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"Missing" the feminist epistemology in Peace Journalism (PJ) Theory * / Prof. Sevda Alankuş

"Missing" the feminist epistemology in Peace Journalism (PJ) Theory * / Prof. Sevda Alankuş
Published Date: Monday, 10 October 2022

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to the conference organizers for giving me the chance to join you, even though from a distance considering the circumstances. I have to admit how deeply I am touched by your invitation, since I was the one who had the honor of opening the Center of Research and Communication for Peace with the very encouraging collaboration of my colleagues in the year 2009. It was the year I was about to leave the EMU after nine unforgettable years. Establishing such a center was a long dreamed task, as the case of organizing the very first Peace Journalism (PJ) conference in 2006 with the same group of colleagues. Just to remind you that, this was the very first conference or collaboration that brought Cypriots, Greeks, Turks, Palestinians, and Israeli journalists and academics together around the PJ concept and practice. But again, just for the record, I should clarify something important; I am not saying here that PJ was initiated or introduced on the island through this conference and the Center. There have always been journalists in Cyprus who were writing for peace, and their courage was inspiring. Let me take this opportunity to pay respect to those who dedicate their lives and professions to peace, no matter the conditions.. 

Literature review, my arguments… 

My presentation will be divided into two parts. In the first part, through giving a summary of the feminist and peace journalism theories of news criticism, I will try to bridge, the not filled yet gap between the two fields by focusing on mainly their claims about the “role and status of gender in the newsrooms and journalism practices”1 . In the second part of my presentation, I will share the initial data of my research that is based on in-depth interviews with thirty-two women journalists of Greece and Turkey. After commenting briefly on their newsroom experiences, I will continue with their reflections on role of the news media over the relations between Turkey and Greece. In the presentation, I will try to bring the two literature -peace journalism and feminist- of news criticism together. 

Peace journalism is the concept of the 70s, which was elaborated by Johan Galtung (1998) based upon research done by him and Mary Holmboe Ruge in 1965 (Galtung & Holmboe, 1965). The study criticized how tension and particularly violent conflict are regarded as primarily newsworthy by the mainstream news media. The elaboration of the theory and application of the PJ happened starting from the mid-90s, especially through the works of Jack Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick (2005) in the first place. Northern Ireland peace negotiations were one of the first examples of its practices within the particular context of peace negotiations brought to the table by the governments of the two sides. Since then, the theory and practices of PJ have been expounded through contributions of the articulation of discussions and related research data collected from conflictual zones, including Cyprus (Ersoy, 2004; Bailie & Azgın, 2008; Ross & Alankuş, 2010).

Apart from the never-ending discussions like if "PJ is "an alternative paradigmatic approach to the journalism" or "just a new name for the good old journalism", the common criticism about the mainstream news reporting was that being of a victory, elite, propaganda oriented journalism that ends up with the war journalism, versus peace journalism as Galtung puts it in his most quoted, binary table (Galtung, 2000; Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005). But here, I do not intend to go over these never-ending discussions; instead, I will problematize the late arrival of feminist criticism into PJ for enabling me to clarify my claims. 

The late arrival of the feminist perspective into PJ 

Although they were always already there and implied, the overt gender perspective has come to the field relatively late. In one of the early attempts, by comparing the audience reactions of men and women to the news, Galtung was arguing that, instead of reading/watching the violence, women [as audience] want to hear what "the reality" is, and then they like to see some solutions" (2000, p. 163). In his later work, he highlighted how gender plays a significant role in journalism practices, since men are more interested in the negative (e.g., violence) and women in positive news (e.g., romance). Galtung also expected female journalists to write more peace reports than male counterparts (2002, p. 10-11). In their book (2005), Lynch and McGoldrick frame the main problem of conventional journalism as its "binary representation" of the conflict that is based on "us" (angels) vs. "them" (devils) type of narration. 

In his short commentary, Lynch (2009) reminds us of Derrida's critique of "western metaphysics" that grounds binary oppositions by giving privileged ontological status to the first, over the second. By referring to Hellene Cixous and her feminist positioning against Derrida's argumentation, Lynch mentions the phallogocentrism of language, which "protects those who occupy the privileged position in dichotomous terms by making hierarchical positions natural" (2009) as it is the case with the West over the East; the man over the woman, etc. However, although Lynch gets so close to opening up PJ to postcolonial feminist criticism through these stimulating comments, he does not move ahead along the same line. A year later, in a co-authored work, Lynch and Galtung (2010) revised the earlier argument whether "women make better peace journalists" and whether "hard news is for the boys" by warning -correctly- about the threat of falling into the trap of gender essentialism. Following the socio-linguistic approach, they point out that gender differences exist in using the language. They claim women journalists give more voice to people rather than to official sources and female readers prefer more coherent and socially contextualized news reporting (2010, pp. 67-68, 70). 

