Changing Media Landscape Both ‘an Opportunity and a Hindrance’ for Young Israeli, Palestinian Journalists, International Media Seminar Final Panel Discussion Hears
(Reissued as received)
GENEVA, 4 November (United Nations Office at Geneva) — Media experts discussed the opportunities presented, and challenges for young journalists reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the positive and negative sides of social media, as the 2022 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East concluded today.
Organized by the United Nations Department of Global Communications, the Seminar took place over two days at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Today’s panel discussion explored the theme “Young journalists: opportunities and challenges”. Moderated by Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, the panel featured presentations from Ali Ghaith, Communications Analyst, United Nations Development Programme, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People; Montaser Marai, Manager, Media Initiatives, Media Initiatives Department Aljazeera Media Institute; and Pnina Pfeuffer, Journalist, +972.
Ms. VELLUCCI said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was impacting the young generation, who represented around one third of those affected. For a long time, young people did not feel enabled to make their voices heard; however, thanks to the surge of digital media, this had changed. Young journalists had been pushing the limits, to improve the lives of their communities.
After welcoming the panellists, Ms. VELLUCCI asked about the main challenges for young journalists who worked in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, and how they could overcome them?
Mr. GHAITH said there had been an upsurge in both online and offline censorship. The surge of social media platforms and the reliance on that technology had been the pinnacle of the last decade, and young journalist relied on that form of expression. There was a scarcity in the platforms of Palestinian local news outlets, which resulted in a lack of opportunities for young journalists. There was a 44.3 per cent rate of unemployment for media graduates in Palestine, and female journalists were facing an additional layer of hinderance, with two thirds of this group left unemployed.
Journalists were often paid below average wages — receiving a salary of around only $300-$400 per month, which made it difficult to create a sustainable life. Personal development was important; there were a lot of training opportunities, but these often required English, meaning the language barrier was another hindrance preventing Palestinian youth becoming more integrated within the industry. At times, Palestinian journalists also withheld stories due to fear from the occupation forces.
Ms. PFEUFFER said in Israel, self-censorship was also an issue. The fears were different from those of Palestinians, but speaking about the occupation was not encouraged within the current political atmosphere. Significant efforts had been made by Israeli politicians to wine over the media, as they understood this was the key to retaining power. In Israel, there were politics of fear and politics of hope. The fear was still prevalent in Israeli society and people were threatened with unpleasant consequences. Although it came with its own challenges, social media was a platform which gave people opportunities.
Mr. MARAI said many Palestinian journalists had been fired from their jobs for speaking out. Due to censorship, social media content was limited, which made freedom of expression difficult and that Palestinian voices weren’t always heard. Palestinian journalists often felt that they were not considered equal to their colleagues; this was particularly evident in the situation of Ukraine, where journalists were praised for their heroic actions during war, but the same standards were not extended to Palestinian journalists.
Ms. VELLUCCI asked the panellists how they could distinguish between journalism and activism? Where were the boundaries? What was the position of young journalists today?
Mr. MARAI said journalists were human; when it came to people targeting people, it was often mixed between the two. You could not be an activist or a journalist at the same time, you needed to decide which one you were.
Mr. GHAITH said activism was an amalgamation of experiences and identity, and for Palestinians, there was a collective form of identity shaped by the pressure of the occupation, which had ruled over their lives since birth. For journalists living under the occupation, this instigated a form of activism, which sometimes diverted their journalistic approach. Palestinian journalists sometimes fell prey to becoming activists and journalists at the same time, which could lead to them not being taken seriously, both within the country and to international audiences. There was a tendency to romanticize and become nostalgic within narratives, but that stemmed from their identity, and people around the world needed to understand this.
Ms. PFEUFFER said being an activist was being a journalist; the question was whether you were dealing with real news or fake news. In the media, everyone had different opinions, and this was fine, as long as they stuck to the facts and provided an honest analysis. It was not an issue that people had different opinions; this was something that should be celebrated.
Ms. VELLUCCI asked how the digital landscape had motivated more people to become journalists or activists or both? Was this an opportunity which had arisen from some of the challenges being faced?
Mr. GHAITH said the digital wave had created an audience with multiple platforms, and different algorithms which suited different types of people. This was both an opportunity and a hindrance. Mobile journalism was more cost effective for outlets, but this could result in the loss of industry jobs, which was dangerous for young journalists looking for work opportunities.
