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Visiting Journalists and Students Tackle International Conflict Coverage

December 2, 2013

Group photo of the foreign journalists [Photo courtesy of Rachel Paris-Lambert]

Group photo of the foreign journalists [Photo courtesy of Rachel Paris-Lambert]

With the overwhelming amount of news sources surrounding us every day, it’s become hard to distinguish fact from fiction in the coverage of international conflicts. So when I heard that 19 journalists from the most talked about regions were coming to UW, I knew I had to be there.

It was far more interesting and engaging than I had expected.

The event was organized by the World Affairs Council’s International Visitor Program and hosted by the Seattle Globalist team here on campus on November 8. The journalists came to the U.S. to explore the rights and responsibilities of a free press, observe American media practices and discover the best ways of implementing journalistic principles in a democratic society.

The visitors came from 12 countries including Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others. They represented news agencies such as Al Jazeera, Middle East News Agency, and Al-Tahrir (Egypt), and all journalistic mediums: print, radio, TV and photography.

Since I want to go into international journalism, I was excited to say the least.

The informal setting was a great way to promote deeper discussions. [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The informal setting was a great way to promote deeper discussions. [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

The event was very informal. With so many guests and translators in a small room, we were split into four groups. Every 30 minutes the students would rotate to a new group and have deeper discussions in smaller groups.

“I loved the high visitor-to-student ratio in this event–I thought it really gave students a chance to interact with the visitors,” said Jessica Partnow of the Seattle Globalist. “They were very happy to meet UW students and hear about our university. Several journalists mentioned to me that they loved the informal setting, and the chance to meet directly with students rather than sit on a formal panel.”

Students seemed a bit nervous at first but once the journalists started asking us questions and making jokes, the tension disappeared and the discussions ended up exciting and educational. Uncharacteristically, I was asking a lot of questions and guiding the conversations, especially after the guests found out I’m from Russia.

“So, tell us about your opinion on Putin and his interchangeable predecessor,” asked one of the journalists. “Tell us about the bad first,” they would tease.

The reporters were very open-minded and eager to share their opinions on media coverage and current political disputes. In my group, we discussed the differences/similarities in Russian and U.S. coverage of the Egyptian and Syrian conflicts, the Iraq war and its consequences, as well as the coverage of prominent issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The American media is more supportive of the American foreign policy which also applies to Russia,” said Wisam Y Boho Al-Banaa from Iraq. “Looking into the Syrian situation, the Western coverage is calling for the end of Assad regime while the Russian coverage is hesitant to accuse the Syrian regime because of the political ties.”

There were even (peaceful) battles of opinions between the guests. Journalist Mohammed Rashid M A Al-Marri (Al Jazeera) from Qatar and Mr. Al-Banaa had different views about what’s at stake for each nation in the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian conflict was a hot topic at the event, even inciting debate between two guests from the region. [Photo courtesy of FreedomHouse/Flickr Creative Commons.]

The Syrian conflict was a hot topic at the event, even inciting debate between two guests from the region. [Photo courtesy of FreedomHouse/Flickr Creative Commons.]

“The beauty of being part of the world of Middle East is that people have their own opinions and everybody is entitled to their points of view,” said Mr. Al-Marri.

Every time they spoke, they emphasized that it was just their own opinion and to draw our own conclusions. I only wish I knew Arabic so I could understand all the jokes and remarks the interpreter wasn’t able to translate. It’s not every day you get to see two professional foreign journalists argue about a global conflict in person.

In the last group, we moved a bit away from politics and circled back to what’s it like to be journalist in the non-Western part of the world.

A reporter from Jordan, Najat Shanaah, spoke about the hardships of being a female journalist in her country.

“It’s not easy to be a journalist, especially a woman journalist,” she said. “In my country, women are expected to stay at home and that is reflected in the hiring process. In my own work, I want to prove that a woman is just like a man and can perform the same.”

By the end of the session, I only wished we had more time to speak with them individually. But the journalists were hurried off to another event and we were left to contemplate on the discussion. Whether it was about freedom of the press, the news they read, or their personal political decisions, I’m sure the students walked away with something to think about.

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