Bosnia’s Open Broadcast Network:
A brief but illustrative foray into peace journalism practice
Hollins University, USA
Susan Dente Ross and Hyeonjin
Washington State University, USA
This study engages in the examination of the role
of journalism in a time of violent conflict and explores the
discourse that has come to be known under the umbrella term “peace
journalism.” Through a case study of the Open Broadcast Network (OBN)
coverage of the Bosnian conflict, the study analyzes the initial
lessons learned from one of the original implementations of peace
journalism precepts in violent conflict. As demonstrated by the
fleeting and partial success of OBN, the news media can play a role
in transformation of conflict but the feasibility and
accomplishments of such practice depend upon a variety of variables.
Keywords: Peace, Journalism, Conflict, Media, Bosnia; Open Broadcast
If there is no fire, then what the wind does is
not so important. But if there is a fire, then the nature of the
wind – how strong, which direction it is blowing – can have a
major effect on what happens to the fire. (Wolfsfeld, 2004)
Ethnic conflicts during the last decade of the 20th century have
made a profound impact on all spheres of public life, not only in
the societies in conflict but also in societies that indirectly
engaged with their resolution. The conflicts in post-colonial
Rwanda/Burundi and post-communist Yugoslavia challenged the core
principles of modern journalism and prompted reexamination of the
role of journalism in a time of violent conflict. The sacrosanct
journalistic values of objectivity and detachment that ordained
balanced coverage of victims and aggressors as the ultimate goal
disappointed many in the profession and the academic sphere. In
1997, veteran BBC war reporter Martin Bell stirred up the
journalistic world when he renounced the ideal of objectivity and
proposed a counter-thesis of journalism of attachment, or engaged
journalism (1998). At the same time, one of the most influential
political scientists in conflict resolution, Johan Galtung (1997),
promoted a similar concept called peace journalism. As a result, a
debate regarding the role of journalists and journalism during
violent conflicts was launched and a set of postulates and
study of the organization, mission, and impact of Open Broadcast
Network’s (OBN) programming in Bosnia engages in the rich discourse
of the debate of what has come to be known under the umbrella term
“peace journalism.” Today peace journalism is part of a major
worldwide media reform movement growing out of the strong critique
of dominant mainstream media practices. The well-documented elite
domination, ethnocentrism, nationalism, and conflict escalation of
the media are particular points of concern within the field. While
significant distinctions divide various proponents of peace
journalism, peace journalism participants seek generally to change
journalistic practices that too stringently control and limit access
to the media and too narrowly define information that is worthy of
broad dissemination. Hence the emerging field of peace journalism
lies at the nexus of concerns about the rights to communicate and to
receive information regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, or
Through the following case study of the Open Broadcast Network’s (OBN)
coverage of the Bosnian conflict, we analyze the initial lessons
learned from what may be viewed as one of the original
implementations of peace journalism precepts in violent conflict. To
develop a thorough description of the conditions that contributed to
the rise and demise of OBN, a thorough inventory of information was
compiled through a triangulation of research strategies: interviews
with the local experts, journalists, and practitioners; text
analysis of the related news accounts; and secondary analysis of
audience survey research. These data provide a detailed portrait of
OBN in which the Bosnian conflict serves as a testing ground for
media contributions to peace development.
context for the exploration of this specific case, this article
begins with a summary of contemporary research on the standards and
effects of traditional media coverage of violent conflicts. An
articulation of the rationale for peace journalism then sets up a
discussion of the continuing divide within peace journalism between
advocates of a journalism of attachment (see Bell, 1997) and those
who promote a journalism of greater self-reflexivity and broader
inclusiveness (see Lynch, 2005). With this grounding, the case of
OBN is presented to highlight both the successes and limitations of
this early initiative toward peace journalism. The conclusion
suggests both the theoretical and practical lessons that may be
taken from the example of OBN and indicates what these lessons
portend for the future of peace journalism.
Standard Journalism: A Victim of Violent
work examining media coverage of conflict provides support for
theoretical assertions that standard media practices are more likely
to perpetuate violent conflict than contribute to its peaceful
resolution. Historically, news media often have been used in
promotion of wars and conflicts. News media helped the Allies
further their goals in World War I (Creel, 1920; Lasswell, 1927;
Bernays, 1928) and enabled manipulation of the masses by Nazis (Jowett
and O’Donell, Cole, 1998; Thomson, 1977). Most recently, the ethnic
conflicts in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia revealed the significant
role of local journalists in promotion of violence (Buric 2000;
Kirske, 1996; Taylor and Kent, 2000; Thompson, 1999) as well as the
inability of the Western media to affect the course of escalating
conflict (Gowing, 1994; Robinson, 1999).
Media scholars have found that the media present conflicts primarily
as “a competitive win-lose process” in which an idealized, positive
‘self’ defeats demonized, negative ‘others’ (Annabring & Spohrs,
2004, p. 2; see also Bishop et al, 2007; Kempf, 1999; Hamdorf,
2000). Price and Thompson (2002) demonstrated the close link between
media and violence throughout the last 15 years of the 20th century.
Case studies by Metzl (1997a, 1997b), Thompson (1999), Naveh (1999),
Hoijer, Nohrstedt and Ottosen (2002), Kondopoulou (2002), and others
highlight the deep interconnections between media coverage and
military aggression in various conflicts around the globe.
