A group of 29 Palestinian journalists in Gaza have united to form “Fish,” an independent coalition seeking to revolutionize their local media. The group took its name, which also means “doesn’t exist” in Arabic, from the most important job for journalists: fishing for news.
Fish's members say they hope to create a media landscape without boundaries or bias, and to move the traditional news culture away from routine, repetition and staleness.
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The group has agreed to meet every week to protest a status quo that is seen as “too formal, too dry, too political, too dependent on propaganda and too reliant on office work,” says Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior reporter for the Associated Press in the Gaza Strip.
The idea for the new group came up during two weeks of training on writing feature stories, led by Daraghmeh.
“These journalists work in media that has a lot of propaganda and little information,” he told The Media Line, adding that some have never been introduced to media founded on facts.
During the training, journalists discussed the basic roles of media.
“I believe one can be objective and still have an ideology,” Noor Al-Dalo, a news editor at Sawt Al-Aqsa radio, a Hamas -affiliated station, told The Media Line.
“As people under occupation, we can’t ignore our social responsibility.” The editor explained that he will not publish a comment from the Israel Defense Forces saying that they used force in response to rocket fire from Gaza.
“I believe this is a lie because Israel doesn’t need an excuse to hit Gaza,” he said. “So I won’t participate and promote their propaganda.”
Group members agreed that the current form of journalism is not good because it doesn’t reflect people’s concerns.
“It’s full of clichés and doesn’t even attract audience from the party’s own supporters,” Daraghmeh explained.
Ahmad Tolba, a reporter and editor for Al-Risala, a Hamas-affiliated newspaper, told The Media Line that local journalism paid a high price for the internal split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinian public TV focuses on the mistakes of Hamas, while Al-Aqsa TV focuses on the Palestinian Authority’s mistakes,” he said, adding that other issues, like the detainees and refugees, are ignored because of sectarian agendas.
“I rarely find an independent journalist in Gaza,” Daraghmeh said. Most are affiliated with political parties because it ensures financial stability.
Islam Zanoun, a 23-year-old who is training to be a journalist, told The Media Line that she will focus on less traditional stories and features.
“I want to show the economic difficulties through humane stories such as the suffering of a family who has quadruplets and can’t pay for their medical treatment,” she said, adding that it’s important to work with English speakers to present Gaza’s stories to the world.
Tolba said that the process of change will take a long time and a lot of effort.
“Some issues can be treated easily and some need more work. For example, I worked on reducing the number of words in my report today. People nowadays don’t have time to read long reports as they used to in the past,” he said.
“They will face challenges from the management and leaders of the news houses, but now it’s their job convince their managers that this is the only way media works,” Daraghmeh added.
For Al-Dalo, the change is already happening, even if it’s slow.
“We know that the current Egyptian regime, the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli siege are the reason for the fuel problem in the Gaza Strip,” he said, explaining that this would have been the way he presented the story before Daraghmeh’s training.
“Now, I asked a governmental official about their responsibility to come up with creative solutions. We can’t always blame these parties, the government needs to take its responsibility.”
Al-Dalo said that the same goes to issue of reconciliation between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority in charge of the West Bank. He will no longer say that Hamas is ready for unity while the Palestinian Authority is not because of American pressure.
“I won’t mention the American veto if I am not sure of this fact,” he said. “However, I will say that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu told the PA that it has to choose between peace and reconciliation with Hamas.”
Journalists agree that changing the situation will not be easy because media freedom in Gaza is already threatened. A few months ago, the government here briefly shut down the offices of Al-Arabiya and Ma’an News Agency claiming that they distribute ”false news.”
“We are working in partisan outlets,” Tolba said. “We can be more objective but only to the limit that won’t affect the outlet’s agenda.”
Al-Dalo agrees. “The decision-makers need to change as well. Otherwise many people will lose their jobs,” he said.
This is a concern for many journalists here, where job opportunities are scarce. Al-Zanoun presented research that showed the gap between the media school graduates and working journalists.
“It’s really high. There are 1,000 journalists in Gaza and 4,000 media graduates,” she said.
Daraghmeh told The Media Line he is working with a network of media agencies to further train these journalists.
“Radio Monte Carlo agreed to take in three journalists to visit the radio and learn from its experience. I am optimistic. I trained journalists in the entire Arab region, but I enjoyed training in Gaza,” he said. “Journalists are less experienced and very eager to learn.”
Article by Diana Atallah
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line