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Conflict Resolving Media

This document emphasises the vital role the media can play in Conflict Resolution and Peace Making globally, nationally and locally. It aims to support journalists in new and rewarding career paths, where their unique contribution to problem-solving is recognised and embraced.

Journalists benefit from having a conflict-resolving approach to their work. This approach enhances the consumer’s interest in media reporting and analysis. Cynicism and disenchantment about the media can be overcome with a conflict-resolving approach.

There is little doubt of the need for Conflict Resolution in the media. The rapidity of profound political, social and environmental change leaves societies in massive and unresolved conflict, while at hand is the under-utilised resource of the media, whose help is too seldom sought.

Key moves for the media person

Media may need to go beyond the fact-deliverers and find the conflict-resolving “talent”. Sometimes, with Conflict Resolution prompting, conflict participants can be transformed into conflict-resolving partners. Give it a go!

There are four key moves that media as mediators can make.

1. Clarify:

The facts, the players, the positions, the issues.

2. Explore options:

Developed by all the players and from the journalists themselves as they unfold the whole picture.

3. Move to the positive:

Ask questions like:

“What would it take to solve this problem?”
“What is it that you do want?”
“What would make it better?”
“What would make you willing?”

4. Go back to legitimate needs and concerns:

Ask: “What do you need?” “Why is that important to you?”
or “Tell me why that seems the best option to you?”
“What would having it do for you?”
“Are you meaning here that you need…..?” (use this question to test your assumption)

“Are there alternatives that would also satisfy you?”

Awards for conflict-resolving journalism

In 1978, The Conflict Resolution Network, then a Peace Program of the United Nations Association of Australia, initiated Media Peace Awards, given annually in print, radio and television to those media persons and teams whose work during the preceding year made the greatest contribution to the Resolution of Conflict.

Among award winners have been some of the most high-powered and esteemed journalists, demonstrating that Conflict Resolution can be the province of success and recognition.

Past recipients have included Robyn Williams, John Pilger, Bob Hawke, Caroline Jones and David Marr.

For information and/or nomination forms contact UNAA (VIC), GPO Box 45 Melbourne VIC 3001, Australia, phone +61 3 9607 1364
Click this link for more information on the UN Day Media Awards and  Recent winners.

Conflict Resolution toolkit for media

This guide is structured to develop and strengthen skills in comfortable and achievable steps. Because two great scarcities in media are time and space, decide your Conflict Resolution priorities early. Below are tools, not rules. Choose which of the tools will be the most relevant for your story.

Where to start?

Start from where you stand right now, in your own area of professional expertise and interest. We are not telling you: “It’s a breeze”. We know it might be tough.

Work through the guide and let us have your comments. The media person, by their very inquiry, clarifies and influences. They become a player, a member of the cast, not just the audience. They need the Conflict Resolution toolkit. With it they can often be an agent for positive change.

Win/Win Approach

  • Where’s the conflict story? What’s really wrong? Don’t just report positions. Go back to underlying needs and concerns.
  • What information will you need to be even-handed in your treatment of each side’s case?

Ask yourself “Can I turn these opponents into partners?” 

The Creative Response

  • Encourage the search for positive outcomes.
  • Journalist’s questions to protagonists can be in themselves tools for positive change.
  • Can you expose the opportunities for positive change that arise out of the present situation

“What would it look like if this problem were fixed?” can set protagonists thinking in fruitful directions.


  • Avoid simplistic representations of baddies and goodies.
  • Where possible provide enough information to create empathy for all sides.
  • Expose where empathy breakdown is a cause of conflict.

Labelling, stereotyping or prejudice may need to be addressed. 

Appropriate Assertiveness

  • Expose the abuse of ethical standards. Firmly steer towards the search for solution.
  • Encourage protagonists to say how it seems to them personally rather than prescribing how things should be for everyone.
  • Don’t encourage or sensationalise personal attacks. Help individuals show the best not the worst of themselves.
  • Seek to report people’s real problems clearly, going beyond their fight stance or fear of speaking out.

Let your story be hard on the problems and respectful towards the people. Your method of enquiry can take them towards the preferred approach of problem-solving. 

Co-operative Power

  • Level the playing field by giving the powerless a voice.
  • Present your media piece so that it says “no” to the misuse of power, injustice, ignorance and the mishandling of conflict.
  • Can you encourage some co-operative problem-solving and report it?

“Tell me why you see that as fair?” helps fairness. 
Don’t let power be the yardstick by which a solution is chosen. Without denying the problems, the genuine struggle towards answers is the stuff of any good novel. Happy endings sell well too. 

Managing Emotions

  • Exposing how each party feels can be helpful. Each party needs to be heard, and the media coverage should not inflame the situation.
  • Therefore, treat the emotions as symptoms. They are guides to where the real problems lie. Look at the clashes of values, needs, scarce resources etc that are causing the emotional response.
  • There is a difference between exposing injustice, or prejudice and pinning the person so they squirm. Attack the problem, not the person.

