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Media/communications on peacebuilding/social cohesion/changing prevailing narratives on conflict

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Based on the available literature, what lessons can be learned from interventions on media/communications for development, focused on peacebuilding/building social cohesion/changing prevailing narratives on conflict?


The media can play a positive role in peacebuilding/conflict prevention. Recognition of this has led to increasing programmes on media/communications and peacebuilding, with common interventions including training of journalists, and development of pro-peace programme content. However, there are significant challenges in designing and implementing such programmes, and even more in evaluation. While some interventions have generated positive results (e.g. reduced election-related violence), evidence is limited and it is hard to make causal links between interventions and impact. This highlights the need for more research.

This review draws on a mixture of academic papers and grey literature. The literature was largely gender-blind and made no mention of persons with disabilities. The term ‘media’ in this report refers to both mass media (television, radio, newspapers) and to social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, online blogs) because today both are used as sources or tools of news and information (Betz, 2018: 2). ‘Peacebuilding’ is defined as ‘a process that facilitates the establishment of durable peace and tries to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political as well as economic transformation’. In this review peacebuilding is taken in the wider sense to include conflict prevention as well as post-conflict restoration of peace.


  • The media can serve as a driver of peace in diverse ways: building bridges between people and groups; improving governance; increasing knowledge of complex issues; providing early warning of potential conflicts; as an outlet to express emotions; and as a motivator for action to promote peace.

  • Types of media/communication interventions for peacebuilding can also be very diverse, including: media monitoring; media professionalization programmes; peace journalism training; international broadcasting; promotion of an enabling legal and regulatory environment; using media to convey peacebuilding messages; citizen journalism initiatives; and crowdsourcing initiatives to collect and share information. The type of intervention will depend on the context, in particular on the stage of the ‘conflict cycle’.

  • Key actors involved in media/communication and peacebuilding programming include: NGOs, e.g. Internews, Search for Common Ground and Intermedia; international broadcasters, e.g. BBC World Service, Voice of America; and tech-oriented organizations, e.g. Frontline SMS, Ushahidi.

  • A number of challenges are faced in carrying out such interventions: willingness and interests of media owners; lack of readership/viewership for peace stories compared to those on violence and conflict; reluctance by journalists on the grounds that the media should be objective; resource constraints; legal and regulatory restrictions; and lack of media outreach.

  • Evaluation of media/communications interventions for peacebuilding is particularly challenging: outcomes are not clearly defined and benefits are hard to measure directly; conducting research can be difficult and dangerous; and it is difficult to attribute solely to the media/communication intervention when other factors are likely involved.


With regard to evidence of impact/effectiveness of media/communication and peacebuilding interventions, key findings of this review are as follows:

  • Evidence reviews: A 2014 review (Schoemaker & Stremlau) of the contribution of media in war to peace transitions and the role of new ICTs found insufficient evidence to prove these. Gagliardone et al (2015) reviewed and compared literature on the role of ICTs in state-building and peacebuilding in Africa. They too found that empirical evidence on the successful use of ICTs was thin. A 2016 Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) commissioned by DFID looked at a range of interventions, including media and communications interventions, to prevent or mitigate armed violence in developing and middle-income countries (Cramer et al, 2016). It found no overall consistent body of evidence, but the findings suggest that radio, TV programming and digital media can positively affect people’s attitudes towards ‘others’.

  • Kenya – Training of journalists in peace journalism as well as a range of peace interventions carried out by the media themselves contributed to a marked reduction in election-related violence in the 2013 elections compared to those in 2007.

  • Nigeria – Radio programmes on governance issues (an intervention funded by DFID and implemented by BBC Media Action) led to citizens being better able to challenge officials, resolve conflicts and participate in civic life. Training of journalists in peace journalism in the run-up to the 2015 elections enabled the media to play a big role in sensitising the public on the need to eschew violence, leading to largely non-violent elections. The Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) achieved some positive impacts in strengthening peace architecture, broadening societal participation in peacebuilding, and positively influencing policy and practice in the conflict arena to reduce violence, but the sustainability of its effects was uncertain.

  • Burundi – Studio Ijambo was established by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in Burundi in March 1995. It is an ethnically balanced team of journalists producing radio programmes (notably soap operas) to promote dialogue, peace, and reconciliation. Studio Ijambo’s programmes are widely listened to and appreciated, and have led to people changing their behaviour towards other ethnic groups, as well as pushing on governance issues.

  • Rwanda – In post-genocide Rwanda, a radio soap opera – Musekeweya (‘New Dawn’) was introduced, to teach listeners about the roots of violence, the importance of independent thought, and the dangers of excessive deference to authority. A study found it had shifted perceived norms of open expression and local responsibility for community problems, but attitudes toward interaction across social lines were resistant to change.

  • Bosnia – Post-conflict (after the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement) various media projects were undertaken, including a three-part campaign to support the repatriation of refugees and return of property. It featured public service announcements, billboards, posters, leaflets, etc. targetingrefugees and the wider public. An evaluation of the campaign found messages came across clearly, and it achieved its main goals of raising awareness and provoking thought on the issue.

  • Nepal – A number of media assistance programmes have been implemented in Nepal, including a reality show aimed at building trust between police and communities, campaigns for media freedom, provision of media support related to elections, support for post-earthquake accountability reporting and capacity building, and a weekly radio and TV governance programme. Some of these initiatives and activities have shown success in bringing about change regarding governance and accountability issues.


Recommendations for development practitioners are as follows: include the role of the media in context and conflict analysis; consider the interaction between local information systems and global media networks and audiences; know and understand the audience; give voice to all people – including the most marginalised and excluded – from the outset; promote regulatory reform of the media as part of peace settlements and their implementation; ensure the safety of media workers; ensure that interventions apply the ‘do no harm’ principle; and build linkages with other peacebuilding and state-building institutions.

This review highlights the lack of evidence showing causal impact of media interventions. More research is needed, particularly on: changes over time and in different contexts; other factors influencing impacts; how interventions and impact are linked; the role played by different forms of communication/media channels; the role that media and technology play in hybrid spaces of governance; and from a wider range of geographic contexts (much of the available evidence is focused on Africa).