Constructive News for Conflict and Reconstruction


Media coverage of terrorism in the 21st
Century has been dominated by ‘war on terror’ discourses in the US, UK and the Middle East media, presenting a limited view of the causes and context of violence with limited focus on the potential for solutions (Atanasova, 2019; Kassimeris & Jackson, 2011; Sahill, 2018). However, few have examined media coverage in sub-Saharan Africa despite significant terrorism-related activities since at least 1998. Since Kenya's incursion into Somalia in 2011, the Somali-based Alshabaab militant group have frequently waged attacks in Kenya, killing hundreds and destroying property. Terrorism and counter-terrorism incidents have led to the demonizing and dehumanizing of certain communities based on religion, social strata and political affiliations. The media in Kenya have predominantly focused on the perpetrators and carnage, with graphic pictures and descriptions of the attacks dominating coverage of the incidents. Meanwhile, constructive journalism (CJ) research suggests that by focusing less on the violent aspects of terrorism and more on long-term analysis and solution-oriented reporting, the media can contribute to reconstruction and reconciliation. Applying elements of positive psychology such as positive emotion, engagement and meaning through focusing on good relationships and achievements, CJ calls upon journalists to work together towards improving society (McIntyre & Gyldensted, 2018). Thus, CJ describes a range of practices which include peace, contextual, restorative and solutions journalism (McIntyre & Sobel, 2018). Previous studies have applied this theory to reconciliation and reconstruction in Rwanda (ibid), Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 (Rodgers, 2017), development in the Caribbean and Croatia (Kovacevic & Perisin, 2018; Rotmeijer, 2018) and domestic terrorism in the US (Tenore, 2015). This study focuses on Kenya by examining coverage of two events – the Garissa University Attack (2015) and the Riverside Attack (2019) – and comparing the news reporting with alternative approaches provided for within CJ frameworks (Curry, 2014; Fink & Schudson, 2014; Shinar, 2009; Tenore, 2015). It consists of a content analysis of the news coverage of the two events in the most read national newspaper, Daily Nation for the 3 days following each attack and then a comparative analysis to examine evidence of alternative coverage according to CJ practice, focusing in particular on peace and solutions-oriented frames in the sample (Curry, et al 2016; Galtung, 2003; Riffe, 2019). The study finds that while the media in Kenya has the potential to strategically reconfigure reporting towards CJ practice around terrorism, the news language utilized in Kenyan media remains problematic for reconstruction due to the linguistic tools (such as metaphors and similes) used in reference to the atrocities (Marthoz, 2017; Media Council of Kenya, 2014). The discussion outlines the potential for alternative media practices in Constructive Journalism frameworks and its usefulness in managing representations of terrorism in Kenya. This study will benefit practitioners, researchers and teachers of journalism in illustrating some alternative methods that the media can use to manage conflict towards building more peaceful co-existence.