Mr. MARAI said the Israeli media was strong and had many platforms. In some instances, people on social media had been taking on the roles of journalists, shifting aside traditional media and reaching people worldwide. Although these “citizen journalists” were not professionals and sometimes made mistakes, they were projecting the voice of Palestinians all around the world, and they needed to be supported.
Ms. PFEUFFER said she viewed “citizen journalism,” as something that was very positive, and amplified a lot of local parts of the conflict which weren’t always seen. Her challenge was how to reach Israelis; they were part of the equation and needed to be spoken to. Not enough was being done to talk to young Israelis; both in Israel and around the world.
Ms. VELLUCCI asked the panellists what the role of academics or civil society would be within the ethics of this new kind of journalism?
Mr. MARAI said there were efforts to reform journalism education at universities. This would prepare the young generations for the market and the future. The focus had shifted from traditional media to topics like digital media and news verification. A special programme had been launched to empower Palestinian journalists, with a focus on mobile journalism and digital media ethics. The majority of literature was based on traditional media, and this needed to change. Courses were conducted in English, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, French and Spanish, and other languages. The content was all free to be able to reach every journalist.
Ms. PFEUFFER said civil society had a big impact on journalism, ethnics, practices and how the field was being reimagined. In Israel there was a lot of interaction between journalists and civil society. Academia should consider refresher courses for journalists, to keep up to date with modern trends, and include historical subjects on the media.
Mr. GHAITH said it was important for both the academic society and civil society to take an active part in training journalists. In Palestine there were a lot of opportunities for journalists to hone their skills, including gender-sensitive training, inclusive reporting, and digital advocacy. If young Palestinian journalists were ensured the conducive environment to flourish, this would result in a different narrative on what was happening on the ground. A lot of information was lost in the cracks because of the non-conducive environment. It was vital to provide new opportunities and protection for these journalists.
Ms. VELLUCCI said young journalists reporting on the conflict could be a way to contribute towards a positive outcome to the conflict. She then opened the floor to questions from the audience.
Some speakers said the issue of double standards towards the Palestinian journalists vs. those covering the war in Ukraine resonated. It seemed to be ok that journalists in Ukraine were teaching people on social media to make Molotov cocktails, while if a Palestinian was doing this, it would have severe consequences. Was this because they were white and European? Palestinian journalists needed to learn about the basic of journalism including leads and headlines, what journalism actually was, and how to manage social media. Speakers also asked how young journalists could contribute to peace in Israel and Palestine? The situation of young female journalists was dismal, with two thirds of young female journalists unemployed compared to young male journalists (one third). What was being done to address this?
Responding to comments, the panellists said it was vital to learn the basics of journalism, particularly social media management. Journalists were change agents; it was more than just the technical skills, there also needed to be a step back to prepare personalities and characters to convey information. Journalists had to be ready to take responsibility for their actions. In Israeli journalism there was a double standard where most Israelis supported Ukraine, yet wouldn’t understand how similar the situation was to their own conflict.
Panellists also said the ability to have free speech had a major impact on any society, but also came with its own challenges. It was important for young Israeli and Palestinian journalists to interact and help each other. Today this could be done through retweeting someone on social media, or asking the author for assistance to reframe the story to reach another audience. It was not Palestinian’s responsibility to inform Israelis, but this could be very helpful.
The panellists said that female journalists were often exploited during their time as trainees, performing activities meant for employees, for very little pay. There was also a wage disparity between male and female journalists, who were able to stay out later than women, particularly those who were married. There was a commitment to train 100 female journalists in Palestine in 2023 with assistance for the United Nations. After the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, many female journalists feared to go out into the field. Shireen’s death had created a lot of implications for female journalists, and she had been a role model to many.
Before thanking the panellists, Ms. VELLUCI said it would be beneficial if Israel and Palestine accredited journalists to the United Nations in Geneva.
NANETTE BRAUN, Chief, Communication Campaigns Service, Campaigns and Country Operations Division, United Nations Department of Global Communications, closed the 2022 United Nations International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, on behalf of the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming. Ms. BRAUN thanked United Nations colleagues, and the panellists and speakers for their efforts as well as the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the United Nations in Geneva, and the audience. The rich conversations had reinforced how essential journalists were to the discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ms. BRAUN hoped that the connections forged over the past two days would prove beneficial and contribute to the solution of the conflict.