Scholars observe that journalists are trained to construct news
within a “story” or narrative form that employs an antagonist facing
off against a protagonist, engaged in dramatic tension, within a
plot with “a beginning, middle and end” (Altheide & Snow, 1979, p.
89; Ettema & Glasser, 1988; Fawcett, 2002; Lipari, 1994; Olson,
1995). This form shapes news “in a predictable way that taps into
the expectations and cultural values of the audience or readers”
(Fawcett, 2002, p. 219). Dominant cultural narratives reinforce the
essentialist idea of a just or clean war against evil enemies and
encourage opponents to press perceived advantages, however small or
illusory. Media representations of conflict as a clear-cut, zero-sum
game, construct government compromises and concessions as weakness
or failure, prompting escalating demands (Wolfsfeld, 1997, 1997b).
Additionally, journalism serves a structural function in daily
economic and cultural relations in any society. Therefore, Wolfsfeld
(1997c) emphasized that “journalism is, above all, a competitive
business” (p.62), and economic demands and profit motives promote
and reinforce the media’s event-driven, drama-seeking and
conflict-oriented reporting (pp. 54-5). Annabring and Spohrs (2004)
noted that “the decisive question” driving journalistic choices is:
“Can the product be sold?” (p. 2; emphasis added). Violence is,
simply put, good business because “conflict and war always provide
self-sustaining drama” (Wolfsfeld et al., 2002, p. 190). In
contrast, the inherent slowness and complexity of peace processes
fail to attract attention in a business whose norms and practices
favor coverage of fundamentalists with extremist views, rather than
more moderate opinions that evolve slowly through time (Wolfsfeld,
1997c, pp.54 & 58-61).
a cultural standpoint, “all journalists unconsciously reflect
personal and cultural values in selecting their content (or framing
their stories)” (Howard, 2002, p. 9). News coverage of political
violence advances the national identity and national loyalty of
reporters and editors such that “factual reporting of war is
chimera; the ingredients of war – patriotism, national interest,
anger, censorship and propaganda – often conspire to prevent
objective reporting (see Lee & Maslog, 2005, p. 312; Carruthers,
2000; Iggers, 1998; Knightley, 1975; Nossek, 2004; Van Ginneken,
1998). While this tendency is particularly marked among journalists
whose native nations are directly engaged in hot conflict,
journalism from afar also exhibits a less extreme practice of
identifying and promoting one side as good and demonizing the other
as bad (Liebes, 2000). Compounding this problem, news coverage of
peace processes is often “an unreflective parroting of government
propaganda lines” and “elite interests” (McLaughlin & Miller, 1996,
pp. 128, 117). Thus, journalists and editors “tied to … the social
system” (Shoemaker, 1991, p. 75) and affected by “the broader
cultural-domestic environment” in which they work (Nossek, 2004, p.
346; also see Galtung and Ruge, 1965; Simmons & Lowry, 1990; Weimann
& Winn, 1994; Westerstahl & Johansson, 1994; Van Belle, 2000)
demonstrate a propensity for “escalation-oriented” (Annabring &
Spohr, 2004, p. 2) and pro-conflict coverage.
most prominent advocate for change of dysfunctional, standard
journalistic practices is one of the most well-known conflict
experts, Johan Galtung. He most famously outlined a corrective
approach to conflict coverage (peace journalism) in reaction to what
he calls war journalism (Galtung, 1997). He defines war journalism
and peace journalism as two distinct constructs of reporting that
adopt disparate normative assumptions about the power of narrative
and the ideal of objectivity. The two types of journalistic
practices reflect different assumptions about the role of the media
in peace, conflict, identity, and the future. These distinctions
generate divergent news values and reporting patterns that produce
different frames of the news.
journalism is performed through a focus on overt acts of violence
and on the most prominent national sufferings. It waits for and
follows events, particularly violent tragedies (Lynch and McGoldrick,
2005). Such war coverage employs classic bureaucratic, formal
language that emphasizes a bombastic, external point of view,
detailed information, and strong verbs to convey a call to duty from
an informed, learned authority (Iwamoto, 1998). Violence is
represented as a natural consequence of incompatible cultural
differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’. War is understood in terms of a
singular, linear cause-and-effect sequence within a temporally and
geographically finite arena of conflict. Thus, someone throws the
first stone, and the attacked seek their revenge upon the attacker.
As Lynch (2002) suggested, “The behavior of the side which ‘started
it’ at the chosen point of origin can only be explained as
irrational and evil.” One side is the problem, the initiator, the
perpetrator of violence, and the other side is the innocent victim
who must respond.
Thus, war journalism constructs binaries between a gloating evil and
a suffering victim. Victimizing and demonizing language is likely to
be adopted. The problem of the evil entity must be dealt with or
eradicated. Blame and responsibility are assigned almost exclusively
to the demonized side, and violence to crush the supposed evil is
depicted as understandable, legitimate, or even morally correct.