Lynch and Galtung neither elaborate more on this gender perspective, nor take further steps towards a feminist epistemological stand to fill in the "missing" pieces of PJ theory. Although they argued against the masculinity of the binary way of thinking in 2009, he does not turn back to this issue again. Another important name of the field, Robert Hackett (2010) criticises the positivist epistemology and its reflection on conventional news reporting that assuming "the truth" can be known empirically and mirrored by the journalist from an independent stand. Hackett sees a challenge and an epistemological revolt to the "objectivity myth” of conventional journalism in the conceptualization of PJ approach. Through his criticism, once more PJ theory gets so close to being linked with feminist criticism about objectivity that says, "objectivity is related with the belief that journalism could be practiced only by the "male reasoning and knowledge." (Hackett, 2010). But Hackett too does not go much further. He offers interdisciplinary intellectual links in peace and conflict studies (Hackett, 2010, p. 42–43), but neglects that the same is needed between feminist media studies and peace journalism. 

The main efforts for filling in the missing pieces of the field and linking PJ with critical journalism studies are made by women writers in a book titled “Expanding Peace Journalism: A Comparative and Critical Approach” in 2011. In the book, Ellisa Tivona (2011) gives a supporting example to Galtung's claim that "female journalists write more peace reports than their male colleagues," and she concludes her work by offering new categories for redefining newsworthiness, and she supports that the need is to move away from "if it bleeds, it leads" to; "if it heals, it reveals," through infusing (emotional and emphatic) femininity into (rational) male public discourse. Another women writer, Agneta Jacobson highlights the absence of an articulated gender perspective even in her self-reflective analysis of PJ, despite the apparent overlap between PJ and a feminist perspective (2011, p. 112-113). To compensate this absence, she adds "gender blindness" and "gender awareness" (2011, p. 114) to the comparative table of war and peace journalism (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005, p. 6). Although Jacobson indicates a synonymy between the bias of conventional journalism and the Western, white male's hegemony, she does not elaborate on her claim. Finally, in a more recent editorial work, Berit von der Lippe and Rune Ottosen criticize the gender-neutral model of Galtung; question media's construction of the women as the “other” from the vantage point of postcolonial feminist approach; and examine the impact of gender on PJ by underlying the multifaceted presence of masculinities and femininities (2017, p. 9-31). 

If I return briefly to the 1970s and 1990s again, but this time for reflecting on how feminist media scholars have already been raising the issue of "the masculinity of conventional journalism". According to Molotch (1978), the news is "a type of narrative that essentially belongs to the male world in which men talk to each other, or where women reporting for men are at most allowed to talk with other women." Mills (1988) was saying that; "the news is what men call news". According to Van Zoonen (1994), the news is a linear informationprocessing constructed by men, which socializes its audience via stereotypical judgments and causes sexist attitudes". Skidmore (1998) was addressing "the aggressive culture of newsgathering" and arguing that "this culture is based on male solidarity and loyalty". Moreover, there were names who argue how journalism itself is written in the language of conflict and controversy that reflect men's interest in winning/losing (quoted in Chambers et al. 2004, p. 107).

The re-written history of journalism by feminist media scholars clarifies the reasons why conventional news reporting developed as a masculine form and journalism as "hegomanic"** (the use is mine) profession. The reason is the exclusion or marginalization of women journalists from/in the newsrooms where conventional principles and ethics of journalism were developed and coded by the late 1800s, then turned out to be the "professional ideology" by the early 1900s (Deuze 2005, pp. 444-447). In brief, her/story tells us that the profession was born with traces of the male-dominated “regime of the truth” (Foucault, 1977). The news developed into a "rational", "objective", "accurate", and "trustworthy" —as man expected it to be—conveyance of construction of reality as it is "valued" today by the profession/professionals and academia2 . All these illustrate the absence of women’s “worlding of the world” (Spivak, 1985)3 in journalism that is categorized as irrational, emotional, uncertain, and unreliable and why and how conventional journalism turns into war journalism. 

In order to understand how conventional news reporting turns into a masculine narration in which women’s wor(l)ding are excluded and/or marginalized, we need to go over the very basic principal codes of news reporting from the definition of newsworthiness to use of the news sources; from the news writing formula of 5W+1H to reverse pyramid; from editorial values to even the standard design layout of print or digital news media. But here, I will give you only a few examples. For accuracy and truthfulness in the news reporting, the codes advise us to use military, political, governmental, and bureaucratic elites -who are male in general- as news sources. The reverse pyramid model and the 5W+1H news writing formula result in official statements by creating a hierarchical order of importance in favor of (male again) elites. With all of these, we end up with a propaganda and victory-oriented news making as we know from Galtung’s model (Lynch & MacGoldrick, 2005) that also represent “white”-male-elite-oriented news with a bias on their behalf or a hegemanic narration that values “us” over “them”, “mind” over “emotion”, the “ends” (how many are killed?) over “process” (why and how it happened?) although the masculinity of all stuctures and practices are not elaborated by the prominent names of the peace journalism theory.

