On Wednesday 6 June, QCEA and YPFP co-organised a policy discussion at Quaker House on The Role of the Media as a Peacebuilding Tool in Syria. It was the second in a series of events linking peacebuilding tools with geographic case studies. The panellists enriched the discussion with their perspectives from civil society, academia, and the EU, and the participants came from different backgrounds in politics, media, and civil society.
Media is not always associated with peacebuilding. In certain cases, such as the Rwandan genocide, media was used as a tool for war by dehumanising population groups, presenting partial information and inciting hate crime.
Today, there are concerns about disinformation causing polarisation and misunderstanding. While the rise of social media has increased access to information and the representation of citizen voices, it has also raised concerns about the spread of hate speech and intolerance.
Yet media – as one of the sectors explored in Building Peace Together – can be a tool for building peace. It can highlight common ground among conflict parties, humanise the stories of different populations, and report on peace initiatives. Media coverage can have an important role in shaping public perceptions and political decisions. Therefore, tools such as training journalists in conflict sensitivity and increasing media literacy amongst populations can create space for dialogue and nonviolent alternatives to conflict.
In Syria, media has played different roles. Citizen journalists have led social change in the country, and provided data on the conflict dynamics as well as peace initiatives. However, organisations that monitor international media coverage of the conflict in Syria have found that peace was one of the least covered topics in digital and social media on Syria in 2015. This highlights a strong need for media that promotes peace.
Media can help rebuild the social fabric in Syria by creating a space for dialogue across population groups – including civil society, international actors, as well as amongst Syrians themselves. Media can humanise the ‘other’ and connect Syrians in different localities within Syria as well as diaspora communities. International initiatives can play a complementary role to local media by highlighting space for common ground and bringing Syrian stories for peace to the international stage. Change may take generations, and media can be an intergenerational tool for building durable peace.