‘Their’ gain is often depicted as ‘our’ loss and vice versa in a
competitive zero-sum game (Galtung 2002; Lynch, 2002; Lynch &
McGoldrick, 2005; Wolfsfeld, 1997c). In this sense, war journalism
provides a systematic focus “on violence and who wins, like a soccer
game, leaving out the invisible effects and the alternatives” (Galtung,
Peace journalism: An alternative rationale
contrast, a journalism that adopts a positive peace perspective
focuses on complex cultural and structural contexts and both the
visible and invisible effects of conflicts. Peace journalism does
not limit its role to any particular stages of conflict but pursues
news in all stages of conflict including pre-, during and
post-conflict (Howard, 2002). It recognizes that conflict exists in
all communities but does not regard violence as the natural
consequence of conflict. Violence is understood as the result of
“oversimplifying the innate complexity of conflicts” (Hamdorf, 2000,
p. 4), not as a means to reduce and address conflict (Annabring &
Spohrs, 2004). The discourse of peace assumes that conflicts can be
transformed constructively away from violence and the media can aid
this process by expanding the number and diversity of individuals
whose ideas and perspectives are shared, given credibility, and
valued. A fundamental precept of peace journalism is that violence
itself is the problem; peace journalism practitioners strive to
systematically reject the notion of one singular, simple cause for
violence, or “a certain party (the ‘others’)” as “the problem” (Hanitzsch,
2004, p. 485). Instead, peace journalism coverage “explore[s]
conflict formations by identifying the parties, goals, and issues
involved” (Lee & Maslog, 2005, p. 314) from ethnic, historical, and
ultimate goal of peace journalism is to increase the ability of all
parties to share their views as a means to find better ways to
transform or resolve violent conflict. Peace journalism concerns
itself with contexts, backgrounds, and the broad, negative
consequences of violent conflicts, as it explores alternatives and
solutions. In this way, peace journalism enhances the flow of
information and opens the range of options for addressing conflict.
It pursues a win-win strategy and rejects simplistic binaries such
as good/evil and right/wrong (Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005). As
articulated by Galtung, peace journalism is deeply invested in
careful and detailed examination of peace, people, and solutions (Transcend,
Peace journalism adapts a discourse of principled, compassionate
humanism that offers positive alternatives to the status quo and
presents the complex contexts that surround “political violence”
and/or “armed struggle” (Spencer, 2003, pp. 61-2). In this way,
peace journalism represents a call for journalists to overcome and
to provide information that allays misperceptions, “unease,” and
“fears” about each other (Spencer, p. 63), that uncovers “the
underlying causes of conflict,” and that builds shared “trust and
confidence” (p. 76). Thus, scholars assert that proponents of peace
must abandon the classic game of shaming, demonizing, and othering
mastered by the mongers of war (see, e.g., Lazar & Lazar, 2004) to
conceptualize a transnational identity of universal humanity and
rally the people with invitations to act upon their essential “peace
and justice sentiments” (Coles, 2002, pp. 602, 599; see also Harvey,
1991; Ivie, 1987).
Peace journalism’s assertion of a broad humanistic function for the
media has come under assault as naïve, biased, and impractical.
Opponents argue that peace journalism is a “prescriptive orthodoxy
[that] … abandons good journalism” (Loyn, 2007) and fails to
recognize audience desires, owner prerogatives for profit, and human
frailty. They suggest that peace journalism foolishly abandons the
search for truth advanced through balanced, objective reporting
without acknowledging the practical limits of time, talent, and
energy and without providing mechanisms to facilitate effective
gathering of credible alternative information (Hanitzsch, 2007).
Peace Journalism – In Search of Consensus
disagreement between advocates of peace journalism and those who
would maintain the current values and practices of mainstream
journalism is paralleled by a schism within peace journalism about
media’s proper role in society and the ultimate goals of peace
journalism. This divide reflects, in part, proponents’ grounding in
and insights from a diverse range of disciplines, including mass
communication, communication, cultural studies, psychology,
sociology, critical theory, conflict resolution, and more. Each
field’s unique contributions suggest distinct understandings of the
causes of and strategies to alter the prevalence of war journalism.
For example, Hackett (1991) and other political economists point to
the need first and foremost to alter the structure and profit
imperatives of media. Grounded more squarely in critical cultural
and media studies, Lynch (2002) acknowledges the significance of
structural inequalities and pressures but argues that the individual
journalist is the proper site for change in the field; engaging the
moral agency of journalists is a vital step toward increasing the
open platform of peace journalism. Clearly at the core of the debate
is a line between a journalism of overt advocacy and a journalism of
inclusion and engagement.
Several peace journalism scholars have pointed out that peace
journalism requires a more proactive journalistic role that goes
beyond war journalism’s commitment to detached observation and
distribution of information (Hamdoft, 2000; Hanitzsch, 2004; Howard,
2002; Lynch, 2002, Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005). This pro-active role
does not necessarily require peace journalists to reject
objectivity. Rather, one perspective embraces an objectivity of
peace journalism that abandons the belief that journalism’s
“representation of reality is objective in the sense of being
identical with the reality” (Hanitzsch, 2004, p. 488). Instead,
peace journalism’s objectivity is a “methodological objectivity,
which requires journalists to subject their reports to objective
controls such as the careful presentation of facts, reliable and
varied sources, expert opinion, supporting documentation, accurate
quotations, and a fair representation of major viewpoints” (Hanitzsch,
2004, p. 488; Ward, 1998, p. 122). In this view, peace journalism
seeks the objectivity obtained when all parties share the right to
communicate their views and information from all sides is shared
Following this logic, Kempf (2002, 2003) described peace journalism
as simply “good journalism” that escapes simplistic dualisms to
reduce the escalation orientation of mainstream conflict coverage.
Peace journalism is not, and should not be, “characterized by
perceptive distortions and misjudgments” (Kempf et al., as cited in
Hanitzsch, 2004, p. 485) but should “question the war and the
military logic” and “respect the rights of the enemy and an
undistorted representation of his intensions as well as a
self-critical and realistic evaluation of his own rights,
intentions, etc” (Kempf et al., as cited in Hanitzsch, 2004, p.
