Peace journalism revisited: local and foreign conflict coverage in Kenya


Peace journalism (PJ) is a framework intending to improve conflict coverage by challenging traditional news values. First presented in the 1970s by Johan Galtung, the notion is oriented towards peace, truth, people and solutions. In recent years, journalism has undergone radical changes in how it is practiced and conceived. While the original PJ conception raised many important issues, it soon fossilized into a core set of normative parameters that are not very productive for understanding the increasingly diverse ways in which journalism is currently practiced.

Discussions on the need for PJ training have been more prominent in regions of Africa, since Western media coverage of that continent has been constantly criticized for being scarce and negative (Nothias 2014, 326). Thus, revisiting this concept with an African context is highly relevant.

This study focuses on whether and, if so, how aspects of PJ were manifested in the Kenyan and international coverage of two key violent events in Kenya’s recent history: the 2017 electoral violence and 2019 Dusit attack. A mixed-methods approach combines a content analysis of 257 articles from 10 quality newspapers from Kenya, United States, United Kingdom and South Africa with 14 interviews with journalists involved in the production of those texts. The relevance of this paper thus lies not only in analysing journalistic productions but also in including the perceptions and understandings of the reporters involved.

The analysis shows that aspects linked to PJ are far from prevailing in the sample. And, while the interviews exposed a complete lack of knowledge of PJ in the case of foreign correspondents, they did reveal an understanding of the concept from Kenyan reporters; but this understanding fundamentally differed from the Galtung model.

The study of the Kenyan cases underscores the need for revising and updating the notion of PJ. Being a global profession, journalism varies in each country and context (Hanusch & Hanitzsch 2017). Instead of a one-size-fits-all model, PJ should be rethought as a more complex conceptualization that mirrors the diversity of present-day journalism, for instance, considering the role that social media play. Despite a strong focus on training and practice over the last 20 years, PJ still exists primarily as a theoretical concept. However, taking constraints and specific characteristics of diverse circumstances into account may help bridge the gap between academia and practicing journalists through a framework that is more flexible, nuanced and possible to relate to practice.