Thursday, May 28, 2015

Peace Journalism Summit @Univ of Istanbul concludes
The first international peace journalism summit at the University of Istanbul, sponsored by the US Consulate-Istanbul, concluded earlier this week. For more on the event, see the two previous posts below.

Thanks to conference organizer Dr. Nilufer Pembecioglu and special invitees Dr. Metin Erson (Northern Cyprus), Gloria Laker (Uganda), and many others (see posts below) for creating a memorable and valuable experience. I'm especially grateful for the outstanding, sophisticated participation from my Park University students Taylor Miller and Michael Dean.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Journalists consider coverage of most vulnerable refugees

(ISTANBUL, TURKEY)—The plight of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Turkey was presented during the last half of the Istanbul Peace Journalism Summit at the University of Istanbul.

Kemal Tarlan-Syria in Transit
Activist (don’t call him a journalist) Kemal Tarlan discussed his photography project aimed at depicting Roma in the region. In one of his photo essays, he shot objects (shoes, a toothbrush, etc.) that were dropped by those who were walking long distances to safety. These photos were moving, especially given that they were inanimate objects. Other photos showed the drama and drudgery of these refugees’ daily lives. Kemal said that the Roma refugees are shunned by others in refugee camps. (For more of his exemplary work, see .)

Silent Cry-Akin Bodur
Another talented photographer, Akin Bodur, discussed peace journalism as well as his photojournalism book appropriately titled, “Silent Cry.” Akin, who works in the border region of Hatay, said that local media in that area do not practice peace journalism largely because of sectarian loyalties that are so strong that they are almost “forced to be on one side.” He said that peace journalism is especially important in the future because as refugee children get older “they can’t be ignored.”

These children, who make up a majority of refugees, were also the subject of a presentation by Ayberk Yurtsever, UNICEF communications adviser. He gave attendees an overview of the crisis (1.7 million registered refugees in Turkey alone, for example) and showed several excellent short films designed to put a human face on the crisis. Filmmaker Adnan Kilinc also presented his powerful film, “Children of War,” that focused on the impact of their status on the youngest children.
The seminar concluded with informative presentations by Dr. Metin Ersoy (Eastern Mediterranean University-North Cyprus) and  Gloria Laker (Peace Journalism Foundation-East Africa). Each discussed peace journalism in their home country. 

Also, Park University students Taylor Miller and Michael Dean listed the lessons they learned about peace journalism in their university course this year. The common element they touched upon was indeed the common theme of the summit: that journalists have a responsibility to report responsibly and ethically in a manner that could even save lives.

The summit was sponsored by the U.S. Consulate-Istanbul, the Center for Global Peace Journalism (Park University, USA), and the communications department at the University of Istanbul (Dr. Nilufer Pembecioglu).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Turkish journalists, students dissect ethics of refugee reporting

(Istanbul, Turkey)—Even after four months, the journalists who visited Syrian refugee camps and tent cities in Adana, Turkey are still trying to figure out the best way to tell the refugees’ stories using the principles of peace journalism.

Our Peace Journalism Summit, which began today at the University of Istanbul, brought together
Controversial photo--Should media have used this?
those journalists and students who went into the field to report about refugees in January. Each of the journalists and student journalists took turns talking about how to best tell the story of these Syrians.
The most animated discussion centered on the ethics of using the photo you see here of a small child. In published reports, the photographer said that the child mistook his camera for a gun. The symbolism of the war-weary child is powerful indeed. Most of the summit participants said it was fine to use the picture if parental consent is obtained. One participant suggested blurring the child’s face. Another correctly pointed out that if peace journalists are destined to stir an indifferent public into action, there can be no better tool than this picture.

Another group of participants analyzed an online photo essay called, insensitively, “The joy of Syrian children finding fruit in the garbage.” It features pictures of dumpster-diving children. The seminar participants agreed that this essay was dehumanizing and insensitive, and lacked the kind of context and analysis that we expect in peace journalism.

PJ Summit, Day One participants
Finally, students from Cukurova University in Adana discussed their experiences in the camps and refugee tent cities last January. There were several excellent story ideas/research produced by the students. Two excellent angles were a story about the lack of playgrounds and recreation facilities in the Adana refugee camp, and another story about the difficulties older refugee teens have in matriculating to universities here in Turkey. Both stories offer counter-narratives to the typical negative, stereotyping reporting done about refugees in the Turkish media.