485). Peace journalism must “keep its distance from all parties to
the conflict” and “dismiss the dualistic construction of the
conflict” (Hanitzsch, 2004, p. 485; Kempf, 2003, pp. 9-10).
Similarly Howard (2003) and Lee and Maslog (2005) envisioned peace
journalism as the embodiment of fundamental news values and informed
objectivity that attends carefully “to its own professional
strictures … [of] accuracy, impartiality, and independence” (p. 1).
And Holquin (1998) proposes “peace correspondents” with greater
commitment to reporting the “true” causes of conflict. Greater
ability to “make sense” of conflicts, less parochialism, and more
divergent news sources are fundamental to any corrective to
deficiencies in media coverage of peace (see Hackett, 1991, p. 271).
Thus, Kempf’s (2003) “de-escalation oriented coverage” goes beyond
traditional, professional norms of journalism only to the extent
that journalists’ increased understanding of conflict theory tends
to generate coverage of conflict that leaves space for peaceful
settlements. His “solution-oriented coverage” requires media to
reframe conflict as a collabroative process. Similarly, Lynch and
McGoldrick (2005) and Spencer (2004) acknowledge journalists as
“full and active participants in contestations and dialogues about
peace” (p. 604) who affect the events they report rather than simply
gathering and delivering information from some “outside” space.
Critics of this position argue that even when peace journalism is
defined as a reinvigoration of the deepest values of quality
journalism, it crosses the line into advocacy. Hanitzsch (2004) thus
broadly challenged the appropriateness of peace journalism, which he
called “a programme or frame of journalistic news coverage which
contributes to the process of making and keeping peace” (p. 484).
Indeed, Hanitzsch is correct in some cases; some peace journalism
proponents encourage an advocacy role for the press that envisions
and seeks to accomplish a conflict-free society (Bell, 1997; Botes,
1995; Chilton, 1987; Galtung, 2000a, 2000b, & 2002). While Bauman
and Siebert (2000) argued only that objectivity is impossible and
media inevitably engage in conflict mediation because they educate,
contextualize, provide an outlet for strong emotions, offer
solutions, and build consensus, “whether they intend to or not”
(Bauman & Siebert, 2000; see also Merrill, 1989, pp. 10-11), Lee and
Maslog (2005) said “peace journalism is normative or prescriptive.”
Others overtly rejected the goal of objectivity, seeking rather to
embrace a journalistic mission of improving the world. These
observers proclaimed their peace agenda and urged peace journalism
practitioners to consciously adopt an agenda for peace in conflict
reporting as the only genuine alternative to an – unacknowledged or
not – agenda for war. Thus, Astorino-Courtois (1996) encouraged
media to play a pro-active role in marketing peace by identifying
publicly salient attributes of peace and seeking points of accord
among groups in conflict. Gorsevski (1999) called for media
“propaganda of peacemaking,” and Melone, Terzis, and Ozsel (2002)
suggested that the media should not and “cannot be neutral toward
peace.” Similarly, Howard (2002) conceived of “the media [as] a
double-edged sword”: both “an instrument of conflict resolution” and
“a frightful weapon of violence” (p. 1) and pushed journalists to go
“beyond the traditional disengaged journalistic role” (p. 9) to
become more proactive as peace-facilitators or “conciliators in the
field” (p. 11). Here, the aim of peace journalism is to strengthen
the role of the media in “conflict reduction and peace-building” (p.
Despite these ongoing debates, Galtung (1998, 2002), Kempf (1999,
2002), Shinar (2003) and others (see, e.g., Austrian Study Center
for Peace and Conflict Resolution, 2003; Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005),
including a growing array of scholars and professional journalists,
continue to advance understanding and enhancement of media’s role in
international peace. On one hand, Fabris and Varis (1986), Hackett
(1991), Kempf (2003), Peleg and Alimi (2005), and Bishop et al
(2007) produced richer and more systematic empirical data and
analysis of media coverage of peace and the role of the media in
peace making. On the other, Shinar (2003, 2004) and others (e.g.,
Lynch & McGoldrick, 2005; Mezei, 2003) developed and employed new
journalistic training programs to alter the media’s pro-conflict
orientation. Lynch (1998) asserted that such retraining involves no
radical departure from contemporary journalism practice. Rather it
requires a subtle shift in sourcing and narrative choice: a shift
toward citizens and away from elite spokespeople, toward the value
of peace rather than the adrenalin rush of conflict, toward mutual
benefits rather than unilateral victory. Emphasis on equality and
humanity that recognizes the power of symbolic representation is a
vital element (Shinar, 2004).
