I first became interested in the role of media in transitional justice settings in 2009, while directing a monitoring project of the human rights trial of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. In the course of the project, the local press coverage of the trial drew my attention, with its explosive and provocative headlines often focused less on the proceedings of the trial as it was on scandal and speculation about the defendant and the victims.
I wondered how public consumption of these accounts contributed to the overall success (or not) of Peru’s transitional justice project. In my scholarly pursuit of thinking through this question, I was amazed to discover that few transitional justice scholars had examined it. Moreover, few countries have consciously considered the role of the media in the design of their transitional justice strategies.
How did we miss this central question? I think, in part, because assumptions about journalism and how it functions have insulated it from academic or practitioner scrutiny. For example, it is assumed that the media will automatically perform in a way consistent with the ‘canons’ of the journalistic profession and, moreover, that traditional peace-time approaches to journalism are the best suited for transitioning societies.
However, my observations compel me to take the stand that we need to question these assumptions, and for that reason I welcome ICTJ’s online debate.
Professor Laplante directs New England Law's Center for International Law and Policy. Her blog post is part of an online debate on “Should the Media Actively Support Transitional Justice Efforts?” Her complete essay and those of other debaters are available on the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) website.