x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gaza's legacy: a more balanced coverage

Conflicting ethical and political forces continue to make the quest for editorial independence in the Arab world a difficult one.

DUBAI // The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has led to a drive to increase accountability and editorial independence in the Arab media, according to speakers at a conference on ethical journalism held in Dubai yesterday. Balanced reporting, e-journalism and the role of the public in regulating content were also discussed on the second day of the two-day International Federation of Journalists conference hosted by the UAE Journalists Association.

The conference also formally launched the Ethical Journalism Initiative, which had been discussed the previous day. A permanent committee will be based in Bahrain and work with media organisations to apply ethical reporting standards and support press freedom. Peter Murdoch, the vice-president of the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union of Canada, said the Gaza conflict had challenged prejudices. "While there is still not enough reporting of the Palestinian point of view, it has at least brought a degree of balance to coverage," he said. "One of the legacies of the conflict is a greater empathy with Palestinian issues ... it has altered how the Arab world will be reported in future.

"The experience of covering the Gaza conflict shows that the basis of reporting should be to find, verify and report accurate facts so that readers can make their own informed decisions. This should be the basis of good journalism and, in order for this to be assured, individual writers need to be protected from corruption and political or financial interference. "Every paper will find its niche within a marketplace to express views that readers want to hear, but this should not come at the expense of accurate reporting."

The limiting of journalists' freedom through religious restrictions was also discussed. Mr Adbalwahhab Zghailat, president of the Jordan Press Association, said millions of dollars had been spent in the quest for editorial independence in the Arab world, but the fundamental difference between ethics and politics made the task very difficult. "The key to improving standards of reporting in the Arab media is to improve the standard of education in the region. A network of training centres should be established throughout the region to address the issue."

Dr Hanan Yousif, a media professor at Ali Shams University in Cairo, has made a scientific study aimed at increasing accountability and editorial independence in the media. She cited the phenomenon of e-journalism as an area of concern. "Without copyright or many of the checking processes of print media, the content of websites is an area of concern. "There is also a lack of exchange of information between government, business and institutions in the Arab world. This is a barrier to accurate and balanced reporting.

"One of the key factors I identified in my research was a difference in attitude depending on the gender among Arab writers. Female journalists tend to be instilled with a greater sense of social responsibility, as this has been an important aspect of the woman's role in Arabic society. "This is an example of how an individual's priorities and viewpoint can sometimes challenge editorial priorities.

"I look forward to a time when the media can report, analyse and discuss the decisions of government in an open way. This should be the right of every journalist across the world." tbrooks@thenational.ae