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What communication for peace do Catalan NGOs engage in?

Montse Santolino
Montse Santolino

Montse Santolino

The NGO La Bretxa recently published on its blog the results of a study it commissioned, entitled Communication for Peace in the NGO sector in Catalonia. An analysis of current approaches and practices in communication for peace. It is a comprehensive diagnosis of the communication undertaken in the past two years by 62 organizations in Catalonia, as part of their projects for the construction of peace in countries with armed conflict.

The study was written by a research team coordinated by Ana Fernández Viso of InCom-UAB, and with financial support from the Office for the Promotion of Peace and Human Rights, and aims to foster informed debate on this issue which it shows is relatively unknown among the Catalan NGOs, despite their long-standing tradition of working for peace. In fact, none of the 62 NGOs analysed used the idea of communication for peace in their papers or on their websites, and the interviews with key individuals in the sector highlight the lack of clear theoretical benchmarks in this respect and a great deal of ignorance of international experiences. However, this does not mean that NGOs do not communicate for peace - the study highlights some good practices - but instead that they do so under many names, such as alternative communication, journalism for peace, emotional communication, intercultural dialogue, social reconciliation processes, awareness-raising, participatory processes, etc.

In order to provide a broad, comprehensive and strategic perspective of communication that includes the actors, actions and the content of the information, as well as the communication processes, communication for peace is defined as "all initiatives aimed at correcting or reducing errors and shortcomings in social communication from the perspective of its contribution to the establishment of peaceful, respectful, balanced, constructive and cooperative relations between the vast amount of actors interacting in the conflict, which influence its dynamic and which are in turn affected by it."Various categories for the analysis that are associated with some typical activities are established based on this general definition. First, the initiatives and projects that aim to influence the media are analysed, including the mainstream media and community media in the country in conflict, and the Catalan and international media; and second, all the initiatives in the country in conflict which are aimed at the reconstruction of the social fabric, influencing the country's political actors or providing communications support for programmes for the construction of peace being carried out; and finally, the proposals that aim to integrate external actors, actors in the aid system, public opinion and the international political community are assessed.

When interpreting the results, it should be remembered that the sample includes two types of NGOs: peace NGOs, which have historically worked only in the North, and development NGOs, which do most of their work in the South but which also work in the North. One of the main conclusions is therefore that despite the existence of truly valuable and relevant initiatives in almost all the analysis categories covered, the vast majority of NGOs basically choose to inform and raise Catalan public awareness about some conflicts on a sporadic basis. Only half go further than this, with training and analysis, and only a dozen of the 62 engage in campaigns for mobilisation and political pressure. By contrast, very few projects focusing on communication or communicative vision are carried out in the countries in conflict, and almost no work is done on basic approaches to conflict resolution, such as the effect on political actors (only eight NGOs) on public or private media (only three NGOs) and on community media (only six NGOs).

While in communication in general, and in communication for peace in particular, effective work requires coordination at many levels and between many actors, the different working traditions of peace and development NGOs represent other significant overall weaknesses, such as the fact that not all the know-how acquired in Catalonia is part of the dialogue or matched by work on the ground; the low profile of the actors and ideas and approaches to constructing peace in the South, or the lack of discursive complementarity between the campaigns on specific conflicts and the more broad-based campaigns to promote the culture of peace. Despite the fact that membership of networks - an exercise in communication in itself - is much more nominal than real, concerted action for Colombia and Palestine has reinforced the social and political support given to those countries.