Journalists, diplomats, academics and civil society representatives shared their views on the status of the Israel-Palestine conflict, ways to end the occupation – now in its fiftieth year – and media coverage of those efforts, during the 2017 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, co organized by the United Nations and held in Vienna from 5 to 6 October.
Opening the event, Alison Smale, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said that every year, the seminar was an annual reminder that the ‘Question of Palestine was unresolved. “It reminds us that media can be as much a part of the problem, as it can be part of the solution,” she said. One of its main objectives is to sensitize public opinion to that fact, as well as to promote dialogue and understanding.
Organized by the UN Department of Public Information and the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue under the theme “Media Narratives and Public Perceptions,” the seminar featured four panel discussions in which participants explored themes of bias, objectivity, truth and the role of both social and traditional media in framing the political issues that mattered most to Palestinians and Israelis.
They also reviewed the impacts of 50 years of occupation, looking at whether past methods employed to bring parties to the negotiation table were viable today amid shifting politics, perceptions and access to authentic stories that shed light on daily realities. A panel on empathy as an alternative way to seek peace garnered particular attention, with some advocating it as a low-cost powerful option for diplomacy, and others viewing it as ineffective in creating equal footing between the parties.
“As journalists and communications professionals, you have a deep knowledge of the importance of fair, balanced and pluralistic news, said John Brandolino, Director of the Division for Treaty Affairs of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Journalism enriched the world, and agreement on its principles – including news values – could unite media across borders, cultures and experiences. By examining media narratives, and the role of empathy, the seminar would support that aspect of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said.
“We must not let today’s stagnation in the peace process lead to tomorrow’s escalation”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message read out by Ms. Smale. The two-State solution was the only way forward and must be urgently pursued. “We at the United Nations will do everything we can to work in that direction.”
David Dadge, Spokesperson for the Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna, said reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict was among the most heavily scrutinized coverage in the world. Irrespective of experience or political persuasion, journalists faced routine criticism. The 1,254 who had been killed since 1992 was a painful reminder that “whatever the colour of your reporting […] journalism can be a very dangerous deadly business.”