Anger is the person’s fire for change. Ask what they want changed? How do they need it to be?

Willingness to Resolve

  • Challenge embittered positions in others where they are unwilling to resolve or to involve themselves in the processes of resolution.
  • Include in the story whatever openness to fixing the problem actually exists.
  • Issues that personally make you very angry tell you something about yourself. At those times, be particularly careful to ensure your objectivity.

Stand shoulder-to-shoulder while you design a way forward. 

Mapping the Conflict

  • Report and explain fully and fairly for all parties their conflict “map”, i.e.:

2.fears and concerns
5.limitations (personal, financial, situational)
6.prevailing attitudes

Preferably let each side be exposed to the other’s map, as well as helping you draw out their own. Then look for and encourage the parties to look for:

  • new perspectives and insights
  • common ground
  • special concerns
  • hidden agendas.

The Development of Options

  • Encourage the parties to brainstorm a wider range of solution that they have presently thought of. Draw out their creativity before evaluating.
  • Don’t ignore temporary solutions that address a part of the problem. This is good conflict management while the larger issues are being worked on.
  • Having done your overview, you may be in the best position to see a solution that has not yet occurred to the parties. Can you offer it?

“Are there some alternatives that work for you and would also give the other person more of what they need?” “What would it take to solve this problem?”

Negotiation Skills

  • Build the overall picture with “ands” not “buts”. Objections need to be included not dismissed.
  • Make the problem the “enemy” rather than the people.
  • Report areas of agreement as well as disagreement. This encourages the problem-solving process to continue.
  • Representatives of an organisation will need to return to their “constituency” with a win. If your reporting over-emphasises the loss, the representative may be unable to sell a fair (or the only available) plan for solution.

Always point out the wins for both sides, even where small. Your search for these wins may unfold some useful concessions valuable to receive and easy to give. 

Broadening Perspectives

  • The media person is often in a unique position to see a broader overview of the situation than any individual party.
  • The media person can validate each party’s needs and point up where greed or bias limit a party’s ability to see the whole picture.
  • The media person may be able to increase awareness of the interdependence between nations, organisations or individuals, and the importance therefore of building solutions that recognise the long-term relationship, e.g. employers and unions; no one particular claim will be the last one.

The Third Party Mediator

  • Recognise the role the media can play as mediator. The journalist and the mediator ask the same questions.
  • Like the mediator, the journalist can provide a forum for all sides to be fairly represented, and their needs and rights legitimised.
  • The media person acts as mediator when they have the good of the whole at heart and place realistic limits on the need for the sensational story.

Legitimate role for media in conflict resolution

Media structure does not always make Conflict Resolution easy, nor does it make it impossible.

There is a growing realisation in media ownership, management and staff that a new genre is arising where freedom of the media means freedom to be part of the resolution of conflict.

The magazine that helps its readers develop more options will increase its circulation. The radio station that provides an opportunity for its listeners to participate in collaborative decision-making will be listened to. The television channels that broaden perspectives will hold its viewers.

Long recognised is the role of the media in bringing us opposing points of view; now added to it is the role of the media in bringing us conflict-resolving points of view.

“Conflict is exciting. It is the very stuff of change. It is never to be ignored or swept under the carpet. It has always commanded an audience for media. Wherever media not only presents conflict but points to its resolution, you get compelling stuff.” 
Dr Stella Cornelius, Conflict Resolution Network.

Blame, shame and judgement are each a “tone of voice”. This is a style frequently used by the most compassionate people. Conflict Resolution is another style often more creative and effective. 

Media can exacerbate conflict. It is quick and easy to do, and will draw a following; it can also be irresponsible.

Media can educate. Indeed, there is much evidence that it is the fastest educator in contemporary society. Once upon a time we thought that the three Rs would do us; now we all need to “read, write, reckon and resolve”. No-one can help us better than our media.

Media can facilitate. It has the power to bring together sectors of our society previously out of touch with each other.

Media can mediate. Mediation is a neutral, objective process which helps conflicting parties to design their own solutions. It is a just and compassionate practice and does not demand that the mediator be value-free.

It addresses problems of power-inequality and aims at “levelling the playing field”.

It gives voice to the inarticulate and provides audience for the unheard.

It is as much an attitude as a function and can be integrated into all aspects of the journalist’s professional and personal life.

Building the conflict-resolving community is our greatest task. The media can be our most powerful ally.

We highly recommend a unit of study, devoted to Conflict Resolving Media, which is available at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), University of Sydney, with full credits.

Stella Cornelius, visionary co-director of Conflict Resolution Network, 1986-2010 Conflict resolving media (YouTube video produced by Annabel McGoldrick recorded 2008, 3:43 minutes) 

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