‘Solutions Journalism’ Offers Press More Constructive Role in Covering Conflict, Panellists Say as International Media Seminar on Middle East Peace Concludes
Media experts called for the broader application of solutions journalism — an approach focusing on problem-solving responses — in reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the 2021 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East concluded today.
Organized by the United Nations Department of Global Communications and moderated by Nanette Braun, Chief of the Department’s Communications Campaigns Service, the Seminar took place virtually over two days, bringing together diplomats, journalists, media experts and youth representatives from around the world. Today’s panel discussion, featuring three panellists, explored the theme “Solutions journalism in the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict”. (For the previous day’s coverage, see Press Release PAL/2241.)
Dina Aboughazala, the founder of Egab — a platform specializing in solutions journalism in the Middle East and North Africa — outlined the four pillars of that approach, stating that a solutions story focuses on a response and provides rigorous evidence of how solutions are working. It offers insight, making the response relevant to other situations. It also reveals limitations, as there are no perfect solutions. With fewer solutions-based stories coming out of the occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank than from Israel, she stressed the need to correct that imbalance, emphasizing that solutions journalism helps each side to see the perspectives of the other and enables the media to portray each side in a new light.
Eetta Prince-Gibson, former Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, stressed the critical importance of defining problems in specific terms and articulating them clearly. Suggesting that such concepts as “the conflict” or “the occupation” be broken down into solvable components, she said there should be examples of similar problems facing other religious groups in conflict. She also emphasized the need for training, calling on academia, particularly schools of journalism, to play a constructive role.
Daoud Kuttab, Director General of the Community Media Network, said solutions journalism, unlike “peace journalism”, does not veer away from the first fundamental of journalism, which is to seek truth. Stories must conclude with solutions, “not singular but plural”, he stressed, adding that options must be presented along with their associated economic, political, financial and cultural costs. He hopes to see more solutions-based stories on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but journalists must have humility and understand that the crisis cannot be resolved by them.
Panel II: Solutions journalism for the Israel-Palestine conflict
Moderated by Nanette Braun, Chief of Communications Campaigns Service in the Strategic Communications Division of the Department of Global Communications, the Seminar’s second panel discussion explored the theme “Solutions journalism in the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict”. It featured the following panellists: Dina Aboughazala, Founder of the media start-up Egab and former senior journalist with BBC Monitoring; Daoud Kuttab, Director General of Community Media Network; and Eetta Prince-Gibson, former Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report.
Ms. BRAUN highlighted the role of media in reporting on solutions, instead of focusing on bad news. Audiences want to see examples of how problems can be overcome and how they impact their lives, she said, noting that solutions journalism seeks to inspire hope. Today’s panel discussion will explore how solutions journalism can be practiced and even thrive in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr. KUTTAB said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great subject upon which solutions journalism can be experimented. Noting that the problem is that journalists are trained to go after bad news, he voiced his disagreement with a view that the public is tired of bad news. Indeed, it loves bad news, prompting the media to continue publishing it. What he likes about solutions journalism is that, unlike peace journalism, it does not veer away from the first fundamental of journalism, which is to seek truth. Stories must conclude with solutions, “not singular but plural”, he stressed, adding that options must be presented along with their associated economic, political, financial and cultural costs. He advocated for more journalists practicing solutions journalism, which has not often been seen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ms. PRINCE-GIBSON said she is not familiar with how solutions journalism is being applied to conflict, but solutions journalism can draw a lesson from a problem that has been dealt with elsewhere. People tend to think the problem they are experiencing is unique to them, but similar problems can in fact be found elsewhere. Describing “compassion fatigue”, she said she does not know what audiences want any longer. Defining problems in specific terms and articulating them is critical, she said, suggesting that “the conflict” or “the occupation” be broken down into solvable components. There should also be examples of similar problems facing religious groups in conflict.
Ms. ABOUGHAZALA, outlining the four pillars of solutions journalism, said a solutions story focuses on a response and provides rigorous evidence of how solutions are working. It offers insight, making the response relevant to other situations. It also reveals limitations, as there are no perfect solutions. Citing the importance of drawing on past lessons of conflict resolution — including in South Africa — she also urged a closer look inside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has been 20 years since a two-State solution was first laid out. That is enough time to assess how it is working, what insights can be drawn and what its limitations are. However, narratives have remained the same on both sides, and there is the need to bring in new ones. Citing statistics from the United States-based Solutions Journalism Network, she pointed out that fewer solutions stories are coming out of Gaza and the West Bank than from Israel. She went on to stress the need to correct that imbalance, emphasizing that solutions journalism helps each side to see the perspectives of the other and also enables the media to portray each side in a new light.
Ms. BRAUN then asked the panellists to elaborate on what can be done to promote solutions journalism.
Ms. PRINCE-GIBSON underscored the importance of training, which will give journalists the tools and courage needed to face naysayers in their communities. They should also feel safe, not accused of collaboration. Journalists can find places in society or the world where the solutions approach can be practiced, which requires funding and frameworks.
Ms. ABOUGHAZALA said the first step is to have good training. Though Solutions Journalism Network has monthly seminars and offer various resources in English, a lack of credible information in Arabic remains a problem. Her media startup, Egab, offers training for non-English-speaking journalists. Noting that writers who publish their solutions stories with the Solutions Journalism Network can act as “champions” in their communities to train other journalists, she said good examples are crucial to convincing skeptics. It is also important to investigate solutions, instead of just promoting them. Cautioning against the oversimplification of complex narratives, she said journalists can help bridge the gaps between conflicting parties by presenting complexity that leads to a deeper understanding of each side’s position.
Mr. KUTTAB said he believes in solutions journalism, but journalism cannot solve problems. At the end of the day, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved by journalists. Emphasizing that members of the media need a little bit of humility, he said comparison between media in Israel and Palestine is not meaningful because the former has a thriving industry while the latter is just a group of individuals. In that context, he hopes to see international media practice solutions journalism, as they have money and resources that local media do not.
Ms. ABOUGHAZALA said that while journalists cannot resolve conflicts and other global challenges, they can fix the problems in their own industry. That is what she is trying to do.
Panellists were then asked to share useful tools and resources on solutions journalism.
Ms. PRINCE-GIBSON, stressing the importance of creating space for practitioners to learn from each other, drew attention to “O2O2”, a service that translates articles from Arabic into Hebrew and vice versa.
Ms. ABOUGHAZALA cited the Solutions Journalism Network and the Constructive Institute in Denmark as useful resources, as well as Egab for Arabic speakers. Only by building up the capacity of journalists can the media industry change. Stressing that laws and policies are important, she said it is the journalists who manifest them in practice.
Asked about the role of academia, Ms. PRINCE-GIBSON said schools of journalism do not teach students how to deal with the reality and complexity of the situation on the ground. Pointing out that many young writers are freelancers, who therefore miss opportunities for mentoring, she said it is important to create forums for young journalists. Academia can play a key role in creating such spaces.
Ms. BRAUN, quoting David Bornstein of the Solutions Journalism Network, said: “The biggest potential corruption of solutions journalism is if it devolves into a kind of ‘good news’ or ‘feel good’ product, rather than a source of problem-solving knowledge grounded in rigorous, critical reporting.” On the question of neutrality, she said critics of solutions journalism have voiced concerns about potential bias and advocacy in reporting.
On that point, Ms. ABOUGHAZALA said those types of bias are not true examples of solutions journalism, but rather “solutions imposters”. There are also many inspiring stories about individuals, but they are not solutions stories.
Ms. PRINCE-GIBSON said journalists who practice the solutions approach are promoting ideas to make the world a better place and, in that sense, are “advocates” for solutions.