Today thriving efforts at a re-visioned practice of journalism
encompass the Filipino-based PeCoJon, “an international network of
print, radio and broadcast journalists, as well as filmmakers
afillind journalism teachers, who focus on implementing and
mainstreaming a responsible and constructive reporting of conflict,
crisis and war” (PeCoJon, 2008). Similar initiatives include a group
of Colombian social organizations and community radio stations that
formed a peace journalism communication network designed to build
social cohesion in rural conflict areas (SIPAZ, 2008). Alongside
SIPAZ (the Sistema de Comunicación para la Paz (Communication System
for Peace)), MPP— Medios Para La Paz—serves as a network by and for
journalists to “support the responsible coverage of armed conflict
and peace efforts” through information sharing and peace journalism
training workshops in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua,
Perú, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Brasil, Venezuela y Bolivia (MPP,
Representing a different approach among the fast-emerging
practitioners of alternative journalism, the international Indymedia
outlets of the Independent Media Center offer online, citizen-based
alternatives to the content of the mainstream media. Indymedia
operate as “a collective of independent media organizations and
hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage”
(Independent Media Center, 2008). While Indymedia do not define
themselves explicitly as peace journalism outlets, their mission
echoes the goals of peace journalists: to serve as an “outlet for
the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of
Case Study: Open Broadcast Network (OBN)
its inception more than a decade ago, the Open Broadcast Network (OBN)
in Bosnia will likely be remembered as one of the most ambitious and
earliest intentional media attempts to reduce violent conflict. To
this day, it remains the only television network established to
promote the resolutions of a peace agreement. It was a product of
the Dayton Peace Agreement reached in 1995, when the Serbs, Croats
and Bosnians came under pressure to end their three-year-long
violent conflict by instituting a provisional, internationally-run
governing body (the Office of the High Representative, OHR) in
charge of peace implementation.
of OHR’s initial assessments of the Bosnian conflict was that
propaganda through the ethnic television stations was instrumental
in spreading messages of hate that incited and fueled the conflict.
Throughout the war, all three ethnic groups utilized radio and
television broadcasting to further their strategies and demonize
their opponents (Buric 2000; Sadkovich, 1998; Thompson, 1999). In
response, the OHR (supported by U.N., E.U. and U.S. administrators)
developed and promoted “unbiased media”, and a number of media
projects were created to combat persisting propaganda. An
international community expert group, headed by the Open Society
Institute of New York, developed a concept for a completely new and
impartial television network. As a result, the new national
television network (Open Broadcast Network, OBN) was launched in
1996 just a few months after the idea was introduced.
mission statement of the network was “to provide Bosnia and
Herzegovina with a locally run but national and cross-entity TV
network … and [to provide] the viewers with programming they can
trust, whether locally produced or acquired from other sources” (OHR,
1999). In the beginning there was no shortage of funds and support.
During the first year of operation, the station was given $10.2
million in funds and equipment (Poucher, 2001).
While the idea of peace journalism had not been clearly formulated
at the time of OBN’s inception, this project embodied the
philosophical construct of such practice. Developing far from the
academic sphere and amidst ongoing violence, OBN’s original mission
involved the precise postulates at the core of the discussion among
peace journalists. The theoretical assumptions fundamental to peace
journalism discourse are evident in the initial mission of the OBN
to provide news while promoting peace and reconciliation. OBN’s
chief executive officer Jenny Ranson explained the tenets of peace
journalism as they pertained to OBN:
Whether there can or should be such a thing as “peace journalism” at
all is an ongoing debate among humanitarians and academics…
[However,] in writing the OBN mission statement the problem of
maintaining independence and news objectivity was balanced with the
need to promote peace and reconciliation.
(2005, p. 15)
accordance with its unquestionably peace-oriented news philosophy,
OBN’s main news broadcast insisted on national diversity among its
journalists, and the Media Plan Institute, a local NGO, praised OBN
for news programming that emphasized stories on cooperation among
different ethnic groups. OBN often resisted the frames of war
journalism. In one specific example, OBN followed peace journalism’s
recommendations by focusing on the efforts of community leaders to
promote peace during violence in the city of Mostar (2005, p. 15).
OBN also pioneered a number of programs aimed at promoting
cross-national understanding. The program called “Telering” featured
interviews with representatives of “the other” side, and the program
“Povratak,” Return, provided practical advice about reconciliation
Although OBN’s journalists and editors did not consistently
implement all of peace journalism’s practices, OBN editors
categorically refused to employ the overt nationalistic bias of
other networks, which carried verbatim, on-air reading of partisan
press releases; coverage of parties’ bombastic press conferences;
and unedited open letters. OBN’s news and information division set
the standard for professional reporting in general by avoiding many
similar traps of war journalism, but it took few steps toward open
promotion of peaceful reconciliation. Nonetheless, given limited
international experience with the new peace journalism practice (the
U.N. peacekeeping mission launch of a similar radio project in
Cambodia and Croatia in the early 1990s offers one additional
example), the case of OBN might be considered one of the first of
the beginning, it was clear that development of this new media
organization was the domain of international administrators and
consultants. The OBN board had no local representatives. The
project’s lack of cultural sensitivity is most apparent in the
network’s own title. The media project was named Open Broadcast
Network, which is an astounding decision considering that English is
not the native language in Bosnia. Furthermore, the Open Society
representatives entrusted with the formative research were not
interested in the opinions of local Sarajevo experts. Boro Kontic, a
radio and TV producer and recipient of many prestigious
international awards, recounts his experience with this group:
in mid-1996, I was sitting with the officials of Open Society in
Bosnia, as a host to a group of foreign experts, who were on a
mission to launch a new TV network then known as TV-IN, later to be
called OBN. In reply to our persistent explanations of how much more
logical it would be to develop the new system within the existing
network TV transmitters, which had been being built for 50 years
then, we were asked not to burden our guests with our frustration.
