Apr 1, 2007

AJ Forum: Parachute Journalism and Journalism of Depth

The first session of Aljazeera forum, moderated by Rageh Omaar.
Martin Bell, a veteran BBC reporter, made his intro remarks short and to the point, he praised Aljazeera English then talked about the need for news networks to stop engaging in cut-throat competition. Journalists, he says, must show sympathy to the people and suspicion of governments and politicians. Journalists he said have only two masters to serve, their audience and the truth. “I’ve been a politician. Believe me, they are seldom the sons of gentlemen”. In response to a question about the role of the reporter, Martin says it doesn't matter whether it's Western or Arab media, the reporter must strive to understand events and convey an accurate picture to viewers. He also praised the BBC and Aljazeera English for great and fearless reporting.

Dahr Jamail, talked about his reporting from Iraq and Lebanon and and his dismay at the state of the media in US post 9/11. He gave the example of a story he came across in Iraq, a man who died of torture in the hands of US army in Iraq, the medical reports showed the man had died of natural causes but the body of the man he saw told a different story, the head was smashed, face brutally disfigured and burns over his body. The US army insisted the man wasn't tortured. He offered the story to major news organizations in US, no one wanted to publish it, after few months he contacted Seymour Hersh and only then the story received the necessary publicity. He insists that main stream media in US isn't interested in hard-hitting reports and that's why people like him are reporting to alternative news sources like Democracy Now!. He praises blogs and emerging media in bridging this gap.

Fahmy Huwaidi, an well-know Egyptian journalist, talked about how journalists in the Arab world should be independent and objective but because of the authoritarian governments journalists aren't able to practice freely.

Samir Aita, Editor in chief the Arabic addition of La Monde Diplomatique says journalists need to understand the sociological and political realities of the places they're reporting from. He cites the the example of La Monde Diplomatique which is a network of itself (publishing in 64 languages). He says that parachute journalism is a necessity but reporting from the field is also required to decipher the tribal, social and political intricacies of news stories.

Abdel Wahab Badrakhan, editor elect of the Aljazeera newspaper, talked about Aljazeera and its contribution to journalism in the Arab world, but he also thought that Arabs can still learn a lot about the practice of journalism in the West. He, and others in the panel, criticized US governments's efforts to censor information. For some reason Badrakhan thought that Darfur was a good example of a story that wasn't covered well and fairly. The US administration created an official line mostly based on real incidents, then reporters only went on to confirm it. He asserts it could have been covered better, for example looking at it from different view points like the role of Southerners in derailing the peace process and the US-China oil interests in Darfur, he used Darfur as an example twice. In Iraq, we don't know for sure why the war was waged in the first place, something the media isn't investigating enough. Badrkhan talks about the US push for democracy in the Middle East which he says has ended in disappointment, and as a result the media in Arab world continues to suffer. On blogging, he says it's taking off in the Arab because people are looking for any, uncensored, sources of information.

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