Michelle Betz on Radio in Conflict Situations

UNESCO is pleased to make the audio and text of this interview available copy-right free for the celebration of World Radio Day 2019. Radio stations are especially encouraged to broadcast the interview, either in its totality or by exacting the answers and announcing the questions themselves.

UNESCO spoke to Ms. Michelle Betz, who has over 25 years of experience as a senior media development and press freedom expert, journalist and journalism educator. Her areas of expertise include media in conflict and post-conflict, military-media relations, safety issues and rapid response interventions and she has a particular interest in the use of media in conflict prevention and resolution. Michelle has worked with journalists and radio stations around the world including in Rwanda, Ghana, Burundi, Mali and Burkina Faso.

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Q. Thank you Michelle for being with us today. You had a lot of experience working with radio stations and media professionals in situations of conflict. Based on your experience what is the impact of media in conflict and post-conflict situations?

The media ultimately plays a critical role in ensuring that our fundamental human right of access to information, as it is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Media can really bring people together, it can tear them apart. The best example of the latter is hate radio in Rwanda in 1994. Radio can provide a space where people can get together and discuss and argue and express their comments in a non-violent manner. Communication is an effective instrument that can promote grassroots democracy, to air local issues, to provide an alternative source of information to official channels, to reflect all the diversities that some of these countries at conflict have within their contexts. I think media is also critical in providing important information during times of conflict and post conflict, information that will help to reunite families, that will help people find food, shelters, safe water; information that can even help to diffuse tension and the chaos that we often find during periods of conflict.

Q. Focusing on say, post-conflict situations, how can the radio bring communities together to address common issues?

I think the best example that comes to my mind is, again, back in Rwanda where I had the honor to work on an UNESCO project, back in 2005, setting up a community radio station that was based at the university, called Radio Salus. This is one of the very first post-genocide radio stations in the country, and it was going to be set up by the students, for their community. Their programming came about as a result of direct interaction with the community, these kids went straight into the community, meet with and just walked the street of the town, and talked to people, what do you need, what do you want to hear on the radio, and that is how the programming basically developed. It was a way of even bringing different voices to the radio to talk about issues that affected them ten years after the genocide. And the radio station is continuing today, I am pleased to say.

Q. In your experience working with radio stations in conflict situations, are there any stories that focus on gender equality or inequality?

What stands out in my mind with regards to gender equality or inequality is the fact that in many these cases women journalists face threats in conflict situations. In many these countries, first, women usually go against cultural norms and stigmas, to go into the profession of journalism. In many conflicts, journalists are subjected to human rights abuses. Yet women face additional gender related threats and harassments and violence. We need to do more to support women, who are working in radio in conflict situations.

Q. Yes, definitely, now focusing on radio, amongst other media, what do you think is the distinctive feature of radio in contributing to peace building?

The distinctive feature of radio are simply that it is accessible. You don’t have to be able to read and write, to listen to radio, so there is an incredibly high impact that can be had. It is very readily available, you can now even listen to the radio on your mobile phone. It is relatively low cost.

I think of a specific project in Nepal, which was actually in post-earthquake Nepal, where community radio stations in these tiny little villages were largely doing stories on accountability and holding local officials accountable for post-earthquake reconstruction. What happened was that they were ultimately linking up with other community radio stations across the country, also with the main broadcasters in Kathmandu. So, there were all these bridges that were built between journalists and between communities. Communities were able to see that we are not alone here, we are not the only ones that have these issues and these challenges, and if we can all work together, then perhaps we can all solve it.

Q. This year’s world radio day celebrates the theme Dialogue, Tolerance and Peace, what is your world radio day message?

My world radio day message is simply to say to all of us, let use radio to build peace, to promote tolerance and to learn about each other, because we are all much more alike than we are different.


Thank you for your time and thank you for being with us.


Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author; they do not necessarily represent those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.