Darlington Meeting House was the venue for Northern Friends Peace Board’s conference on ‘Changing the Narrative for Peace – Critical role of the media’ on 24th September. Organised by the Board’s ‘Sustainable Security’ project group, the event was attended by around 40 participants, speakers and committee members. Local Quakers supported throughout the day with a warm welcome and hospitality.
Informal ‘World Cafe’ style conversations got the conference underway, with different themes being the focus for introductions and for mapping out the issues. The environment, social justice, militarism, political participation and accountability were some of the subjects covered. David Gee, our first speaker, continued the broad focus with a challenge to’ rethink security’, introducing a document of that title that he and others have published on behalf of the Ammerdown group. The thrust of the report is the urgent need to change the narrative about security. Whilst David was optimistic and positive about some of the changes that have already taken place, he finished his talk with a question as to whether ‘the system’ should be encouraged to change at its own pace, or whether a more significant change of the system is needed, taking power back from the elite.
The journalistic focus from our next two speakers provided participants with an insight into the opportunities and practicalities for getting concerns about peace, security and disarmament into the public realm. Michael Gray, a young journalist from the even younger CommonSpace website and The National paper in Scotland, shared his experiences of working in a changed and changing political and social context. There is a new sense of a Scottish internationalism, and Michael emphasised the importance of new radical voices at a time when so much media communication is owned by a powerful elite. He gave an account of some of the work he was most proud of, publishing information and creating space for a debate on current air wars.
Andrew Smith, the Media Coordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade , introduced himself by saying that he was probably the only person who has worked for JP Morgan and his current employers – but now with a very different motivation. Having worked in public relations in the corporate world, Andrew’s skills are also applicable to the task of promoting news and awareness of peace and disarmament concerns. Andrew had a lot of practical advice, from the value of brevity in catching attention, to being able to identify when, where and how news content can most effectively see the light of day. He explored the potential and dangers of new media and social media in shaping news, and encouraged us to be smarter and more responsive in how we engage.
The day continued with workshops, building on the themes of the speakers and giving participants an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the practicalities and context. With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader happening that day, we were very conscious of the potential and of the problems in how the media both reports and contributes to thinking and action on political, social and international issues. We were very pleased to have a good mix of ages, perspectives and backgrounds in our participants, being reminded as the day closed of the need for us also to be ready to have our own narratives challenged.