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Monday, 23 January 2023 14:29
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Participation of press in managing and handling social conflicts (Experience learned from the prevention of and the response to Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam)

(PTOJ) - From the perspective of the theory of social conflicts, the press is an important means of preventing and resolving conflicts. In the prevention of and the response to Covid-19 pandemic, the Vietnamese press has actively participated in preventing and resolving social conflicts, and contributing to the political and ideological stability of the nation. Based on this fact, this article highlights some of the experiences learned for initially responding to social conflict situations in Vietnam.

During more than two years of the pandemic, the press has actively and effectively participated not only in pandemic prevention and control, but also made an important contribution to managing and resolving social conflicts - Photo: dangcongsan.vn

Social conflict has been studied across the world for a long time and has developed into a science called Conflictology, which has many different schools. This theory has been gathered by Vietnamese scientists into the book “Theory of Social Conflict and the Management and Resolution of Social Conflicts in Vietnam” published in 2014. The theory of social conflict is highly practical, particularly in the context of the increasing numbers of social conflicts in many countries.

1. The role of the press in regards to its participation in managing and resolving social conflicts

One opinion of the definition of such conflict is, “Social conflict is contradiction, opposition, disagreement, conflict of interests, opinions, views, etc. causing struggles in different forms, scales and levels from the parties in certain social relations”(1). Social conflict is a phenomenon that covers all human relationships from individuals, generations, social forces, classes, ethnicities, religions, cultures, etc. Conflict also occurs in all sectors: economics, politics, ideology, culture, society, military, etc. in different scales and levels. High-level conflicts are called political and social “hot spots”. This opinion has a very important significance for journalistic activities, because unusual events and phenomena are always an object to be reflected upon by the press. Aware of this problem, media and press staff should have a calm and objective attitude towards social conflicts without being controlled by their temporary emotions.

People often have a negative point of view on social conflicts. But in scientific terms, social conflicts have two sides, both positive and negative. Conflicts play the role of a release of tension and can lead to solving undue tensions, promoting change in old standards, forming new ones, and possibly leading to outcomes conducive to progressive changes. In that sense, conflicts create impetus and pressure to solve problems that cannot be postponed, forcing the leaders to pay attention to and solve social disorders.

However, social conflicts can escalate into political or military conflicts, even causing civil wars, revolutions, and many other unusual phenomena beyond the control of the state. Due to crowd psychology, anyone can be drawn into a conflict. The psychological consequences of conflicts can be emotional trauma and deep division between the parties in the conflict, and more seriously, smoldering animosity will remain if the conflict is resolved in an imbalanced matter, or in a way that leads to an imbalance of power and resources. Conflicts, even if they bring benefits, can also cause certain economic and social losses, negatively impacting on the development potential of any country.

The duality of social conflicts requires journalists to have an objective point of view, accurately and comprehensively reflecting both the positive and negative aspects of social conflicts, even in obviously adverse situations.

The root cause of conflict is the social inequality, the inconsistency in the perception of values of people groups, the gap between needs, aspirations, intentions and reality; the negative habits, vices and shortages of people, as well as language barriers. Particularly, conflicts can be initiated because of the quality of information and information misrepresentation. Thus, the press, with its function of providing information and education, shall contribute to orienting the people’s ideology, raising their knowledge, sharing, sympathizing, criticizing their bad habits and vices, contributing to overcoming the causes of social conflicts.

Social conflict theory states that press information plays an important role in managing and resolving conflicts. Such information can reassure public opinion, helping the society to calm down and review all aspects of the problem in order to reach a solution to manage such conflicts. In that sense, the press is a tool participating in conflict management. When the press promptly and comprehensively provides an orientation, forecasts and reports and clarifies relevant issues, it can help the parties understand the nature of the situation and help the government have an effective direction to manage the conflict. The management and resolution of social conflicts shall be performed based on the following principles: Comprehensive analysis of the conflict situation; control and management; holding an objective opinion on the conflict; choosing a win-win solution for internal conflicts; ensuring the equality between the parties under the law and for their aspirations. As a force participating in managing and resolving conflicts, the press shall also strictly follow the above-mentioned principles.

2. The Covid-19 pandemic and social media are factors that increase social conflicts

The Covid-19 pandemic began in Vietnam on January 22nd, 2020 as the first case from Wuhan city, China was detected. After more than two years raging in Vietnam with different outbreaks, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many serious consequences for the country’s socio-economic development and people’s lives. The pandemic’s outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City from May until the end of 2021 is one of the most serious incidents. This is the outbreak that caused the most serious consequences, as far as the number of deaths, reaching nearly 20,000 people.

