How do peace agreements deal with communication and the media?


PSRP introduces a new report, Peace agreements, the media, and communication, which sheds light on how conflict parties address the ambivalent roles of the media and communication in peace agreements.

The media shape narratives of the past, present, and future. Societies emerging from armed conflict need to find ways to deal with a difficult past, while building and envisioning the post-conflict societal order. The media are thus important tools for peacemaking, for example through spreading information about the content of peace agreements. At the same time, media can harm peacemaking processes, for instance by proliferating hate speech. 

This ambivalence between positive and negative media roles is reflected in peace agreements. Peace agreements highlight the risks and opportunities associated with the media both during and after armed conflict. This new PSRP Research Report provides a brief overview of how peace agreements deal with the media and communication.

The Report uses example peace agreement provisions on media and communication from over 30 peace agreements signed between 1990 and mid-2020 to illustrate the different ways in which conflict parties portray the media, how they seek to reform them, and what role communication provisions play in peace processes.

The author finds that the media are commonly thought to play the following roles in peace agreements, each of which are discussed in detail in the Report:

  • Promotor of rights and values 
  • Tool for inclusion 
  • Watchdog 
  • (Mis-)Information platform 
  • Vehicle for propaganda

Based on their view of the roles of the media during and after armed conflict, conflict parties may agree to introduce media (de)regulation and reform measures in peace agreements. In the past, agreements have sought to both ‘deregulate’, or open up, state-controlled media, while at the same time regulating hate speech and introducing new forms of media oversight. In some cases, peace agreements are very specific about media logistics, for example by regulating the media’s access to information or particular events. The Report highlights these different ways in which peace agreements seek to reform the media and the way they are governed, including in legal, institutional, and technical terms. 

Peace agreements also discuss (re-)establishing forms of communication, particularly with reference to the need to rebuild or connect communication infrastructure and equipment. In ceasefires, other common references to communication include details about when and how the armed forces of the signatories should contact the other side. Other agreements set out how peacekeeping operations can access their host states’ telecommunication infrastructure. 

Based on the analysis, the author recommends mediators and conflict parties to examine the risks and opportunities associated with the media and communication. The author argues that where the media have been dominated by one party during conflict and where parties negotiate a new political settlement, peace agreement parties need to ensure that the media are reformed in a way that supports the new political landscape. 

The Report demonstrates that conflict parties at times do agree to empower the media to support wider political reforms. Conflict parties can draw on the media as a promotor of democratic rights and values or as a tool for inclusion. In other cases, the media can serve as an information platform or as a watchdog for holding conflict parties to account for the commitments made in peace agreements. Mediators and conflict parties should therefore explore opportunities for leveraging the media and communication tools in support of their peacemaking efforts.

The Report is an outcome of a joint initiative between the Social Change Initiative (SCI) and the PSRP. The author presented this research at a conference on ‘The Media in Deeply Divided Societies – Its Role and Responsibilities’ hosted by SCI in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 8 – 9 November 2019.

Read the full report: Peace agreements, the media, and communication



About the Author

Tim Epple was a Research Associate at the PSRP where he supported the Programme’s policy work and conducted research on local peace processes in sub-Saharan Africa. He was also a contributor to the PA-X peace agreement database. Tim holds a Master of Science in African Studies from the University of Oxford. His research interests include mediation, stabilization, and the relationship between climate change and peacemaking. Tim now works with the South Sudan Multi-Partner Trust Fund for Reconciliation, Stabilization, and Resilience at the United Nations. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

Image: A journalist wears a clearly marked vest near military in the West Bank. Getty: Joel Carillet.