Media ethics in the Nagorny Karabakh context

Last month we organised a residential training course in Tbilisi for 13 Armenian and Azerbaijani media professionals on journalism ethics and experiences of working across borders in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict.

Societies affected by the Nagorny Karabakh conflict remain divided by closed borders and are increasingly isolated from one another. Media actors on different sides have little contact and, as tensions escalate around the conflict, war rhetoric and enemy images dominate the media.

This course was important because it gave the journalists and editors a rare chance to explore ethical issues and challenge their own practices in conflict reporting in a joint setting. This included creative group work on relevant conflict case studies and debates on media misrepresentation of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. A highlight was the final session, during which three mixed groups of Armenian and Azerbaijani participants developed competing coverage of incidents on the frontline – observing the ethical principles discussed – and presented their ideal conflict coverage to the group.

Participants also learned first-hand about cross-divide peacebuilding activities from experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorny Karabakh who are involved in our comparative learning project. An open atmosphere allowed for animated discussions. In getting to know key local peacebuilding actors, the journalists uncovered new sources of information on efforts for peace that are taking place at the civil society level as well as inspiration for cross-border media initiatives. The experts, for their part, welcomed more coverage of their joint work, as this would increase understanding and support for peacebuilding in their societies and promote greater tolerance.

Some of the media professionals taking part had limited experience of cross-conflict activities, while others had taken part in previous events such as the journalists’ study programme organised by Alert in Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2013.

Several of the journalists shared their experience of the course with audiences in the South Caucasus, Turkey and Russia through articles and blogs on mainstream media websites. Reflecting on the event, one participant wrote that “training programmes like this one help us prevent counter-productive escalation in the media and find ways to deliver news in the tough context of the conflict without offending people on the other side”. Another commented that “communication helps us to leave aside stereotypes and recognise individual people on the other side of the divide”.

An informal discussion group has been set up for the participants to continue developing professional links made at the event, share information and discuss topics of common interest.

This event was organised as part of our ongoing work with journalists reporting on the Nagorny Karabakh conflict. We plan to continue facilitating professional development and cross-border collaboration among journalists reporting on the conflict and supporting links between mainstream media and the peacebuilding sector in the region.

This project is supported by the EU as part of the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorny Karabakh (EPNK).