The summit continues through Tuesday at the University of Istanbul’s communications department.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sabah Al-Watan TV/Kuwait will never be the same
At least, it won't be the same after my guest spot on their "Good Morning Kuwait" program.
Click here to view in English and Arabic. 

Kuwaiti journalists confront tough questions
KUWAIT CITY, KUWAIT--Is Kuwaiti press free when journalists are prohibited from criticizing the emir (king) or from attacking religions like Islam?

The discussion that followed those questions at the Arab Media Forum were among the most interesting I’ve ever had with overseas journalists.

International press NGO’s have traditionally dinged Kuwait’s media (listed as “partly free”) because, for one, direct criticism of the emir is prohibited by law. Violators have been punished and fined. The Kuwaiti journalists, while acknowledging this law, pointed out that they still consider themselves free to discuss any issue, and to indeed criticize any minister, politician, or royal family member except the emir himself, thus ensuring a robust discussion of public policy. One young lady observed that, in her view, the relationship between Kuwaitis and their emir is more social than political, and thus prohibiting criticism of him does little (or nothing) to impede public discourse.

Before this discussion, I would have strongly opposed this line of reasoning. After the discussion, I must admit that while I still don’t agree with the law, I certainly understand it. If Kuwaiti journalists feel unimpeded by the criticizing-the-emir prohibition, who am I to condemn this law?

The discussion then drifted to blasphemy laws, which most Western journalists and journalism organizations strongly oppose. Here, criticizing Islam is punishable by fines or jail time.

Though I was not surprised that the journalists supported the blasphemy law, it was still interesting to hear them defend a statute that some might say restricts their rights. The journalists said that the law merely dictates that there is a respectful media discussion of religion—a discussion that shows manners, according to one reporter. I asked several devil’s advocate questions. I wanted to know if someone who was not religious should be able to express their opinion. The journalists unanimously said yes, as long as the opinion was articulated in a respectful manner. This led to the next question: who is it that determines what respectful is, or what shows proper manners? The journalists said this is outlined in Kuwaiti law. 

I told the journalists that I am always more comfortable when media outlets and journalists decide what is and isn’t respectful instead of having these decisions made by government officials. On this important point, the journalists agreed with me.

As is characteristic of truly remarkable discussions like this one, no minds may have been changed today, but all of our minds certainly were opened.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kuwaiti Peace Journalists explore lives of those marginalized
In Arabic, Bidoon means “without.” Here in Kuwait, Bidoon is the word used to label the 100,000-150,000 stateless persons who are, indeed, “without” in every sense of the word.

Small house, Bidoon community, Kuwait
As part of our U.S. Embassy-sponsored three-day peace journalism seminar at the Arab Media Forum in Kuwait City, my reporter/students and I visited an 18,000 member Bidoon community about 45 minutes outside of the city called Al Sulabiya. This settlement includes 900 small, corrugated steel-covered, government provided houses, according to a spokesman from Project 29, an organization that advocates for the Bidoon population.

The dozen or so journalists from the workshop and I went to this community to tell humanitarian-themed stories about those who live here. Before today, several of the journalists had not been to this community. The Bidoon, who reside in Kuwait but are not granted citizen status, live at the margins of Kuwaiti society where education, jobs, and good housing are hard to obtain, according to those whom we interviewed. (For more about the Bidoon, click here.)

Welcomed inside a Bidoon house, Kuwait
We interviewed several teenagers on the streets, which were largely empty because it was 111 degrees the afternoon of our visit. We also visited the home of a married couple with four children in the Bidoon village.

In this reporting exercise, I challenged the journalists to produce stories that debunk the negative narratives about Bidoon which are the standard fare of Kuwaiti media. The reporters, based on their questions, were interested in a story angle about the marriage between a Bidoon man and a Kuwaiti citizen woman.

My hope is that the humanitarian stories produced about our visit to Al Sulabiya are only the first of many that will be told by these Kuwaiti journalists and their colleagues about the Bidoon and their plight.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What I'm reading; Prepping for Kuwait and Istanbul

A couple of interesting peace-journalism related articles have come my way lately. The first involves an excellent radio for peace project in South Sudan. The second is a thought-provoking story about a photographer who shot an incident where a xenophobic crowd killed a man in South Africa. Was it his responsibility to photograph the event, or intervene in an attempt to assist the victim?

In other news, I'm leaving for Kuwait in a few days. I'll be doing workshops there next week for journalists, NGO's, and perhaps students as well. Then, it's off to Istanbul, where I'll be working with my colleagues on a Peace Journalism Summit at the University of Istanbul. Stay tuned to this blog for details.