Mediating Post-Conflict Dialogue: The Media's Role in Transitional Justice Processes

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Publication Information

Lisa J. Laplante & Kelly Phenicie, Mediating Post-Conflict Dialogue: The Media's Role in Transitional Justice Processes, 93 Marq. L. Rev. 251 (2009)

Source Publication

93 Marquette Law Review 251 (2009)


For many post-conflict countries like Peru, the end of gunfire does not necessarily imply an end to internal conflict. Remaining post-conflict societal friction may even be as threatening to long-lasting peace as the war itself. This situation may be attributed, in part, to the media’s failure to adequately mediate conflicting views of a country’s history—its causes and consequences, its villains and heroes. Certainly, newspapers, radio, and television, as well as the newly emerging micromedia (e.g., e-mail) and middle media (e.g., web logs or “blogs”), reach huge audiences on a daily basis before, during, or after conflict. As primary information sources in a democracy, these news outlets affect not only society’s impression of what news and issues should receive attention, but also the perception of this information. Given the great role that the media plays in shaping public opinion, it merits careful discussion.

Certainly, the process of how a country transitions towards a peaceful democracy after episodes of political violence has earned significant and increasing attention and has even become its own field of study—transitional justice. Up until now, the theory of transitional justice has offered a standard formula consisting of a combination of restorative and retributive justice through truth commissions, trials of human rights violators, and reform of political and legal institutions. These measures aim to foster reconciliation—a form of ongoing conflict resolution and management—among not only opposing sides to the conflict, but also the citizens caught in their crossfire.

Despite the plethora of academic and scholarly literature in the transitional justice field, the role and influence that the media has in these processes remain largely unexplored. In response, this Article examines the weight of the media’s impact on both societies in conflict and societies in post-conflict transition settings, including coverage of truth commission work and criminal trials. It explores the case of Peru to show how media coverage of transitional justice processes, and the dialogue that ensues, can promote or hinder national reconciliation in post-conflict settings. The Article contends that if reconciliation lays the foundation for preventing new cycles of violence, then transitional justice theory must begin considering how to attend to the media so that it exerts a positive influence on post-conflict recovery. To initiate this new direction in the field, the Article examines the media through two important lenses: first, the way in which the media disseminates information about transitional justice mechanisms such as truth commissions and trials, and the impact that this reporting has on increasing or decreasing local tensions; and second, how media institutions play a role in conflict and thus must be held accountable and subject to reform in transitional justice settings to ensure sustainable and peaceful democracies.