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Television Debates as a Form of Pre-negotiation in Protracted Conflicts: Nightline in South Africa (1985) and Israel (1988)

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This article provides an analysis of Nightline's involvement in deep-rooted conflicts in both South Africa and Israel and an examination of whether media debates as a form of "track two," or unofficial diplomacy, can assist in preparing the ground for a proper "track one," government-to-government negotiation process. The extent to which the news media, in this case an ABC Television public affairs program, can play a role in the pre-negotiation phase when formal processes of intervention or formal fora of negotiation are absent is the focus of this article. Three levels of data gathering were utilized to analyze Nightline's week-long programs in South Africa in 1985 and in Israel in 1988. In addition to a content analysis of the ten programs, the participants in these debates, including moderator Ted Koppel, were interviewed, and the public and journalistic response to the Nightline broadcasts in both countries were analyzed. The findings suggest that in the process of facilitating the highly positional debates between the parties, Nightline empowered and legitimized the out-parties' causes and gave in-parties an opportunity to publicly defend their positions. However, the programs' main impact was their fulfillment of pre-negotiation roles: creating an atmosphere for negotiation, enabling reciprocal education of the parties about the conflict, and modeling peaceful interaction.


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