Babak Bahador is an Associate Research Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs and the Director of the Media and Peacebuilding Project. Professor Bahador is also a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, where he teaches for part of each year. In recent years, his research has focused on media and peacebuilding and he is currently co-editing a book on this subject.
How did you become interested in researching the intersection of political communication and conflict studies and how did that shape your future career goals?
It began with my PhD thesis at the London School of Economics in the early 2000s. I was interested in globalization and its international political impacts. At this time, a concept called the CNN effect was popular and claimed that television images and narratives from distant conflicts and crises were influencing diplomacy and foreign policy in other countries, especially in the US and its foreign policy. Also, the 1999 Kosovo intervention by NATO had recently happened, which I had followed closely. So for my PhD dissertation, I examined the role of the so-called CNN effect in the Kosovo intervention which eventually became a book. From there, I became interested in the role of media in conflict. After I finished my PhD and got my first academic job, I started teaching a course called Media and Conflict and have now taught this course for 12 years. I have also examined the role of the media/communication in other subsequent research on conflicts such as the 2003 Iraq War, the 2006 Israel/Hezbollah War and the 2008 Russia/Georgia War, amongst others.
At GW, you created an initiative called the Media and Peacebuilding Project. What is the mission of this organization and why do you think it's important?
About 5 years ago, I decided that I wanted to focus my research on an area that would not only be interesting in itself, but could also be useful for those trying to solve some of the world's biggest problems. In my field, this was clearly trying to end violent conflict and build positive and enduring peace. Also, with the rapid adoption of mobile phones and social media in conflict-fragile states over the past 15 years, it seemed like there was a great opportunity for new research re-examining peacebuilding in this new information environment. The Media and Peacebuilding Project focuses on research projects that, on the one hand, examine peacebuilding in this new and emerging media environment, and on the other hand, can work with practitioners/NGOs implementing peacebuilding projects, offering them new tools and research-based insights to enhance their work and make it more effective.
What advice would you give to aspiring journalists or scholars who want to work in your area of expertise?
There tends to be a bias toward negativity in journalism and academia. For example, news from conflict zones is often focused on episodic violence, ethnocentric framing and the views of elites. But journalists could also include more context and stories about peacebuilders and those seeking solutions so audiences get a broader, richer picture, reflecting what is actually usually happening (where the majority of those affected want to find peace). I would encourage journalists and scholars to keep their idealism (which often drove them to their respective fields) and continue to look for innovative ways to exercise it.