the primary public duty of journalists because they pertain to the general welfare of citizens. This means mission journalism requires pro-active engagement in analyzing the problems of society in terms of the deficiency in public communication and stimulating citizens to learn, choose and engage in a rational discourse.

Second, media power works in multiple ways. Information intake, scanning, selection and procession structure at the center are largely determined by the interest of owners, executives and chief editor of the press rather than reporters on the ground. Any manipulation of news for partisan, commercial and advertisement interest at the center viciously affects the personal security, life, liberty and professionalism of reporters on the ground caught in a vortex of conflict and consequently, elicits self-regulation and self-censorship in the future.

Third, the control of mainstream media discourse by only one established worldview often weakens the ability of journalists to fairly report about the changing narratives of context, actors, issues and rules about conflict and discover optimal ground for the actors for non-violent resolution of conflict. The influence of media by only one established worldview undermines the emancipatory potential of democratic rationality rooted in media pluralism and exposes journalists to risks and revenge by those holding counter worldviews. Conflict-sensitive journalists have the ability to act in response to the consequences of information they report.

Fourth, the conventional style of reporting objectively from one part about the conflict infects the other part in a vicious way. Conflict sensitivity of reporters requires them to report ethically so as not to produce biasness, engineering of consent and inflame the conflict. Similarly, they should detonate the sirens once they perceive that latent conflict has the potential to become manifest and direct. Responsible journalists deal with conflict occurring in everyday life, undergo a process of social learning and report the societal feedbacks into the circulation of power and its opposition seeking to nurture normative political order based on dialogue, negotiation, consensus and peace.

Fifth, the code of ethics defining journalists' duties, such as independence, integrity, ability to seek truth and minimize harms to public rests on their own professional security, freedom and their own skills. The media's interest in organizing inter-subjective dialogue around contentious issues across diverse public including women and mediate their perspectives for the evolutionary change expand the political space for freedom. The voice, visibility and representation of women, minorities and marginalized communities in the media profession can overcome some of the shortcomings of media as they are distributed unevenly like per capita income in society.

Sixth, solidarity of journalists is linked to the realization of their rights and participation in their professional pursuit through mutual assistance to each other in time of need so that weak, vulnerable and conflict victim journalists can overcome their existing condition and exercise their rational will. Solidarity, like a deterrent, provides its members collectively and constructively respond to the crisis of security and continue with their profession with renewed verve and vitality.


Media have double-edge: they can become an instrument of negative message, propaganda and conflict but they can also become an agent of protector of human rights, promoters of democracy and moderator of conflict, peace and unity of citizens. Conversely, conflict also impacts on the democratic functioning of media. Most of the conflicts spring from distorted communication and misperception about facts. Responsible media have to rectify misperception by opening channel of communication among conflict actors, remove stereotypes images and find, analyze and report what is accurate perception, what is partially false and what are entirely wrong. Biased reporting, rumor circulating and hate media ignite the conflict spiral. Reporting of human rights in conflict zones is, therefore, especially important to remedy distortions in public communication and bring the society to normal life.

During pre-conflict phase, media provide early warning about structural condition of society, identify the potentiality of conflict and timely intervention by authorities for conflict prevention. During conflict phase, they can provide channel of communication among the conflict actors, report about the costs of conflict and benefits of peace, mobilize public opinion about the minimization of human rights violation and persuade the actors of conflict to enter into negotiation and compromise. During post-conflict phase, they can offer ideas about the implementation of peace accord, management of conflict residues, reconciliation and peace-building measures. This helps to protect human rights, increase tolerance in society and empower groups that had previously been voiceless and restore democratic equilibrium.

Source: Newsfront, 15-21 September 2008

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