(Udovicic et al., 2001, p.1)
same delegation of experts also visited another media practitioner,
current director of the Bosnian NGO, the Media Plan Institute, Zoran
Udovicic (2003), who was in charge of the team responsible for the
coverage of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. He offered the
services of this team to the U.S. expert group, and he recalls
receiving the following response:
the time of the visit, nine out of 12 people from the Bosnian
Olympic Broadcast team were available in Sarajevo. The head
engineer, the main expert for networking, the head manager, the
engineer who knew all the transmitters by heart because he built
them, the man who built a system for 52 local radio and television
stations before the war, etc. None of these people were even
consulted, let alone hired on the post-conflict rebuilding of
neither media nor OBN. The foreign experts came to hear what was in
place, and once they found out, they never came back.
though most local experts agreed that OBN was an excellent idea,
they believe that, from the beginning, its implementation as a
broadcasting system was founded on the wrong premises. A common
impression at the time was that the international peace brokers did
not have confidence in the local experts or the local population.
The refusal of the international community to include the local
experts in developing OBN would have significant consequences in the
future. Not only were the domestic experts familiar with the
environment, culture, and customs, the local engagement could have
been a direct investment in the region and a key to future
the other side, the international experts from the OSCE (The
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), the U.N., and
other non-governmental organizations were instrumental in developing
the media standards in support of the reconciliatory process in
Bosnia. Under this mandate, Standards for Professional Conduct for
the Media and Journalism were introduced, closely resembling some of
the basics of the peace journalism approach:
• Fair reporting – ‘accurate, complete, fair,
equitable and unbiased information.’
• Avoiding inflammatory language – ‘which encourages discrimination,
prejudice, or hatred, or which encourages violence, or contributes
to the creation of a climate in violence can occur.’
• Accurate and balanced information – ‘concerning the views and
activities of the political parties and candidates in the area’
OBN’s news programming division was envisioned as a model that could
serve as an example of the successful transformation of journalism
in Bosnia. While the standards were straightforward, the overall
mission of the network and its position in the peace process were
not as clearly defined. Much like the debate on the most appropriate
direction for peace journalism, OBN journalists contemplated the
appropriateness of their role in the peace process. Nowhere was this
more obvious than in the assessments of Jadranko Katana, the OBN
news director of information programming. While he admitted that he
often preferred to broadcast stories that emphasized a
peace-oriented narrative, he had a clear idea about what journalism
should stand for, regardless of conflict or peace:
motive of reconciliation is not an appropriate model for journalism.
The only motive is to tell what happened, without private commentary
or inclination, just raw information… Reconciliation is to be done
by somebody else: religious organizations, legal representatives,
etc. Our job is to convey the information whether you like it or
not. And that’s it. The only way to somehow approach reconciliation
was to present a neutral piece of information in the sea of
propaganda messages, information free of a particular point of view
other than journalistic standards.
Its devotion to high journalistic standards helped OBN build a
reputation as a credible and important source (Taylor 2002, Prism
Research, 2002). OBN emerged as the highly important and the most
credible news source in the capital of Sarajevo in 1998 (Prism
Research, 1998).1 In 2002, despite rumors of its closing, the
network was still considered the third most important source of
information and the second most credible (Taylor, 2002). Building on
the credibility of the network, the expectations of the transformed
media were straightforward and rather ambitious – they were meant to
produce a democratic and hopefully a peaceful environment. Zoran
Udovicic, director of the Media Plan Institute in Sarajevo, Bosnia,
explains the rationale behind the high expectations:
idea was that the international community would stop the armies from
fighting, bring 60,000 peacekeepers, make new OBN television and
FERN radio, and support about a hundred small radio and television
stations. This was supposed to bring democracy to Bosnia... They
wanted the national television system across the entire country, so
that information can be shared among the former enemies. The
information was to be free from bias and hatred, and balanced at the
same time. 80 million DM was spent on the development, but in the
election nothing had changed (2003).
addition, it was believed that adopting peace-oriented media
standards would bring an end to the old propaganda of conflict times
(war journalism). OBN was entrusted to reform existing media by
example. Belief in this transformative power rested on an assumption
that war journalism cannot survive in the environment of fair, open,
and balanced peace journalism. Thus, OBN was not only supposed to
help the audience see what fair reporting ought to look like but
also to challenge and undermine the biased war media machinery. This
terms of ratings, OBN underperformed, and its audience share
lingered around 5 percent in the market of only four major networks
(Udovicic et al., 2001). Despite the low audience share, the network
was in third place during the June through September period in 2000,
following RTVBiH with 29.9 percent, and RTRS with 11.8 percent (Jusic,
2002). The most watched OBN program in November 2001 was its nightly
news program. However, the program was in 67th place on the top TV
programs list, with an 8 percent share, according to research by the
local associate of Gallup International (Mareco Index Bosnia, 2001).
The reasons for the relatively low ratings are multiple and
ambiguous. First, the penetration of the signal to the entire
territory was lower than expected; almost 30 percent of the audience
said they were unable to receive the signal. But most importantly,
at this time the two-year-old station was in tough competition with
the three ethnic broadcasters that had long-established roots and
audiences (Prism Research, 1998). Zoran Udovicic (2003), director of
the Media Plan Institute recalls:
During the spring and summer of 1996, the main international powers
that were behind the Dayton peace agreement decided to set up an
alternative system to the national television stations which was
going to be different, much better, more democratic, and cover the
entire country. This was supposed to erase the impact of the already
existing national television stations. This is how OBN… came into
being. This is an excellent idea. What was wrong was that this was
the single effort. One isolated project never had a chance to combat
the influence of powerful national stations.
