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Transitional Justice and 'Transitional Journalism': Understanding the Role of Journalists as Non-State Actors in the Delivery of Historical Justice - Case Study on Kosovo

Principal Investigator: Professor James Sweeney, Professor of International Law, Lancaster University
Co-Applicant: Professor Kenneth Andresen, Professor of Media Studies, Universtiy of Agder. 

Abstract:
The (re)establishment of an historical record after the collapse of an authoritarian regime or the cessation of an armed conflict takes on a special significance, and is an essential component of delivering ‘transitional justice’ – for example through state-sponsored initiatives such as ‘truth commissions’. Transitional justice scholarship has started to recognise that non-state actors play a complementary role. The focus of this interdisciplinary project between law and media / journalism studies examines the role of journalists, as non-state actors, in historical accounting and challenging the historical record; and the extent to which international efforts to support transitional justice have shaped that role. The aim is to improve understanding of international support for historical accounting in transitional contexts.  Kosovo is chosen as a case study due to the UK’s involvement in the events leading to its declaration of independence in 2008, and because it has both post-authoritarian and post-conflict dimensions.

About the project:

This is an interdisciplinary project between law and media / journalism studies, which examines the role of journalists in transitional historical accounting; and the extent to which international efforts to support transitional justice have recognised and shaped that role.  Kosovo was chosen as a case study due to the UK’s involvement in the events leading to its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, and because it has both post-authoritarian and post-conflict dimensions. The project is intended as a pilot study for a project with greater geographical reach.

Transitional justice can be defined as, ‘the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation’ (UN Secretary General, 2004). It is associated with processes initiated after radical ruptures in society, such as the collapse of a totalitarian regime or the cessation of an armed conflict. ‘Historical justice’ is recognised as especially significant because, as Ruti Teitel has observed, ‘historical inquiry and narrative play an important transitional role linking past to present’ (Teitel, 2000). 

A great deal of legal research has already been conducted on international and state-sponsored transitional justice mechanisms aimed at historical accounting, including upon ‘truth commissions’ (Hayner, 2011).  However it has been argued that within transitional justice discourse there has been a tendency to see it just as ‘the business of state or “state-like” institutions’ (McEvoy, 2007).  Consequently there has been critical scholarship calling for a more ‘bottom-up’ approach, with a greater emphasis on participatory principles, local ownership and exploring the complementary role of non-state actors in delivering transitional justice (Lundy & McGovern, 2008).

Historians clearly play a significant role in transitional historical accounting, and there have been significant debates in Germany about how far historians can reinterpret the events of the Nazi era (the so-called ‘historians’ debate’ or historikerstreit (Teitel, 2000)).  It has been argued that there is close affinity between the ‘journalist’ and the ‘historian’ (Erdos, 2013), thus it is proposed here that journalists are at the vanguard of transitional historical accounting (amongst their many other functions).

The project builds upon the work of PI Prof. James A. Sweeney on transitional justice; and the work of CI Prof. Kenneth Andresen (University of Agder, Norway) on ‘transitional journalism’.  We held a launch meeting in Pristina, Kosovo in March 2018 to consult with stakeholders (pictured).  In the summer of 2018 a research assistant funded by the project will carry out semi-structured interview with journalists in Kosovo, to provide a dataset for qualitative analysis by the research team.  We will present our results on the role of the journalist in Kosovo in relation to transitional historical accounting a close event in Pristina in December 2018, with academic and non-academic publications to follow.

The Project Team in Mitrovica, Kosovo

James Sweeney speaking about project

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