Rethinking Journalism in action

There is not necessarily a need to look at so-called conflict zones to do conflict-sensitive reporting, sometimes a look around you is enough to find something interesting to cover. This is what some of the working groups of Rethinking Journalism did in Berlin. We joined Mathias Birsens (Germany), Agnija Kazusa (Latvia) and Dhaker Youssef (Tunisia) during their first full day of media productions.

Mathias and Agnija

Photo credit: Massinissa Benlakehal

For their piece on the situation of refugees in Berlin they are preparing visits to the scenes of refugee rights protests to interview activists. The planning was quite intense due to the time pressure and the interview schedules and trips to places where refugee rights movements are taking place had to be planned fast. But the tasks were divided quickly and a special dynamic developed thanks to the different languages in the group. Martin was able to get in touch with German spokespersons of a district in Berlin where refugees and refugee rights activists, is occupying a school and Dhaker helped with the translation from French into English during the interviews with refugee rights activists. Amdy, 34, from Senegal is one of them.

The group agreed to meet with him at the occupied school and as we arrived at the school gate, that had been locked by security, Dhaker phoned Amdy who came out. He took us to a nearby café and over a cup of tea, Mathias, Agnija, and Dhaker spoke to him about his activism in Berlin and his story of coming from Senegal to Germany via Italy.

The media production group interviewing refugee rights activist, Amdy, 34. Photo: Lisa Zeller

Stay tuned for our presentation of the rest of the stories from Rethinking Journalism.

Text: Lisa Zeller


“The essence of good reporting is to take the little thing you can observe on the ground and put it in the bigger picture”

Putting things into the bigger picture and practice, that was what the 5th day of the workshop was all about. Moving from theory to practice, participants revised the guidelines of ethical journalism and conflict-sensitive reporting they had developed with the trainer Gülsen D. the day before.

That a single perspective is dangerous in journalism was one of the major points that were stressed. In order to achieve conflict-sensitive reporting one would have to avoid ethnocentric views, stereotypes, and move beyond a black and white image of victim and perpetrator.

Jaafar Abdul Karim, credit Pascale Müller
Jaafar Abdul Karim. Photo: Pascale Müller

To help the participants bridge the theoretical input and the media production Jaafar Abdul Karim, moderator of “Shabab Talk” at the German TV channel Deutsche Welle paid a visit to the workshop. Together with him, the young journalists tried to implement their knowledge on a real world situation. How would they design a talk show about the recent Gaza conflict taking for an audience of young Arabs in Germany? Whom would they invite?

Still having their guidelines in mind, many responded that the aim should be to invite guests from both the Israeli and the Palestinian side. It was debated how much sense it would make to invite guests with strongly opposing views. Could it harm the talk show more than it would benefit? Maybe it would be better to focus more on speakers that have some sort of conflict solution in mind?

While Jaafar explained how he decided who was invited to such a talk show, it became evident in the group that implementing the rules they had developed on a daily basis in their journalistic work might sometimes not even be possible. As one participant pointed out: “In a conflict with such history and complexity, it is hard to include all perspectives, because there are so many divisions even within the parties that are usually seen as opponents.”

Roy Gutman, credit Pascale Müller
Roy Gutman via Skype. Photo: Pascale Müller

After the session with Jaafar, Pulitzer Price winner Roy Gutman joined the group via Skype to give them insight into how ethical reporting on conflicts and wars can reflect in fieldwork. He stressed the importance of journalists to dig deeper, to not accept the first version of a story. “Good journalism is that you do not stop at stories people tell you,” he told participants. Gutman also brought the topic of activism from Monday’s panel “Journalists as activist or observers” back into discussion. For him there is no debate: “Journalists should not be activists. We are there to report the facts on the ground.”

With the input and the professional experience, it was time to get the production going. The editorial team consisting of Maria Wölfle, Assaad Thebian, and Pascale Müller introduced the online magazine as the final output of the workshop. Topics ranged from the conflict between refugees and the local administration in Berlin over the housing crisis and Russian separatists in Latvia. As Gutman said: “Essence of good reporting is to take the little thing you can observe on ground and put it in the bigger picture.” In the next days small reporting teams will keep working on their stories to make this happen.

Text: Pascale Müller

Article: #FreeAJStaff

Egypt announced on 29 Januarythat  they will charge 20 Al-Jazeera journalists with fabricating news and tarnishing Egypt’s reputation abroad. Sixteen of the defendants with Egyptian citizenship are also accused of belonging to former president Mohamed Morsi’s now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. The journalists include award-winning Nairobi-based Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Al Jazeera English producer Mohamed Fahmy and Cairo-based producer Baher Mohamed. The last three were arrested by security forces on the evening of 29 December. A few days after (2 February 2014), a leaked video of the arrest of Fahmy and Greste was broadcasted on a private TV channel that supports the government in the new military-led government in Egypt. The New Yorker reports that this government has subjected journalists to months of passive-aggressive treatment (obtaining press credentials has become a bureaucratic nightmare) and a few episodes of outright aggression (arresting several reporters on trumped-up charges, including support for terrorism).


The actions by the Egyptian government have mobilised journalists through a demonstration in Nairobi, Kenya in support of the detained journalists as well as an online campaign. The call for the release of the imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists has gone global, #FreeAJStaff hashtag has conquered timelines all over the digital globe with hundreds of tweets from media people, activists and citizens asking the Egyptian government to free the four Al Jazeera journalists (added to the above mentioned three, correspondent Abdullah Al Shami has been detained since August 2013). A number of journalists have posted portraits with covered mouths – the sign of being silenced – on Twitter and it is being speculated that the campaign was started by Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News International Editor and Jonathan Miller, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4 News. Peter Greste family has opened a twitter account announcing that it is run on his behalf while he is “wrongfully imprisoned”. Friends and fellow co-workers of Greste have demonstrated in front of the Egyptian embassy in Nairobi announcing their solidarity with the arrested journalists in Egyptian cells.

The events are the result of an escalated condemning by the press society since the arrests took place. On 13 January, 46 of the Middle East’s most respected and influential foreign correspondents have issued a statement calling for immediate release of Al Jazeera reporters warning that “the arrest of these journalists has cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt”. On 28 January. US Senator John McCain condemned the imprisonment of Al Jazeera journalists calling their detention “a clear violation” of human rights and press freedom.

RWBMany online activists have joined in the call for the release of the journalists and adding names of other imprisoned journalists worldwide. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), there were 211 journalists in prison in 2013, a figure that Reporters Without Borders (RWB) website indicates is a bit less with 177 journalists.

Text by Assaad Thebian