In the 1980s, amidst negotiations between the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government, Gabriel García Márquez attended a massive demonstration in support of a chance for peace. Like thousands of others attending, Gabo was asked to draw a dove of peace on a placard. But before signing it, he said something that has now become legend: “Long live peace with eyes wide open!”.
Colombia is one of the countries where the role of journalism in inciting or calming wars has led to much debate, and it is precisely in what the Nobel laureate said about it “with eyes wide open” where foundations and specialist workshops have found the key. It's not about finding an overarching aim in our journalistic work. It’s enough to simply do our job well and open our eyes.
Last year, a study published by the University of Amsterdam concluded that Colombian journalists saw themselves as active agents in mobilising public debate. But while for some, this mobilisation should be oriented towards dialogue, for others, the aim was the cessation of negotiations.
In other words, when the work involves not only telling facts but achieving aims, the journalistic work is distorted.
Within this brand of journalism that is not content with merely telling facts, there are examples of extraordinary positive impact, such as that of George Steer, an anti-fascist writer who was the first to tell the world about the bombing of Guernica. But there are also more unpleasant examples, such as that of RTLM, a radio station known worldwide for its role in inciting hatred in the Rwandan genocide. After the plane in which the Hutu President Habyarimana was traveling was shot down, they called for a “final war to exterminate the cockroaches,” as they called the Tutsis. The difference—going beyond the ideological motivations in each case—is that the former was journalism while the latter was propaganda. In the former, a straightforward description of the facts was enough to awaken the world. This is because all journalism—if done right—is peace journalism.
As journalists, we're not here to bring war. Nor peace. We're here to tell the story. Peaceful coexistence will be, if anything, a by-product of a job well done. It goes without saying that it's a job that has to do with all journalism genres. Because nowadays, the trenches are no longer just where bombings take place. There is conflict behind climate change, in drug trafficking, in sexual violence, in economic inequality, in the migration crises or even in the dangers of post-truth. Good journalism will always be around as long as we can put a name to these realities. And with our eyes wide open to them, there will be peace.
Leire Ariz (United Kingdom, 2014), journalist at the production company 93 Metros who holds a master’s degree in International Public Policy..