Research by Professor Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob of the School of Arts and Sciences has appeared in the latest issue of War & Society, an international peer-reviewed journal. Based on research carried out with part-funding from the British Institute in Eastern Africa, the paper, “Transforming Conflicts with Information: Impacts of UN Peace Radio Programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo”, examines the nature and impacts of elements of the UN Mission’s public information operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A matched randomization technique was used to assign people in four towns in the DRC to listen to selected radio programs on the UN mission radio, Radio Okapi. After 13 months of exposure, listeners participated in a range of focus group discussions to talk about the causes and ways of ending the war in eastern DRC.
Findings show that contents of Gutahuka, a radio program produced by the UN public information unit, encouraged Rwandan Hutu combatants to disarm and return to Rwanda. The program also has contents that are potentially harmful in nature. This is because Congolese civilians who listened to the program showed apathy towards Rwandan Hutus in general, including their civilian neighbors not involved in the fighting. By calling on Hutu fighters to return to Rwanda, the paper thus argues, the UN radio program unwittingly associates Rwandan Hutus in general with the crises in eastern Congo. This, combined with the politics of citizenship in the DRC, contributes to avoidable ethnic tensions within the society. Audiences that listened to another program, Dialogue Entre Congolese, an audience participation magazine program, produced by the Swiss-based Hirondelle Foundation and broadcast on the same Radio Okapi, showed a more holistic knowledge of the causes of the Congolese conflict, associating the crises with issues of governance, economic opportunities, and opportunities for personal development.
The paper thus argues that hate contents are not only ones that are overtly hateful. Messages targeted at specific groups for the purpose of achieving behavioral change can lead to alienation and hostility towards the target group by the other (non-target) groups exposed to the same contents. The implication is that media intervention contents that purvey a narrative without first understanding how it interacts with local epistemic narratives, metaphors, and historical realities, run the risk of deepening rifts between groups and escalating a conflict. Another implication is that contextually associated individuals or social groups do not always have the same interpretation, perception, or decoding of media messages.
Commenting further on the research, which was conducted while he was at the University of Leeds, Dr. Jacob, Acting Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Science and Chair of the Communications & Multimedia Design program, said findings of the work have implications for the ongoing war against terror in Nigeria and in other countries. Carefully designed media messages, he said, can play critical roles in changing behaviors of terrorists and rebel fighters. At the same time, he said, it is important to be mindful that contents have potential impacts on non-target audiences also exposed to such messages.
“The study has even deeper implications today. What I observed in the DRC is that military intervention is never a long-term solution to terrorism and insurgency, but strategic communication interventions may hold the keys to unlocking the hearts and minds of terror actors and rebel fighters, particularly in divided societies,” said Dr. Jacob.
The full research paper can be accessed here: http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/0729247314Z.00000000043
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