My Films

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thesis Summary: How new media contributes to peacebuilding

For those of you who have expressed an interest in reading my thesis, instead of making you suffer through 111 pages, I suggest reading this summary:

New Media Technology: The Next Platform in Peacebuildling Dialgoue


Nishikura, Megumi

In today's modern industrialized world, it is nearly impossible for one to go through the day with out watching television, hearing the radio, or getting an email with latest viral video attached from a friend. Media is pervasive; people today live in a society where they are plugged and receiving information seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. With the development of global news media giants such as CNN over the last twenty years, news reports are up to the minute and can be delivered to your latest mobile device. Since the development of the Internet, more and more people are tuning to it for their sources of information. With the click of a button one has thousands of sources of information on the same topic. The Internet also allows anyone to participate in public discourse on issues and influence policies and political decisions.

Media is ultimately a tool that conveys information. It can be used both for good and for ill. It can fan the flames of the conflict or aid in conflict prevention and resolution. Radio transmitters and television stations have been used to induce conflict. The most famous example of this is the “Hate Radio” in Rwanda in 1994. Radio Mille Collines ignited the Rwanda Genocide- nearly a million people were killed in the span of 100 days. However, media has been used to bring people together instead of dividing them. In the 1980's a new form of communication emerged. It brought people together from across the globe and allowed them to exchange their feelings, concerns and thoughts. This technology was the satellite television exchange called Spacebridges. During the height of the Cold War, Spacebridges brought everyday Americans and Soviets together, bypassing their heads of state, to have a conversation with the "other" side.

Today's technology, the Internet and the increasingly ease of posting videos on-line is allowing for a new break through in communication. The social networking aspect of web 2.0 is allowing more people to interact and dialogue with each other than ever before. Add peacebuilding media that addresses some of humanity's most pressing global issues, and people gain knowledge, begin to question and dialogue—the basis of any significant social change. The growth of Internet has also allowed for alternative media to contribute and increase the diversity and perspectives of information.

Media for conflict resolution and peacebuilding is a relatively new field. Much of the research that has been done thus far has focused on media democracy, information communication technology, peace journalism, and peace-building media in developing nations. The focus of my thesis is a case study on a media organization that is taking advantage of this new media technology to dialogue between people from opposite sides of a conflict.

Chat the Planet, a New York based media organization, has being using media as tool to bring young people from around the world together. The programs Chat the Planet produces connects young people to talk about “everything from politics, prejudices and war to sex, music and life in general” (, 2008). Since its beginning in 2002, Chat has evolved along with new media technology to provide the latest cutting-edge way of communication and dialogue between youth beyond the borders of nations, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Using satellite and ISDN video link-up technology, Chat the Planet connected groups of young people in studio settings from opposite sides of the world to have conversations with each other.

Their latest project, Hometown Baghdad is a documentary web-series which follows the lives of three 20-some-year-old Iraqis, capturing their every day lives intimately as they live under the US occupation in Baghdad, Iraq. Originally, Chat the Planet aimed to have the Hometown Baghdad air as a television program and approached the major networks for funding and distribution. However, they were turned down time and time again. The networks reasoned that the American public was over-saturated with news from Iraq and that audiences would find the show boring. With limited budget and time constraints, Chat the Planet began uploading the documentary videos to YouTube on the fourth anniversary of the War on Iraq.

Hometown Baghdad succeeded in building bridges between youth of the opposite sides of the US- Iraq war by providing a virtual space where they could dialogue, debate and build friendships with each other. Chat the Planet choose upper-middle class English speaking non-devout Muslims to resonate with US viewers. The participants selected for Hometown Baghdad were Adel, an aspiring rock star, Ausama, a 20 year old medical student, and Saif, a 23 year old recent college graduate in dentistry. The stories of these three young men were told through webisodes-short vignettes of about two to three minutes.

Chat the Planet's objectives for Hometown Baghdad were to: Humanize the people of Iraq for a global young adult audience ages 18-34, thereby changing attitudes and stereotypes of negativity and fear; educate through storytelling of what young people are all about in Iraq; demonstrate through storytelling that we all have far more in common than different; leverage media and technology to foster dialogue amongst young adults around the world, showcasing the topic of everyday life in a war zone. The videos were uploaded three times a week to and various other video-sharing sites. Chat discovered that by creating weekly compelling video content they were able to build a dedicated viewership. The video-sharing websites provided a count the number of views. The comments function of Youtube allowed the audience to give feedback on the content of the show and provided qualitative data of the show's impact. The results show that the Hometown Baghdad videos have been viewed about 3 Million times and hundreds of comments left on the Hometown Baghdad blog and various websites.

Through the 38 episodes, Hometown Baghdad addressed hard topics such as US troops, safety and security, and democracy and liberation. The day to day challenges such as lack of electricity, garbage disposal, and transportation were also shown. Chat the Planet, knowing how to best reach young people, also covered issues such as dating, student life, and smoking shisha. The two to three minute length of each webisode played a key role in getting viewers to leave comments and participate in dialogue with the cast as viewers are more likely to leave comments after watching a two to three minute video than getting bored watching a longer video and moving on to something else.

Through analyzing the comments left on, I found that Chat the Planet was able to reach its objectives. It generated conversations in the mainstream media as well as in the blogosphere. Viewers began to dialogue with each other on the blog by writing comments and asking questions. The three cast members, Adel, Ausama and Saif and other Iraqi participants responded to their inquiries. As a result, friendships, new understanding, and changes in attitudes occurred. The success Chat the Planet received both quantitatively and qualitatively resulted in television networks knocking on their door. After distributing their content online for free, they successfully sold a one-hour version of Hometown Baghdad to the Sundance Channel and National Geographic Channel. Hometown Baghdad has also recently won three Webby Awards- the Academy Awards equivalent of the Internet awards. Chat is planning to continue this dialogue and distribution model in upcoming productions of Hometown Tehran and Hometown Jerusalem.

So how does new media technology contribute to peacebuilding? Through the tools of new media- blogging, streaming-video, and social networking- people are connecting around common interests regardless of geographic location. When applied to the context of people from opposite sides of conflict, several things occur. First, alternative perspective and new information unavailable in mainstream media is presented. Second, previously held stereotypes are broken down and the parties are humanized. Thirdly, transformation in attitudes can occur. Fourthly, in some cases apologies and condolences are offered- a vital step in reconciliation of conflict. And finally, through ongoing conversations between the two sides friendships are formed.

New media does not offer a panacea to conflict. Once again it is merely a tool that can be use for good or for ill. It also is not with out its limitations- this particular case can not replace face to face mediated dialogue between two parties and is only beneficiary to those who speak English and have a fast internet connection. However, it is incredibly encouraging to see the potential that it holds. It is my hope that Hometown Baghdad will serve as model for future opportunities to connect people around the world in the name of peace.

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