Exploring approaches to depolarisation

Polarisation — the division of society into antagonistic us-them groups — is a pernicious global phenomenon. It is associated with political gridlock, democratic backsliding, human rights abuses, and war. Historic cleavages based on ethnicity or religion may date back to the formation of nation-states; economic resentments may be the proximate trigger of current trends. But there is also a discursive dimension to polarisation: us-them divides are produced, perpetuated, and intensified through media and communication. Conversely, it may be possible to counter polarisation discursively, by correcting the lie of exclusive and unitary identities, and promoting more inclusive notions of peoplehood. This webinar series discusses such efforts on various fronts around the world. It is chaired by Cherian George, who is researching a book on the subject.

Wed 21 Feb, 6–7pm HKT (10–11am UTC)

Ayala Panievsky — The Challenge for Journalism in Polarised Societies

As populist campaigns against “the media” become increasingly common around the world, polarising public perceptions of journalism and news, it is ever more urgent to explore how journalists adapt and respond to these attempts to undermine their profession and authority. How do journalists respond to populist media bashing? Which strategies have they developed to maintain the public’s trust? How could they improve their appeal to broad audiences in an increasingly polarised society? And how has it all played out in the current Israel-Gaza war? Ayala Panievsky addresses these questions using a thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with leading journalists who have been publicly bashed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as a series of public opinion surveys. The talk will suggest a few do’s and don’ts for journalists in polarised societies, based on the bleak experience of the Israeli mainstream media.

Ayala Panievsky is a Presidential Fellow at the Journalism Department, City University of London. A former journalist for Haaretz newspaper, she specialises in media under attack, right-wing populism, and democratic backsliding. She is the recipient of The 2023 International Journal of Press/Politics Best Article Award. Her first book, The New Censorship, will be out next year with Footnote Press. 

Fri 23 Feb, 5–6pm HKT (9–10am UTC)

Steven Youngblood — Peace Journalism in Times of War 

Peace journalism is a practice in which editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace. These choices, including how to frame stories and carefully choosing which words are used, create an atmosphere conducive to peace and supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers, without compromising the basic principles of good journalism. Steven Youngblood will introduce this approach to journalism and discuss the ways that peace journalism can (and can’t) apply to situations of active warfare, like Gaza and Ukraine, for example. He will invite the audience to analyze examples of war coverage and discuss the ways it could be improved with peace journalism.

Steven Youngblood is the founding director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, USA. He has organized and taught peace journalism seminars and workshops in 45 countries/territories. He is the author of Peace Journalism Principles and Practices (Routledge) and Professor Komagum: Teaching Peace Journalism and Battling Insanity in Uganda (Unlimited). He edits The Peace Journalist magazine, and writes and produces the Peace Journalism Insights blog. The World Forum for Peace named him a Luxembourg Peace Prize laureate for 2020-21.

Wed 28 Feb, 3–4pm HKT (7–8am UTC)

Nicole Curato — Deliberative Agents, not Pavlov’s Dogs: Democratizing disinformation research and advocacy 

Research and advocacy on disinformation typically portray social media users in two ways — as passive audiences and as active users. The former portrays people as vulnerable and homogenous consumers of disinformation, while the latter advances an active and heterogeneous characterisation of social media users as people harbouring deep stories that shape their political beliefs and experiences of disinformation online. Nicole Curato introduces an alternative characterization of social media users — the deliberative agent. This refers to social media users acting as citizens engaged in reflective and critical conversations with their peers to collectively make sense of disinformation. Such processes could generate plausible political projects that defend the public sphere from communicative distortions, including hyper-partisanship and affective polarization. Curato will illustrate deliberative agency in action through the example of the first deliberative forum on disinformation in the Philippines.  

Nicole Curato is a Professor of Political Sociology at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance at the University of Canberra. She is the author of Democracy in a Time of Misery: From Spectacular Tragedy to Deliberative Action (Oxford University Press) and has written extensively on democratic innovations in fragile political contexts.

For enquiries: cmcr@hkbu.edu.hk

Organised by Centre for Media and Communication Research, School of Communication, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU)

In association with the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies (LEWI), HKBU