Hannes Siebert

Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 1991
Longkloof Studios


This profile was prepared when Hannes Siebert was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
The media can be mediators. Both words derive from the Latin medius, or middle. The press is a medium of communication. Therefore the reporter is "in the middle," the impersonal vehicle of communication for society at large. Hannes Siebert argues that reporters in South Africa often find themselves "in the middle" in a more literal and personal sense--- as the human intermediaries between factions in conflict, often violent conflict. Through his Mediation and Conflict Management Training Project, Hannes demonstrates that journalists can report about and mediate conflict simultaneously.
This broadened understanding of the journalist's role, especially in conflict-ridden societies like South Africa, challenges the myth of "objective" or "neutral" journalism. At the same time, it is critical of the emergence of what has been referred to in South Africa as "mouthpiece journalism"–the tendency of newspapers to be identified with particular political organizations and tendencies. It argues for a journalism that goes beyond simply reporting oppositional viewpoints to exposing the causes of social problems. To do this it must go beyond the stated positions of the parties to their underlying, often unstated interests. This pursuit of underlying interests is a central principle of effective mediation.
The Mediation and Conflict Management Project does not try to transform journalists into mediators per se. Rather it seeks to make them more aware of the deeper responsibilities and constructive possibilities in reporting on conflict in society. The first step is to educate journalists about the dynamics of conflict and orient them to become more expert in understanding conflict. The second step is to deepen their self-awareness as they intervene to report on conflicts. From there it is a small step to begin to look at the practical ways that reporters can promote conflict resolution.
The Project has tested its theories in what are often called South Africa's "killing fields", Natal. There they have found that reporters in the field do have golden opportunities to ask opposing parties questions that the parties would never ask each other. This gentle way of activating dialogue and deepening mutual understanding leads to other confidence building measures. Interviews, for example, are restructured as open-ended explorations of the nature of the conflict and methods of conflict resolution that might be brought to bear. Where appropriate, the journalist introduces the parties to professional mediators and other mediating institutions.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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