Twenty-five years after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the two former adversaries, Bosniaks and Croats, live highly segregated lives despite formal peace agreements. While a peace agreement represents the first step toward ending conflict, reconciliation is necessary to enable coexistence between former adversaries. Reconciliation encompasses forgiveness to the former adversary for the transgressions during the conflict as well as willingness to apologize to or compensate the former adversary for transgressions of one’s own group.
Contact between members of former adversarial groups in the aftermath of conflicts has been previously shown to enhance various aspects of reconciliation. However, in post-conflict societies, the opportunities for direct contact with former adversaries are scarce or intentionally avoided. In such settings, mass media represent an important source of information about the former adversary. Unfortunately, media in post-conflict societies is often used as a tool for biased interpretations of history that serve one particular group, transmitting negative rather than positive pictures of former adversaries.
In post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rupar and Graf (2018) found that Bosniaks and Croats who were exposed to negative information about the former adversary from the mass media perceived greater threat against their values, beliefs, and resources of their own group from the former adversary. Those who felt threatened were less willing to forgive and apologize to the former adversary. In contrast, Bosniaks and Croats who reported getting positive information about the former adversary from the mass media felt less threatened by the former adversary and were more open to both forgive and apologize to the former adversary.
These findings illustrate that mass media can act as a double-edged sword in the process of reconciliation in post-conflict societies. While negative portrayals of former adversaries in the mass media go hand in hand with feelings of threat and reluctance to forgive and apologize to former adversaries, positive depictions of the former adversary in the mass media may promote reconciliation.
Rupar, M., & Graf, S. (2018). Different forms of intergroup contact with former adversary are linked to distinct reconciliatory acts through symbolic and realistic threat. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/jasp.12565