Sunday, 6 March 2011

Good journalism

Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to one of my favourtie journalists: Robert Fisk. It is amazing the difference between his reporting and what I read from other English sources about the Middle East. 

Some of the ingredients for his work are these:
1) He interviews both sides of a story (or all he can when there are more sides) and reproduces the information and arguments given by them. And he gives background information from both sides. He does not give 50% of the time for one side and 50% for the other group as BBC pretends -pretends- to give in the Palestine-Israel conflict (in reality you will see considerably more references to the Israeli view on almost any article). As he says, he is not reporting about the construction of some road through a forest and the pros and cons but about brutal wars and complex conflicts, where one could stick to the 50/50 rule. He tries to report above all about the facts and conditions of those suffering the most while listing the arguments of the other side, not just their acts.
2) He knows history well. I repeat: he knows history well. It is not "history since we arrived there" or "history according to our school books", but history as also told by the different sides and history that goes beyond the time the story became "hot topic". This is very much unlike "star journalists" from the top mainstream news channels that go from one place to the other without having a clue about how the different places evolved, about the reasons behind that development. 

3) Unlike many journalists from the English speaking world, he goes to talk to the small people everywhere. That does not mean "the translator at the office", "the guys going for information at our embassy" or "the small employee from that government". He talks to the people who do not necessarily speak English, who are not to be found in the capital city of the country he visits.

4) He does not think writing down what the "anonymous governmental sources" or "government spokespersons" say should be the main task of a journalist.
If you want to read an excellent book about the Middle East, try the Great War for Civilisation. It is a huge book, but you can read the chapter you want independently from the others.
Very interestingly, Robert Fisk has a completely different background from German journalist Scholl-Latour. Still, a lot of his impressions about the Middle East are the same. That is no surprise: like Scholl-Latour, Fisk has managed to remain very independent, he has a solid understanding of regional and world history and he thinks journalists do have to go to places and report what they see, not what PR masters or the guys just next to them tell them to say.

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