Currently, the vaccination coverage in Vietnam is massive, exceeding the level required by the World Health Organization. Although the number of people infected with Covid-19 is still high, the rate of hospitalized patients and the number of deaths are low. Although the pandemic is still complicated and unpredictable, social activities are gradually returning to normal.

The Covid-19 pandemic created a new reality that develops complicatedly and unpredictably, turning people’s lives upside down; confusion, faults, and delays in preventing and controlling the pandemic by authorities at all levels are unavoidable. This is one of the causes of increased social conflict. There has not been an official study on the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and social conflicts thus far, but through the media and considering the perspective of social conflict theory, it can be seen that the Covid-19 pandemic has been and will cause many social conflicts of various scale, nature and degrees.

The first level of conflict are those within state management agencies and authorities at all levels. These are disagreements in the awareness and actions in preventing and controlling the pandemic between the central and local governments, departments, ministries, sectors and between localities. The phenomena: “hot above, cold below”, strict and lenient performance in different places, inconsistency between the goal of ensuring people’s health and socio-economic development, etc. developed across the country. There are also disagreements within the management authorities on how to understand and interpret the Government’s policies, typically in regards to the disagreement between the Ministry of Transport and Can Tho city government on how to allow vehicles to move through the city at the end of August 2021. The question on whether to perform a long-term lockdown or to restore the economy, to eliminate all cases of F0 or to accept living with the pandemic, etc. also caused many different opinions among experts, scientists, and managers. These issues are reflected straightforwardly on social media, increasing the number and nature of social conflicts.

The second level of conflict is between a part of the people and the government when the pandemic occurred. This conflict arose because the government wanted and required the people to strictly comply with regulations on pandemic prevention and control. Meanwhile, a part of the people who were not fully aware of the situation, did not comply and even attacked the functional forces. A lot of these cases were reflected on by the press.

There is a kind of silent conflict that is difficult to detect but has the potential risk of causing social instability. That is the demand of the majority of people to return to their normal life as soon as possible while social distancing measures had been in place for a long time without positive results in preventing the spread of the disease, leading to the frustration and dissatisfaction on the shortage of human resources and services for the people’s need for medical examination and treatment, food and essential food. These conflicts are at an underground stage but are at risk of turning into socio-political conflicts if they are triggered by the “black media”, the manipulation and incitement of hostile forces and the limitations of government authorities at certain levels in managing and resolving conflicts.

The third level is conflict between social groups. These conflicts can cause social instability due to the impact of crowd psychology on people having the same interests. A typical example is the conflict in the relationship between employees and their entrepreneurs. The pandemic has caused unemployment for a lot of workers or decreases in their wages and bonuses, while simultaneously increasing their workload, making their accommodation and living spaces narrower, causing shortages of needed materials due to the “on-site” solution (production –isolation – livings in one place). Meanwhile, entrepreneurs faced the same pressure due to the interruption of the supply chain of raw and production materials, breachs of contract, decreasing market, suspended production, loss in business and enormous debts. If there is no understanding between employees and their entrepreneurs, it is easy to create conflicts.

Conflicts between groups on social networks also continuously occurred in varying scale and properties. Due to the isolation and social distancing, people had more free time and many virtual groups were formed in cyberspace. The private life, speech, and charity activities of celebrities were analyzed, becaming hot topics of discussion and were led by KOLs (Key opinion leaders - also known as influencer), Youtubers and Streamers. These debates caused serious damage to the psychology of our society, enticing netizens to pursue virtual values, creating trends and causing division among social groups, particularly fan and anti-fan group of celebrities.

