Journalism in times of war: A Middle East perspective
Last year was one of the deadliest for journalists. Will 2018 be any better? Al Jazeera’s Media Institute launches a book to help reduce violence against journalists in the region.
Telling the human stories from Syria, Yemen, Libya and other conflict areas means a vast number of reporters, citizen journalists and media activists find themselves pushed deeper into the ever-shifting frontlines.
In the Middle East, a day does not pass without a journalist being pursued, censored, harassed, kidnapped, imprisoned or even killed.
Last year, at least 81 journalists were killed worldwide, according to the International Federation of Journalists and many more detained.
The Aljazeera Media Institute has published a new book that aims to contribute to the debate on war reporting in this region.
Journalism In Times of War, edited by Awad Joumaa and Khaled Ramadan, is rooted in the region.
By transferring the accumulated knowledge of the contributors based on decades of reporting, the publication brings together experienced reporters, citizen journalists and media activists in order to provide a practical manual for aspiring war correspondents and those who want to work in the field.
Hamid Dabashi, an internationally renowned cultural critic and award-winning author, writes this in the books intro:
“In the age of ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and ‘post-truth’ still the question is how do we know what we know about the world? The particular angle of this volume that is ‘from the Arab world and on the Arab world’ gives it its unique political and epistemic twists.”
The contributions range from award-winning professional war correspondents like Lebanese Zeina Khodr to Zaina Erhaim, a renowned Syrian media activist.
Khodr touches on many issues, including the issue of gender. She said it can be a benefit if the reporter uses it to her strength.
“You have to act differently, assertive, not aggressive. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I’m weaker than anybody else. It’s all about trust, really, and how you present yourself.
“An experienced female reporter will gain more respect on the ground than an inexperienced male journalist who is unable to show confidence and understanding.”
Erhaim gives an account of how her people raised their mobile phones and live streamed to the world the unfolding events in Syria. This new form of participatory journalism has come at a cost, she says. But it has also opened up new perspectives.
Ameera Ahmad Harouda is Gaza’s first female fixer. Her contribution barely made the deadline of the book – constant power cuts and family circumstances in the besieged Gaza Strip made it almost impossible.
The Yemen conflict is another major focus of the volume. Yemen, with its long history of internal and external struggles and conflict, has been a no-go zone for journalists since the Saudi-led military coalition launched its war on the Houthi rebels.
Dozens of journalists have been jailed since 2001, in direct reprisal for their work.
Since 2015, airstrikes and street-by-street fighting have further intensified.
Bashraheel Bashraheel, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of al-Ayyam, Yemen’s largest national daily newspaper, shared his experience with us in the book.
Yemeni authorities have repeatedly closed al-Ayyam newspaper, alongwith others. Getting in touch with him was fraught with difficulties as he was constantly on the move.
It was only with the help of barely functioning connections on Viber and WhatsApp that we managed to get his story.
“We pay a heavy price. You face huge emotional stress. It is not just about you, but also your family. My family was virtually under house arrest from 2008 to 2012.
We pay a heavy price. You face huge emotional stress. It is not just about you, but also your family.
“As a result, my children had to be home schooled because of the threat of kidnapping.”
At the time of the interview, freelance fixer and photographer Muatasm Alhitari lived in Sanaa. He said every time he picks up his camera, it could be his last.
“Freelance journalists lack access to hostile environment training, for example. Usually, they don’t have the means to buy protective gear such as bulletproof vests and ballistic helmets, because they cannot afford it,” Alhitari said.
“They lack insurance. Typically, they cannot rely on any support network. This threatens the effective documentation of human rights abuses and war crimes in conflict areas.”
From his exile in Turkey, Egyptian Khalid Faheem recounts how Egypt’s revolution unfolded.
He and his compatriots started their journey by covering the controversial 2010 parliamentary elections. Soon after, they found themselves covering a full-fledged revolution and setting up their own grassroots organisation.
Al Jazeera’s former correspondent Peter Greste highlights the importance of maintaining integrity as journalists.
Greste spent 400 days in some of Egypt’s most notorious prisons. Greste, who has been freed, has worked with some of the world’s most respected news organisations.