Monday, October 6, 2014
Do journalists make a difference in conflict zones? Should they risk paying an incredibly high price for reporting on war? "Individually we do not make a difference, but collectively we do”, says Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad who visited us a few weeks ago. “We are like historians, we have to tell the story."

Two weeks ago, Free Press Unlimited welcomed Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. Together with Minka Nijhuis (Trouw, Vrij Nederland) and Rudy Bouma (Nieuwsuur) we talked about journalism under extreme conditions, with a focus on the current conditions in Iraq. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi journalist who writes for TheGuardian and has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya. He alsoworks as a press photographer for Getty Images and his photos were published in the New York Times, Washington Post and other media. Abdul-Ahad was imprisoned by the Taliban in 2010.

The debate started off with the question what role journalists play in a conflict. Abdul-Ahad pointed out that throughout history journalists have always been the target, but nowadays this has even become worse. Journalists always have to ask themselves: "Is it worth it?". The IS conflict is unreported according to Abdul-Ahad: "We don"t know what the situation in Mosul is, because nobody has been to Mosul." The information Western media now have is coming from IS itself. Their media strategy is very well developed. "Their images are really perfectionized."

But do journalists make a difference? Journalists are not the ones who should solve the crisis, but they can do more than just portraying horrifying images.Rudy Bouma: "We have to show what effect a war has on the people. We have to give the people a face. Too often journalists and editors think their audience are idiots and reporting is being simplified."

The role of new media was also actively discussed. "I do trust social media", says Abdul-Ahad, "but I don't trust reporting based on social media. Social media can be dangerous, but can it also be a strong tool, especially in areas where it is more difficult for journalists to work.”

The problem of journalism in the Arab World is not the lack of good journalists, it is the lack of good media outlets. In conflicts it is even more dangerous for local journalists to report in their own country. This is the reason why Abdul-Ahadonly writes for English media, to protect himself. "I have a dream of an Arabic version of The Guardian."

Finally some thoughts in the IS conflict itself were shared. Will IS still be there in five year? Will the 'evil' win? "If we do not come up with a fundamental, social-economic solution, then yes, social injustice will keep in existence", says MinkaNijhuis. "I think we are creating more IS by bombing." Abdul-Ahad does see a bright future for journalism. “The monopoly on information has been broken and there is an intelligent audience in the Arab World.”