Breaking down stereotypes between European and Arab journalists

Under the headline of ‘Make news – not stereotypes’, 19 young people from all corners of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East came together in Egypt to discuss good journalism and foster intercultural understanding

By Lena Odgaard

Organised by the Euro-Mediterranean Academy for Journalists (EMAJ), the ten days in Alexandria were a chance for participants to listen to experienced foreign news reporters and innovative Egyptian activists and to discuss cultural values and norms.

“We want to bring back the personal dimension of the reporter when dealing with Euro-Mediterranean news. The main thought is that only if we create real links between journalists working on the two shores of the Mediterranean, we can foster quality cooperation to report stories”, said Letizia Gambini, member of the EMAJ organising team. “Young journalists who are still learning will be able to influence the news making in the areas of European and Mediterranean issues”, she added.

As their main task, the participating journalists were assigned to collaborate in productions of pieces on Egyptian issues varying from religion and politics to street art, dance and fish markets. This gave the journalists a chance to not only experience advantages and difficulties of working across cultures, but also to build trust, explained Ahmed Esmat from the EMAJ organising team.

In a social media world, network is key

This year’s EMAJ academy also focused on ‘social media in a changing world’. A well-known topic with journalists participating from Tunisia, Syria and Egypt – all countries in which social media have played a dominant role in the past year’s uprisings.

But even among the group of young web savvy journalists, many said they were wary in their professional integration of social media tools due to a fear of false information. The EMAJ organisers therefore emphasised the potential resource of trusted contacts throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

“As social media is becoming a more important tool when reporting from places you cannot reach, having a strong network in the region helps with the interpretation and verification of information found on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook”, says Marina Ferhatovic, Swedish-Bosnian journalist and editor of the EMAJ Magazine.

For one of the participants, Carl Fridh Kleberg, Foreign News Reporter at the Swedish Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå, the advantages of journalistic use of social media became clear during his coverage of the 2011 Arab uprisings. For him social media gave tools to communicate directly with people on the ground.

“I think that during the Arab spring, journalists realised that normal people in these countries know more than we do about them”, said Kleberg, but emphasised that journalists through their access to official sources also had information to give back to their social media sources.

The first EMAJ academy took place in Jordan in 2008 and was followed by a similar event in Amsterdam in 2009. This lead to the launch of the independent non-profit online EMAJ Magazine, which focuses on stories on the relationship between the Euro-Mediterranean regions as well as human rights and immigration.