On a smaller scale but still quite common, social conflicts threaten the peace of each family - the “cell” of society. Many studies across the world have shown that long periods of isolation and social distancing increase domestic violence. The conflicts between parents and their children due to disagreements between generations in addition to economic difficulties, anxiety and boredom make the situation worse. Schools were closed so most children and young people living in full or partial social distance have seen a negative impact on their emotional perception. The elderly lost their connection to the society, increasing rates of depression and anxiety. Although there is no comprehensive evidence to draw out a conclusion, many studies show an enormous increase in domestic violence since Covid-19 emerged.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered many social conflicts. Enemy forces took advantage of this opportunity to perform acts of opposition, increasing the number, nature and intensity of conflicts. The common point of these opposition activities is to reject and deny the guidelines and policies of our Party and State on preventing and controlling the pandemic, and at the same time, deliberately “blacken” the image of authorities who themselves were day and night responding to the pandemic, such as: healthcare, police, army; inciting the public’s urgent mood etc. Besides, the untrue information of those who intentionally or unintentionally posted and distributed it on social networks also gave rise to more conflicts in various fields, in relationships that did not have conflicts before, such as between the Army with the people and regions, turning social conflicts into socio-political one, that is, creating conflicts between the people and the government at all levels.

The above-mentioned conflicts took place in different stages from low to high levels. The people’s dissatisfaction with the present, if not resolved, will develop into a higher level in which their dissatisfaction is publicized on social media, or in letters and complaints submitted to the government at all levels; even to a higher level in which they formulate specific objectives and plans such as attracting and gathering opposition forces, thereby forming “social hot spots”, or “socio-political hot spots” causing heavy losses to the parties and leading to social unrest.

Deeply aware of the role of the press and media in managing and controlling social conflicts, in 2021, the Prime Minister made a decision to establish a Communication Subcommittee under the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and control. The tasks of this subcommittee include: to direct and provide guidance on information provision to ensure its consistency, timeliness and accuracy; to direct media agencies to strengthen propaganda and dissemination of activities for pandemic prevention and control measures; to propagandize, to inspire, to set an example of good people, good deeds, good practices and effective models, while at the same time, to fight against misrepresentation, incitement, and false information on about the Covid-19 pandemic prevention and control; to effectively promote information technology tools to serve pandemic prevention and control.

As a result, during more than two years of the pandemic, the press has actively and effectively participated not only in pandemic prevention and control, but also made an important contribution to managing and resolving social conflicts, relieving pressure and cooling down “hot spots”, maintaining people’s trust in the Party and State as well as the social consensus, creating the stability in the country to continue preventing and controlling the pandemic and promoting socio-economic development and improving people’s lives.

3. Some experiences on promoting the role of the press in managing and resolving social conflicts during the Covid-19 pandemic

Firstly, press management agencies, governing authorities, press agencies and journalists shall be fully aware of the nature, rules and principles of responding to social conflicts.

One of the objectives of the press is coverage of unusual situations, phenomena and events in the society, in which a social conflict is an unusual phenomenon. If journalists do not realize that social conflicts are a regular attribute of society under normal conditions, which will increases in abnormal conditions, they will have a pessimistic attitude and frustration when witnessing the increase of social conflicts in the context of an outbreak and prolonged pandemic. When journalists are fully aware of the causes and nature of social conflicts, the press will know how to provide an appropriate amount of information to prevent unfair opinions from triggering and starting social conflicts. Mastering the principles of conflict management and resolution will help journalists have the right attitude towards internal conflicts. The win-win principle in resolving internal conflicts does not allow for too much information on the shortcomings and mistakes of public authorities, state officials and employees. This is not to hide information but to avoid inciting public dissatisfaction, increasing the intensity of the conflicts that inevitably exist during a pandemic as analyzed above. Hostile conflicts need to be solved in a resolute, uncompromising manner.

Secondly, objective, comprehensive and specific information shall be provided; the press shall be fully aware of the duality of social conflicts in order to promptly and properly orient public opinions.

Social conflicts are to be reflected upon by the domestic press and other media. While hostile forces focus on featuring the negative side of social conflicts, the press agencies should focus on featuring the positive ones, directing the parties towards sharing, understanding, considering the situations in a particular context to have the right attitude and behavior. If journalists have a negative prejudice on social conflicts, all information will be analyzed in a negative direction that conceals “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

Some newspapers reported that as a pandemic control entity, reflecting the specific numbers in too much detail, causing more serious anxiety, confusion and frustration in the society. During the war, in order to strengthen the fighting spirit, our casualties, losses, hardships, pains and fierceness on the battlefield and the number of deserters and surrenders who cannot endure pains and sacrifices, etc. was not shared too often. The fact that a newspaper continuously reported on the phenomenon of opposition at the quarantine checkpoints might at first make the public angry, condemning the case. If such topics are reported too much, the public will feel pessimistic, worried or considered it to be normal, even showing sympathy, sharing with the violator, blaming the pandemic.

