The first female fixer in Gaza; the editor-in-chief of a decades-old, family-run independent newspaper in Yemen who is constantly on the move, fearing for his life; a journalist in Gaza who must decide whether to announce the death of his friend during a live broadcast. These are a few of the voices highlighted in a recently published book by The Aljazeera Media Institute, Journalism In Times of War.
The book compiles decades of accumulated knowledge about media in the Arab World, sharing stories of journalists reporting under harrowing circumstances. Through a mix of interviews, essays, and helpful tips on reporting in conflict, the book provides invaluable advice to young journalists in the region, and offers a multi-faceted glimpse into their staggering body of work.
Awad Joumaa, one of the book’s editors and a one-time war reporter for Al Jazeera himself, told Muftah the impetus behind the book was to “tap into this rich experience that has been produced regionally and somehow contribute to the production of knowledge.” Alongside co-editor Khaled Ramadan, he aims to share the local knowledge and experience garnered by local journalists for the benefit of other local journalists.
When it came to selecting the featured journalists, the book’s editors wanted to recruit a “cross-section of participants,” according to Joumaa. “We wanted to speak to the voiceless of the voiceless,” he said. True to this aim, the book features lesser known, but incredibly important reporters, such as Gaza’s first female fixer, Ameera Ahmad Harouda, and Muatasm Alhitari, a freelance journalist in Yemen.
The blurred line between the person and professional is a central thread running throughout the book. The profiled journalists and media activists have “seen war and conflict in the region not only first-hand, but from a quite different standpoint as it is sometimes their own city or neighborhood suffering from the violence and devastation,” as written in the book. Reporting from one’s own neighborhood can create complex ethical dilemmas, the nuances of which are explored in the book in an honest, open way.
The myth of objectivity is also central to the book, especially in the context of reporting on war. In one interview, Gaza-based journalist Tamer Al-Meshal challenges the notion of objectivity. He describes the moment when his friend died during a live transmission following an Israeli attack. He ultimately made the difficult decision of telling the world about his friend’s death.
In conflict zones, journalists play multiple roles – they speak truth to power, document the depravities of war, and elevate the voices of civilians trapped in the crosshairs. For Ameera Ahmad Harouda, her work is a balancing act. In one of the most compelling parts of the book, she describes what she does behind the scenes to help journalists shape stories, and build the vast network of sources that enriches journalistic pieces. But, as she says: “This also comes with a responsibility. They are human beings just like me, not casualties, or tragedies, or numbers. We are all Palestinians, living in Gaza.”
Initiatives like the Al Jazeera book are incredibly important in fostering, as the book’s editors note, the “deep-rooted media institutions” often lacking in the Arab world. This absence has had a visceral impact on journalists’ lives. Media outlets, for example, often fail to invest in security equipment for journalists, or to provide them with necessary safety training.
All this makes the mission and message of the book all the more important. It is a rare opportunity for veteran journalists to offer their hard-earned expertise on how to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally, while reporting. In his section of the book, the editor-in-chief of Yemen’s Al-Ayyam Newspaper Bashraheel Bashraheel advises journalists to make copies of their personal IDs, and distribute them “like business cards” when arrested. As for navigating the complex emotional terrain of reporting from a war zone in one’s home country, Bashraheel urges journalists to develop coping mechanisms, and to do that which is most difficult: “remove yourself from the story, especially when you are embedded within the environment in which it is unfolding.”