“One difficulty is that the media have little or no memory. War correspondents have short working lives and there is no tradition or means for passing on their knowledge and experience. The military, on the other hand, is an institution and goes on forever. The military learned a lot from Vietnam and these days plans its media strategy with as much attention as its military strategy.”
Phillip Knightley, Fighting dirty, The Guardian, March 20, 2000
“News does not always reflect the reality” we often say (if we are critical viewers at all). But then again, what is ‘reality’? Is there such a thing as a real representation of what is happening in e.g. the USA, The Netherlands, Syria, Kenia or Palestine? Or can we strive only to be ‘as objective as possible’ in a world where many perceptions at the same moment can exist of one object/topic?
The best way to report is by knowing the views of all parties of the story and hearing their voices and points emphatically. For this, knowledge of the history of a country, the language, the cultural sensitivities, religious values, etc. is a must. For example, when you say ‘Bosnian civil war’ to a Bosniak person (although they differ also among each other), he or she might not listen to you anymore, because according to them, there was no civil war, but an ‘Agressor': Serbia (a Syrian media activist told me the same: they close the radio of the car if it says ‘Syrian civil war’). Or in the The Netherlands, where the youngsters watch Al Jazeera (Arabic), TRT (Turkish), CNN (American) and NOS (Dutch) news channels at the same day from their living rooms: these channels all repeat different values and realities throughout the day about one single topic. It seems that we cannot ‘fool’ these youngsters anymore by expecting them only to believe the Dutch perspective. This is only a representation of how views differ in the world about different topics, which we are not mentioning here to take a stand on, but merely to try to understand and accept that this is the case. Being aware is essential. Especially as journalists we should be aware of these differences. In any case, it seems important to include plurality (multi-voiced-ness) as a goal in committed and ethical journalism (trainings) nowadays.
Early Experiences of Success Stories
Since our early years, we are aware of the differences in views between geographical regions and countries (even within countries there are differences), while at the same time it seems also knowledgable to consider that journalists all over the world have something in common: we are all in search for the stories to tell the public. However, to experiment with the differences, we organised several international trainings, such as in Amman, Amsterdam and Cairo with EMAJ Magazine, an initiative by young Arab and EU journalists who want to fight prejudices in conflict-reporting (G-Network was one of the founding members). A memorable moment in 2009 in Amsterdam, was when we asked an EU and an Arab journalist to cooperate on a joint article on Egypt. The Arab journalist insisted on using the word ‘President Mubarak’ and the European journalist wanted to name him ‘Dictator Mubarak’ in their common article (back then Mubarak was still ruling Egypt). Or this other example in 2008 in Amman, when an Israeli journalist wrote an article about the water issues in Israel, together with a European journalist, where an Arab journalist in the training complained that water in the Middle East is totally political and that the article was ‘window-dressing’ the real conflict topic by only focusing on the environmentalist side. These differences gave us food for thought and discussion during our trainings. We view conflict as an engine or tool for cooperation, if viewed wisely.
Another example is a great initiative by the network of 60.000 journalists: European Youth Press‘s Middle East and North Africa Committee (MENAC) (again G-Network was one of the founding members). In the same trent, we, as young journalists, organised joint trainings (such as in Sarajevo, Berlin, Varna etc.) between European and Arab journalists to create a bridge of understanding and quality techniques for reporting in conflict or war zones. The founder of G-Network, Gulsenem, was present as ‘a conflict/war reporting trainer’ in September 2014 in Berlin, during the ‘Ethical Journalism Training‘ for young EU and Arab journalists. Additionally, we also helped organising the training in Sarajevo: Gender in Media. Gulsenem moderated the session on ‘Women in War Zones‘, and she was responsible for preparing the guidelines during the training.
Additionally, we participated in the training that was organised by Flare Magazine about ‘Reporting on Organised Crime and Corruption’ in Italy in 2011. Finally, we trained young journalists in 2010 at Istanbul World Youth Congres.
Above all, Gulsenem worked for a Media Development NGO with Syrian journalists and media activists at the Turkish-Syrian border for a long time. In this way, we can state that we have collected a lot of expertise, together with a network of committed journalists, media activists and trainers. Today, we can organise professional high-quality trainings.
Our goals: -Educate -Connect -Create Awareness
Our goals: -Educate -Connect -Create Awareness
Consequences of Reporting and the Responsibility of Journalists
More important than ‘reflecting the reality’ is that conflict/war-reporting has consequences for societies and for the world (if we look at reporting on Islamophobia/Anti-Semitism or the wars in the Middle East). Often time journalists themselves are not aware of these consequences. They view it as their responsibility to make the news, report at that moment to reach their journalism goals (usually guided by their editors), and when ‘it is out there’, it is not their responsibility anymore (in the frame of ‘freedom of expression’). After all, people are free to act as they desire after reading any article, or viewing a video reportage. For us, as much as we care about media freedom in conflict/war regions, we care about the responsibilities from the side of the journalists as well. It is both equally important.
Especially in war zones where most human rights violations and war crimes take place, we cannot afford this luxury. In war zones, information stands equal to saving lives. If we as journalists know that a certain road in Syria is dangerous, we will take another one (currently Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists). If we know that there is an attack on a certain village, we can prepare medical aid. Syrian families rely on daily Syrian news agencies to receive information on the lives of their families and loved ones. In Bosnia, based on wrong information, villages were massively attacked.
Additionally, the documented news can be archived to be used in justice cases after the war (such as in Bosnia and Rwanda). But do we, as journalists in a war zone know what a war crime against humanity even is? Are we educated on this before we go to the field? Or did we miss a story, where several hospitals have been targeted, while we were busy reporting on other less important topics?
If we move from a war context to a conflict context, the casualties are maybe not that extreme, but the way of reporting doesn’t differ that much. Again verifying the source and viewing the topics from different perspectives stays important. Be an activist with getting the different views out there, not with choosing sides. The popular view is not always the right view. Search for the news behind the scenes, and you will find different stories, because most of the journalists only report about what is on the surface. But the surface usually lacks the human side of the story.
At the end of the day, with Genius Network’s ‘Ibn Khaldoun Center for Committed Journalists’, we want to build a network of global likeminded, well-informed, conscious and AWAKE journalists and media makers who can become our members, who see the challenge, and who understand the difficulties on this least taken road. We care about quality and not quantity (less is sometimes more). Besides, we want to build a pool of journalism trainers. Please contact us in the form below if you also want to join our Journalism Trainers Pool! Or view our section ‘Journalism Trainings‘ for more information on our upcoming events and projects!