This brief introduction of feminist criticism on conventional journalism leaves us with no excuses for explaining the late arrival of the feminist approach to the PJ theory and practice and the absence of interdisciplinary touch between the two. But more importantly, all these make us to face with the male domination in PJ theory too, despite the recent efforts for displacing and revising it. On the basisof this literature review, I will share the results of the narrative analysis of my research interviews below.

The narrations of the women journalists… 

The research interviews of thirty-two were conducted between the autumns of 2018-2021 and the participants were determined through snowball techniques both in Greece and Turkey. The in-depth interviews were around one and half hour long, based on semistructured questions, audio recorded with one exception and they were done face to face with four exceptions due to the Pandemic. The participants’ age range are between 36- 83, and half of them are retired or unemployed, the other half are still working in mainstream or alternative news media. Although the aim of the research was dual and to compare the female journalists of two countries in terms of their experiences in male-ordered newsrooms and their reflections over news media’s role in Greece and Turkey relations, my focus here will be only on the second. 

“Narrative analysis” (Fraser, 2004) on interviews with the participants from Turkey and Greece reveals a very similar picture concerning the experiences of the women journalists in the androcentric newsrooms and their strategic mechanisms to cope with the wage gap, exclusion from decision-making, uneven job distribution, trivialization, marginalization, sexual harassment, mobbings within the masculine culture of the newsrooms, even though majority of the participants do not refer to their experience as “discrimination”. Their strategies range from joining the “boy’s club” against the exclusion, to “working hard” for proving themselves against underestimation, but most of the time at the expense of exploitation; from bargaining and gaining some advantages for her individual comfort, to struggling for changing the things in the newsrooms and/or opting out. These newsrooms portrayals of the two countries also match with the examples from different parts of the world (Craft, & Wanta,2004; Byerly & Ross, 2006; Chamber &et all, 2004).

Reflections of the female journalists of Greece and Turkey on news media’s role over the relations… 

The participants’ comments on the role of the news media were analyzed through two group of questions. 1) Their reflections on what roles were/are played in the past/now, and 2) Their comments on peace journalism as an alternative and the possibility of its application regarding the conflictual “national issues” between the countries. The narrative analysis of first group of the questions makes us question “gender matters” claim of peace journalism theorists when it comes to news coverage of “national issues”. Although the participants are critical towards their news media regime in general, and about the role of the journalists during the crises of the recent past, the majority of the participants believe news media can only make a positive contribution to the neighborly relations as long as “political will” exists. Although they mostly support the idea/practice of objectivity in journalism4 , they normalize its so-called ever presence’s absence, regarding the coverage of national interest issues. Finally, the majority of the participants have not heard about peace journalism and the ones who have heard about it either do not believe that it is needed as long as “good journalism” is well applied, despite none of the participants mentioned whether good journalism does ever exist, or find it not realistic, if not “naïve”. The reasons for these participant reflections on media’s role in mutual relations and the possibility of peace journalism, need to be analyzed in wider theoretical framework and data. As an initial step, I may remind some of the arguments of previous works for offering insights into understanding why participants’ criticisms directed at the media do not go hand in hand with self-criticism when it comes to the “national issues”. For instance, the reconstruction of Greek and Turkish national identities vis a vis each other (Kostarella, 2007; Tılıç, 2006; Millas, 2004; Özgüneş & Terzis, 2000); "state and governmentcentered characters" of the media regimes (Heraclides, 2019; Millas, 2004; Lazarou, 2009; Özkırımlı & Sofos, 2008; Theodossopoulos, 2006) and a strong "press and party parallelism" (Yıldırım et al., 2021; Iosifidis & Boucas, 201, Tılıç, 1997) would be a few of the explanations. Apart from vis-à-vis positioning of the two countries and their media, the internalization of the masculine professional ideology of journalism by the female journalists would be another explanatory argument that follows the line of feminist works. However, differentiations in narrations of a few participants from the majority still requires further analysis and allow me to underline how the intersection of the political worldviewmakes a difference in the participants’ approaches. My initial analysis verifies my expectations, and made me think that women journalists’ approaches are differentiated according to the their worldview and the participants who define themselves as feminist and on the left, are more open to the idea of “media may and must make contributions to the peaceful relations” than the others as two of the participants’ wor(l)ding from Greece and Turkey imply respectively; “the heart bites from the left” and “what we need is the feminist worldview that claims equality for the all as being today’s left”. 

* This presentation covers theoretical part and initial data of a research project that was supported by Project Evaluation Committee of the Yaşar University under the project number of (BAP082) and title of “Patriarchial Bargaining: Newsroom Experiences of Women Journalists of Turkey and Greece.” 

1 For a related detailed discussion see, Alankuş, 2018.

** My terminology.

2 For the detailed discussion see, Alankuş, 2018. 

3 Spivak uses the term to refer to the epistemic violence of colonial/post-colonial cultural representations. Here I am borrowing the term freely from her work (1985). 

4 See deconstruction of objectivity as a “masculine myth” and its grounding epistemology, Tuchman, 1972; Wien, 2005; McGoldrick, 2006. 


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