Furthermore, OBN television management overestimated the appeal of
their non-news programming content. While the station arguably had
the most reliable and professional information programming, the rest
of the programming lacked appeal. Because the bulk of the network’s
efforts and finances were invested in informational programming, the
rest of the schedule was filled with low-quality, low-appeal
programming donated by public broadcasters around the world. The
station’s CEO said OBN could not afford first-rate programming and
relied, of necessity, on B-rate movies and 20-year-old sitcoms (Ranson,
2005). According to some studies, almost 70 percent of OBN’s
programs were foreign products, such as TV series, science programs
and sports events (Udovicic, 2001). Donated entertainment shows (45
percent) and commercials (5.6 percent) filled the bulk of air time,
and the locally produced 30 percent of content was split between
information programming (news, interviews, and debates) and
station’s image was built on entertainment and documentary as well
as information programming (Udovicic, 2001). Despite its commercial
status, OBN offered more public service programming (42.5 percent
was news, educational and documentary programs) than the public
broadcasters. Nonetheless, the network’s 5 percent audience share
might be a consequence of insufficient high-quality informational
content (which amounted to about 60 minutes of the schedule a day)
while the other 23 hours lacked appealing content.
Compounding the problems of fierce competition, failing credibility,
and the lack of programming appeal, OBN never managed to compete
with the popularity of the nationalistic broadcasters in the region.
After a relatively short time, management, low ratings, and the
withdrawal of international funding led the station to an almost
complete halt. Projections indicate that $20 million was invested in
the five years before the project was abandoned (Poucher, 2001). In
2003, the station changed ownership, its infrastructure became
privatized, and it now operates as a commercial television project.
brief history of this early and partial implementation of peace
journalism in violent conflict offers the insights of an imperfect
test of media’s potential to contribute to peace development.
Clearly, the OBN project is by no means an evaluation of the broad
practice of peace journalism or a test of its potential performance.
It is instead an isolated study of one media project featuring a
unique set of circumstances. However, this experience offers an
opportunity to examine the theoretical assumptions of academic
studies of peace journalism and their intersection with the
practical implementations of projects such as the OBN. As a result,
a few assertions can be made about the feasibility and
accomplishments of this innovative practice.
While the practical implementation of the OBN project incorporated
many of the assertions from the peace journalism literature, it
significantly emphasized the relative immaturity of peace journalism
practice and an inconclusive theory. At a time when questions asked
in theory demand further discussion, the practice responded with
additional questions rather than answers. This points out that the
theory is in its infancy and it requires further elaboration. Such
broadening of inquiry should be welcomed not as a negation of
journalistic performance but as an appeal to its improvement.
The experience of OBN injects a new series of questions into
discussion of the discourse of peace journalism. The most
significant question regards adjustment of universal theoretical
assertions to unique regional contexts, media circumstances, and
conflict environments. While the dominant discourse in the
literature and subsequent practical implementation rests in the
domain of Western practices, values, and theories, a prominent
lesson of the OBN experiment is the need for flexibility to adjust
to local preferences and realities. Issues of regionalization and
localization with regard to the development, structure, and
ownership of existing media, with regard to citizen access, uses,
and dependency on such media, and with regard to economic and
political sustainability must become the domain of peace journalism
research and application.
The low ratings of OBN, compared to the ethnic broadcasters, might
be said to confirm fears of the low initial audience appeal of peace
news especially in contrast to war journalism. Further, while OBN’s
credibility outmoded the jingoistic reporting of the ethnic
broadcasters, OBN’s modeling of responsible practice neither erased
nor altered pre-existing conflict-oriented journalism. The hoped-for
rapid, broad, and permanent diffusion of the new values and
practices did not occur, and further study is needed to help
identify reasonable expectations for adoption and transfer of peace
journalism as an innovation.
Furthermore, considering the aggressively competitive media
business, the question of the financial sustainability of peace
journalism projects must be addressed from the outset. Market
strategy was not a primary concern in the foundation of OBN. The
project was funded by donations and was never forced to contemplate
eventual integration into the competitive and established media
market. In the end, OBN became a victim of a poor financial
As with the debates over peace journalism in the literature, OBN
became the terrain of wavering commitment and uncertain standards of
journalistic engagement in conflict resolution. Yet OBN also
suggests that the quest for the appropriate method of peace
journalism may be simpler than it appears. OBN journalists and
editors demonstrated that as long as primary emphasis is placed on
pursuit of the most responsible approach to news, an absolute
consensus on the unifying approach may be unnecessary. In other
words, the discussion itself may be more important than a finite,
unanimous answer on how to practice peace journalism. The ongoing
process of self-examination and self-reflexivity may just be
sufficient to keep journalists from regressing toward conflict-prone
extent to which the OBN experiment provides useful insight into the
principles of peace journalism is, in large part, a reflection of
the degree to which OBN successfully embraced the practices of peace
journalism. It is clear that OBN offered neither a complete nor a
perfect embodiment of peace journalism precepts. Yet, the OBN
experience brings to light the realities that arise when a
benevolent concept (peace-oriented media) meets malevolent
conditions (Bosnian). Despite the exigencies of management,
profit-orientation, limited budget, and somewhat unrealistic
short-term expectations, OBN did exercise the essence of peace
journalism philosophy in its news programming. At a minimum, OBN
pursued peace journalism by resisting the traps of war journalism,
but it also went further by modeling reconciliatory coverage,
ethnically integrating the newsroom, and shifting the focus of news
away from problems toward solutions.
acknowledge the shortcomings of applying the OBN experience to peace
journalism. Without a doubt, the theoretical construct of peace
journalism influenced the station’s journalistic agenda; the network
was established on and guided by the general principles of peace
journalism. However, we also understand its disengagement from both
the theoretical discussions and trainings of peace journalism.