The way of reporting that implies criticism of some cases of incompetence, irresponsibility and weakness of the government, etc. will unintentionally cause pessimism, resentment and dissatisfaction among the public, increasing the intensity of the conflict.

However, if the appropriate information on the pandemic is hidden, avoiding publicizing the number of people infected and the death toll, it can lead to the subjective and complacent psychology for people in preventing and controlling the pandemic. Different criteria should be applied to each period of pandemic prevention and control, so we should not compare, criticize or subjectively judge the management of the Government and the Ministry of Health in directing measures to prevent and control the pandemic.

Thirdly, closely following the actual situation to detect signs and roots of social conflicts in order to provide warnings at an early stage.

Social conflict always take place at levels from low to high, initially seeing dissatisfaction, then publicity, tension, leading to social “hot spots”. In order to prevent social conflicts from becoming “hot spots”, press agencies shall detect emerging conflicts early so as to issue urgent warnings to prevent negative consequences and losses to our society.

The prompt reporting on the world’s new knowledge on pandemic prevention and control, difficulties, traffic jams, status of sub-licenses in transportation, difficulties in certifying F0 to buy Covid-19 medicine, taking children to their school too early, etc. helped the authorities to adjust social management measures early, contributing to “cooling down” and quickly resolving social conflicts.

To make good use of this experience, the press shall closely follow the lives of the people, businesses and anti-pandemic forces, always listening, put themselves in the position of the subject, empathizing and sharing with them so they will soon realize the roots of social conflicts in order to provide warnings to Party organizations and authorities at all levels.

Fourthly, actively participating in solving internal conflicts

Conflicts with external antagonistic contradictions should be resolved based on the principle that we win, and the enemy loses, but internal conflicts shall be resolved under a win-win principle. When an internal conflict occurs, the press shall act as a mediator and the information to be published needs to clarify what benefits and harms the conflict brings to the government and the people. The press shall put itself in the position of each party to sympathize and share with them and not stand on one side to criticize or blame the other. There were many cases during the pandemic that hard-working and dedicated cadres, due to improper behavior, unable to control their emotions, took inappropriate actions and made inappropriate statements, and have become the object of criticism in the press. Many true artists participating in charity activities were attacked and mentally terrorized on social networks, but they were not promptly protected by the press. Meanwhile, there are cases where violators in pandemic prevention and control were hailed and held up as heroes.

As mentioned above, the pandemic has caused many conflicts including dangerous ones and those at a lower scale. In order to contribute to managing and resolving conflicts, the press should raise issues and provide suggestions to direct public opinion of those in civil conflicts in a direction that is less dangerous and easier to resolve, preventing social conflicts from becoming socio-political hot spots.

Fifthly, promoting its role as a sharp weapon in the ideological fight to prevent and control the Covid-19 pandemic

Taking advantage of the difficulties and complications of the situation, our hostile political forces aggressively published and distributed malicious and untrue information on the Covid-19 pandemic prevention and control of the Party, State and people to forward their corrupt goals. Their activities increase the number, frequency, scale and complexity of social conflicts. In that situation, the press becames a shock trooper on the information and ideology front; exposing the incorrect views shared by the hostile forces. The press needs to promptly point out, warn and urge the authorities to take timely action and actively lead public opinion to condemn such deviant phenomena.

In addition, the press needs to promote issuing extensive, prompt, complete and accurate propaganda information on the guidelines, policies and regulations on pandemic prevention and control to each level and each sector of the people, improving the knowledge and responsibility of the community about the difficulties and complicated developments of the pandemic, actively providing a lot of information of good examples, models and practices, making positive information the “mainstream” in the mass media.

Conflict is an inevitable phenomenon in social life, particularly in case of events that have a great impact on people’s lives. As a core force in managing and resolving conflict, the press shall actively take action in the spirit of being properly aware of the nature and laws of social conflicts, properly performing its duty to report, orient, warn, mediate internal conflicts and resolutely fight against wrong and hostile opinions, actively contributing to the construction and development of the nation.

__________________

Received: 14th March 2022; Revised: 15th May 2022; Approved for publication: 20th June 2022

 

Endnote:

1. Phan Xuan Son: Theory of social conflict and the management and resolution of social conflicts in Vietnam, Political Theory Publishing House, Hanoi, 2014, p.46.

Dr. LUONG NGOC VINH

Academy of Journalism and Communication

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