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Journalism in times of conflict, occupation and political strife

FOA speaks to media consultant, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle, Ramzy Baroud about his tips and tricks of the trade and the importance of journalism and media in times of conflict, occupation and political strife.

Social media and digital media has become a driving force for the future and the rise of citizen journalism is great news for those sharing their narratives on the ground. Baroud talks about some of his favourite journalists in Palestine and discuses the future of journalism and media.

FOA: As editor of Palestine Chronicle what stories do you think work best and why?

RB: It all depends on one’s designated target audience. Although we attempt to publish stories with universal appeal, our stories in English language are particularly relatable and understandable from a western reader’s point of view. It is that specific reader that has been a target of Israeli hasbara – propaganda – for many years and is thus the most in need for an alternative media discourse on Palestine.

But we are also wary of the pitfalls of counter-propaganda, so we steer clear from exaggerated, hyped, emotional language. We labor to ensure accuracy, and at times err on the side of caution, because, first, it is the proper thing to do, and second we know of the amount of scrutiny out there.

Therefore, the best story is one that is written in a language that can be understood by average readers everywhere.

FOA: How important is the media and news in times of conflict, occupation and political strife?

RB: Misinformation and propaganda are rife during times of political strife, war and occupation. Each side of a conflict attempts to present, at times an entirely one-sided version of events. Although the US is a leader in the field of war misinformation, as they have sharpened their craft during the Iraq war, the Israelis have it down to a science.

In their last war on Gaza, they blocked international journalists from entering the Strip, targeted any nonconformist media and employed an army of well-spoken individuals, ‘experts’, bloggers, and so on to spread the Israeli official version of events. Ultimately, they failed since the horrendousness of their war was impossible to conceal, and also because of the courage of young Palestinian bloggers and journalists, and international activists who were present in Gaza.

While mainstream media has for long defined media narrative during times of conflicts, the advancement of digital technology in recent years allowed many alternative and independent voices to have their say, thus challenging the dominant, one-sided narrative which largely reflects the interests of those with more money and bigger guns.

FOA: What are the most important tips you would give individuals and organisations covering stories on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

RB: I would say,

Know your subject – read history to understand the context of any conflict before reporting on it.

Detach from your own background as much as possible – don’t approach coverage as a westerner or an Asian or an Arab, or even as a socialist or a liberal – but as a human being who is keenly interested in revealing the truth of any situation.

Take sides if you must – don’t take ideological, sectarian or political sides, but side with the most vulnerable; ordinary people whose voices are often silenced by the noises of war, yet their stories, if appreciated, could in fact decode the real reasons behind conflict and shed the light on people’s aspirations beyond the propaganda of the conflicting parties.

Humble yourself – you are not a national liberator, but a conveyer of truth that can be obtained via facts, information, contexts, ideas, imagery and so on. Do that and do it best, without casting yourself in the rule of the media commando who has unhindered access to the truth.

Ask difficult questions – don’t accept the official version of events as facts; they are mere statements and are likely false or exaggerated. Use several channels to obtain your own information and let ordinary people be a main source of your information. Even if a single individual lies, a collective is likely to reflect a true sentiment and honest feelings.

FOA: Are there any independent journalists in Palestine that you follow?

RB: Yes of course, I follow many journalists, and there is not enough space to list all of them here. I read Abdul Bari Atwan; I admire his established style of Arabic journalism. I also read Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada. I find him original and courageous. Lamis Andoni is an unparalleled voice of professional, independent journalism. I read Haidar Eid, a blend of academia, activism and intellect, the columns of Ghada Aqeel and the reports of Mohammed Omer. Whenever Susan Abulhawa has a new article, I drop everything to read it right away. I also follow Ahmad Yousef in Gaza and Abdul Sattar al-Qassem in the West Bank. Additionally, I follow Noor Harazeen’s video reports from Gaza and Layali Eid from the West Bank. They are young and brave. I also follow few Palestinian photographers – Shadi al-Assar in Gaza and Mahfouz Abu Turk and Musa Alshaer in East Jerusalem and the West Bank respectively. I also read Arabic media in the West Bank and Gaza for more authentic and less self-censored take on the situation there. I don’t have to agree with much of it, but I learn from it great deal. Also, I try to maintain constant ties with Palestinian bloggers, such as Yousef Aljamal, on the ground where we exchange information and ideas.

FOA: Stepping away from mainstream news, how do you think social media will develop?

RB: The future of media is clearly digital. The debate on the issue of print vs. online has been settled years back, and digital media won. It will take time for full transformation, but it is happening and rapidly so. That is good news for alternative media and independent journalism everywhere. Of course, those with access to more money will always have access to larger markets, but independent media opportunities today by far exceed those of the past. The key to success for independent media in the new media age is, of course, its own credibility, but also networking, sharing of resources and the support of a much wider audience.

Moreover the accessibility and openness of the new technologically based media, have ushered in the rise of citizen journalism – a new media content producer which is able to counter, and at times, overtake dominant traditional media narratives. I believe that the future for news journalism is much more promising if citizen journalism is nurtured so that it becomes a tour de force. This would allow us to challenge the hegemony of media ownership, but equally important foil censorship regardless of its source.


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