Inexperience and inadequate journalistic education and training
imposed significant conceptual and practical limitations on OBN’s
practice of peace journalism in Bosnia. Thus, it cannot and should
not be assumed that the failure of the new peace journalistic
practices embraced by OBN caused the failure of the network. Rather,
our analysis outlines a series of critical events that contributed
to the OBN collapse. Many experts view the peace journalism model
favorably and attribute the failure of OBN to mismanaged funding,
lack of a developmental strategy, and political circumstances.
with all media, the structure of OBN— its organization, logistics,
procedures, and political context— carried significant weight in
shaping the journalistic operation. At OBN and elsewhere, the real
execution of (peace) journalism depends to a great degree upon the
severity of both internal and external obstacles. Some obstacles
(direct violence, ownership philosophy, financial sustainability,
journalistic education and training, etc.) evidenced in Bosnia may
be, to differing degrees, both global and endemic. If so, the most
prominent lesson of the OBN foray into peace journalism may be to
acknowledge that conditions on the ground—including the demands of
commercial profitability—are likely the most important contributor
to any practice of peace journalism. If so, OBN does not provide an
optimistic example. However, it remains to be seen whether a more
careful, deliberate, and financially stable experiment in peace
journalism could experience greater success and long-term viability.
Emerging peace journalism experiences in Colombia and the
Philippines, to name only two, give reason for hope and suggest that
dedicated individuals can bring peace journalism to the fore despite
the most severe structural constraints.
second, and obvious, lesson to be gleaned from the OBN example is
the all-too-familiar assertion that journalism as a practice can
benefit from the analysis and the critique outlined by theorists,
academicians, and researchers. The normative assumptions and myths
that guide the everyday routines of journalism would benefit from
close evaluation and revision. The taken-for-granted of the
journalistic enterprise needs to be unpacked and reassembled if
journalism is to serve the needs of people to receive fair, full,
and accurate information in a context that gives meaning and
empowers the people to act. Such a re-construction of journalism
does not blindly advocate peace at all costs; rather, it opens the
door to peace as an opportunity and to reconciliation as a human
Finally, though, the OBN experiment demonstrates that peace
journalism as a rhetorical exercise needs to grapple more
effectively with the significant direct and structural threats to
thoughtful practice in the midst of a violent world. As in most
attempts at change, moving beyond denial is a critical first step.
Thus, it is encouraging that journalists are aware of government
control and spin of war coverage and have become somewhat
self-critical about press participation in propaganda efforts (Hoijer,
Nohrstedt & Ottosen, 2002, p. 7). The dominance of the discourse of
compassion among audience members is also a potential resource for
those seeking to transform media coverage toward praxis of peace. As
demonstrated by the fleeting and partial success of OBN, the news
media can play a role in expanding and possibly transforming the
OBN experience suggests the very real potential for professional
journalists to expand their narrative vision to challenge
acculturated story lines and to reflect a reality in which
difference is not inherently threatening, conflict is not
inevitable, and violence is not the logical and necessary means to
resolve difference. The commercial viability of such a project
remains to be seen, and the future of peace journalism remains to be
written. Today that future is being written every day around the
globe by dozens of journalism networks such as Indymedia and PeCoJon,
hundreds of media initiatives from NGOs and civil society
organizations like Sweden’s Kvinna till Kvinna (Woman to Woman), and
thousands of journalists striving individually and independently to
remake media to serve the needs of the people. Those stories
tomorrow will provide the necessary data for a fuller analysis of
the power and limitations of peace journalism.
1 It is important to note that the better educated and
ethnically more diverse audiences in the state capital, Sarajevo,
were likely to be more open to this kind of message than rural
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About the Authors
Bratic is assistant professor of media and
communications at Hollins University. He is the author of several
academic papers and reports on the role of the media in conflict and
peace. He graduated from the Faculty of Pedagogy and Philosophy at
the Palacky University in the Czech Republic. He obtained a Master's
degree in International Relations and a PhD in Mass Communication
from Ohio University. He can be reached at:
Dr. Susan Ross is an associate professor
in the Murrow School of Communication. A member of the
State University faculty since 1996, she earned her master’s degree
in journalism from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,
and doctorate from the College of Journalism and Communications at
the University of Florida. Her research seeks to increase the
likelihood that media will advance global equality, peace, and
justice. Dr. Ross recently was awarded a Fulbright Scholar Grant to
conduct research and teach at the University of the Aegean in Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece, during the 2004-05 academic year. She also
is the founder and director of AccessNorthwest, an organization
dedicated to increased access to government information and the
maintenance of citizen oversight of the governments that serve them
in the Pacific Northwest. Before joining WSU, Dr. Ross taught future
journalists and trained graduate students at the University of North
Carolina and the University of Florida. She has developed and
directed state, national, and international research initiatives for
nearly two decades. She can be reached at:
Hyeonjin Kang, Washington State
University, 215 Murrow, Pullman, WA 99164. Email: