Gorkana meets...Al Jazeera English

Published:

Describe your role at Al Jazeera.

I am in charge of the London news operation for Al Jazeera English, which is the global English-language branch of Al Jazeera. We have Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera America which launched last year, as well as Al Jazeera Balkans. Our service is divided into news and programs, and my role is to run coverage for news across Europe.

Four Al Jazeera journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt, with their trial having been repeatedly adjourned. Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were arrested at the end of 2013, and Abdullah El-Shamy has been held since August of the same year.

What are the specific allegations against the detained journalists?

They are threefold. The first one is an allegation of being involved in terrorism, the second about faking reports, and the third is a lack of accreditation. All three are absurd. All we’ve ever done is report all sides of the story and what upsets the Egyptian authorities is that in pursuing standard journalistic practice, we’ve been accused of supporting terrorism.

Regarding the faking of coverage, we insist upon all our reports being balanced and objective, and they’re still there online for anyone who wants to look at them. The lack of accreditation is an administrative thing – we had applied, but it hadn’t yet been given to us. We were licensed as a channel in Egypt but the specific individuals didn’t have their accreditation. If all journalists still awaiting individual accreditation were jailed, this would be happening all over the world. It is not a criminal offence that sees people locked up for three months.

How does the #FreeAJStaff campaign hope to help the four detainees?

The first thing to say is that they've now been held for 122 days, and are next in court on 3rd May. As an organisation, we have put our resources behind trying to get them out, a process that has involved diplomatic channels, appealing to the Egyptian government, and generally influencing in any way we can. It has been a global campaign, not just by Al Jazeera journalists but by journalists from many other media organisations. The part of the story that has been so empowering has been seeing your daily rivals come together in support of both of those individuals in prison and of journalism as a whole.

There was a day of action at the BBC; the National Union of Journalists have been very supportive and we’ve had pickets outside the Egyptian embassy in London; CNN have been very helpful in reporting the coverage from Cairo for us, because we can’t go there and report at the moment. This means our plight has stayed in the headlines. You wouldn’t normally see CNN reporters appearing on Al Jazeera, and I’ve never seen that in peace-time, but that shows the commitment and support of the wider journalist community.

All the world’s press have been incredibly supportive about this. For example, there was recently a day of action across Pakistan, where local journalists were out campaigning, holding pickets, and appearing in photos with tape across their mouths. It’s been incredibly heartening to hear and see this, and has brought a great deal of support to the journalists in prison.

What’s also important is to get across the significance of journalism. Journalism is bigger than anything I do, you do, or any journalists do on a minor level. It is about democracy and free speech, and it’s about society functioning and moving forward. If governments are locking journalists up for doing their day jobs, then there’s a real problem.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this is the use of #FreeAJStaff as a hashtag, and how social media has enabled the whole campaign to go global. Involving journalists around the world has kept the story at the forefront of people’s minds, and the hashtag has been a really important part of that. People have been able to retweet it and push it, and it has helped drive the campaign along. The hashtag itself was actually a spontaneous thing that came out of a journalist demonstration in Nairobi. Peter Greste was based in Nairobi, and it was one of his colleagues who held up a sign with that text – it’s snowballed out of that.

At the time of publication, the #FreeAJStaff hashtag has had 1.2 billion impressions on Twitter.

What is your role, and the role of Al Jazeera English in the campaign?

We have organised major press events in London, bringing people together to continue campaigning, and I’ve helped with organisation locally. Although I haven’t been out to Cairo, various Al Jazeera managers from Doha have. For us, our role is about maintaining the European end of campaigning, and encouraging staff to keep the story in the headlines.

The crucial thing is that this could, potentially, affect anyone in journalism. They are trying to clamp down on free press and journalism, and we’re fighting that.

What wider issues does the campaign seek to address, and what has been achieved so far?

The campaign operates on two levels. The first is about getting these individuals out of prison, but the second is about protecting free speech and journalism globally, and particularly in Egypt. And of course, it is about freedom of speech for people who are non-journalists as well.

We’re showing the Egyptian authorities the extent of what they are doing, and keeping the story high in the headlines. However, the campaign won’t have achieved its objectives until the charges are dropped and these four people are out of prison and safely back at home with their families. What we want to do is be in a situation where that all happens, and we can report from Egypt again, reporting all sides of the story.

We’ve tapped into a realization of how important real journalism is, and the necessity of free speech. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate something until it’s taken away from you, and if you’re operating in a society where people lose the right to report freely then other practices can start to happen as well. Without free journalism, there wouldn’t be the oversight or investigation into other human rights abuses.

What should the relationship be between political or state operation and journalistic freedom? And what are your thoughts about press regulation?

Journalism is about holding governments to account. That’s an enormous part of the job. We need to show the impact of the government on ordinary people, and if we’re not doing that then there’s going to be issues.

In terms of media regulation, Al Jazeera works within Ofcom guidelines. There is inevitably some form of press regulation there, in terms of technical requirements, taste and decency, balance, objectivity, but these are the basics of decent, serious journalism. I have no problem with that element of press regulation, and it’s something we’re all used to. It doesn’t prevent us from telling certain types of stories.

Given Al Jazeera’s global audience, do you ever run into issues with press regulation in other countries?

We’re going into hundreds of different markets with different sensitivities and opinion, and as a global operation we’re covering areas that might be offensive in one country and not in another. It’s essential to remain aware of our international reach and our global situation. Of course, we will generally operate a sensible approach to these things. For example, we wouldn't curtail a story itself, but might do so for the accompanying images we show.

Ultimately, we’re happy to work within a framework laid down by Ofcom. It’s extremely useful to be able to say that we abide by Ofcom guidelines, and that helps when we’re moving into different markets around the world. We see it as a gold standard of regulation.

Do you see freedom of expression online as being under threat?

Clearly there are certain governments who are finding it hard to deal with the globalized media world online. They’re used to regulating domestic press in a somewhat more aggressive fashion, and are finding that difficult with Twitter. I'm sure we’re going to see a lot more of that in future, and in different countries.

The Global Day of Action on the 27th February saw worldwide demonstrations against silencing the press. Are there plans for similar protests?

The journalists’ next trial date is May 3rd, which coincides with World Press Freedom Day – so I’m sure there will be more activity then.

Ben was speaking to Gorkana’s David Keevill and John Basquill

Describe your role at Al Jazeera.

I am in charge of the London news operation for Al Jazeera English, which is the global English-language branch of Al Jazeera. We have Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera America which launched last year, as well as Al Jazeera Balkans. Our service is divided into news and programs, and my role is to run coverage for news across Europe.

Four Al Jazeera journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt, with their trial having been repeatedly adjourned. Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were arrested at the end of 2013, and Abdullah El-Shamy has been held since August of the same year.

What are the specific allegations against the detained journalists?

They are threefold. The first one is an allegation of being involved in terrorism, the second about faking reports, and the third is a lack of accreditation. All three are absurd. All we’ve ever done is report all sides of the story and what upsets the Egyptian authorities is that in pursuing standard journalistic practice, we’ve been accused of supporting terrorism.

Regarding the faking of coverage, we insist upon all our reports being balanced and objective, and they’re still there online for anyone who wants to look at them. The lack of accreditation is an administrative thing – we had applied, but it hadn’t yet been given to us. We were licensed as a channel in Egypt but the specific individuals didn’t have their accreditation. If all journalists still awaiting individual accreditation were jailed, this would be happening all over the world. It is not a criminal offence that sees people locked up for three months.

How does the #FreeAJStaff campaign hope to help the four detainees?

The first thing to say is that they've now been held for 122 days, and are next in court on 3rd May. As an organisation, we have put our resources behind trying to get them out, a process that has involved diplomatic channels, appealing to the Egyptian government, and generally influencing in any way we can. It has been a global campaign, not just by Al Jazeera journalists but by journalists from many other media organisations. The part of the story that has been so empowering has been seeing your daily rivals come together in support of both of those individuals in prison and of journalism as a whole.

There was a day of action at the BBC; the National Union of Journalists have been very supportive and we’ve had pickets outside the Egyptian embassy in London; CNN have been very helpful in reporting the coverage from Cairo for us, because we can’t go there and report at the moment. This means our plight has stayed in the headlines. You wouldn’t normally see CNN reporters appearing on Al Jazeera, and I’ve never seen that in peace-time, but that shows the commitment and support of the wider journalist community.

All the world’s press have been incredibly supportive about this. For example, there was recently a day of action across Pakistan, where local journalists were out campaigning, holding pickets, and appearing in photos with tape across their mouths. It’s been incredibly heartening to hear and see this, and has brought a great deal of support to the journalists in prison.

What’s also important is to get across the significance of journalism. Journalism is bigger than anything I do, you do, or any journalists do on a minor level. It is about democracy and free speech, and it’s about society functioning and moving forward. If governments are locking journalists up for doing their day jobs, then there’s a real problem.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this is the use of #FreeAJStaff as a hashtag, and how social media has enabled the whole campaign to go global. Involving journalists around the world has kept the story at the forefront of people’s minds, and the hashtag has been a really important part of that. People have been able to retweet it and push it, and it has helped drive the campaign along. The hashtag itself was actually a spontaneous thing that came out of a journalist demonstration in Nairobi. Peter Greste was based in Nairobi, and it was one of his colleagues who held up a sign with that text – it’s snowballed out of that.

At the time of publication, the #FreeAJStaff hashtag has had 1.2 billion impressions on Twitter.

What is your role, and the role of Al Jazeera English in the campaign?

We have organised major press events in London, bringing people together to continue campaigning, and I’ve helped with organisation locally. Although I haven’t been out to Cairo, various Al Jazeera managers from Doha have. For us, our role is about maintaining the European end of campaigning, and encouraging staff to keep the story in the headlines.

The crucial thing is that this could, potentially, affect anyone in journalism. They are trying to clamp down on free press and journalism, and we’re fighting that.

What wider issues does the campaign seek to address, and what has been achieved so far?

The campaign operates on two levels. The first is about getting these individuals out of prison, but the second is about protecting free speech and journalism globally, and particularly in Egypt. And of course, it is about freedom of speech for people who are non-journalists as well.

We’re showing the Egyptian authorities the extent of what they are doing, and keeping the story high in the headlines. However, the campaign won’t have achieved its objectives until the charges are dropped and these four people are out of prison and safely back at home with their families. What we want to do is be in a situation where that all happens, and we can report from Egypt again, reporting all sides of the story.

We’ve tapped into a realization of how important real journalism is, and the necessity of free speech. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate something until it’s taken away from you, and if you’re operating in a society where people lose the right to report freely then other practices can start to happen as well. Without free journalism, there wouldn’t be the oversight or investigation into other human rights abuses.

What should the relationship be between political or state operation and journalistic freedom? And what are your thoughts about press regulation?

Journalism is about holding governments to account. That’s an enormous part of the job. We need to show the impact of the government on ordinary people, and if we’re not doing that then there’s going to be issues.

In terms of media regulation, Al Jazeera works within Ofcom guidelines. There is inevitably some form of press regulation there, in terms of technical requirements, taste and decency, balance, objectivity, but these are the basics of decent, serious journalism. I have no problem with that element of press regulation, and it’s something we’re all used to. It doesn’t prevent us from telling certain types of stories.

Given Al Jazeera’s global audience, do you ever run into issues with press regulation in other countries?

We’re going into hundreds of different markets with different sensitivities and opinion, and as a global operation we’re covering areas that might be offensive in one country and not in another. It’s essential to remain aware of our international reach and our global situation. Of course, we will generally operate a sensible approach to these things. For example, we wouldn't curtail a story itself, but might do so for the accompanying images we show.

Ultimately, we’re happy to work within a framework laid down by Ofcom. It’s extremely useful to be able to say that we abide by Ofcom guidelines, and that helps when we’re moving into different markets around the world. We see it as a gold standard of regulation.

Do you see freedom of expression online as being under threat?

Clearly there are certain governments who are finding it hard to deal with the globalized media world online. They’re used to regulating domestic press in a somewhat more aggressive fashion, and are finding that difficult with Twitter. I'm sure we’re going to see a lot more of that in future, and in different countries.

The Global Day of Action on the 27th February saw worldwide demonstrations against silencing the press. Are there plans for similar protests?

The journalists’ next trial date is May 3rd, which coincides with World Press Freedom Day – so I’m sure there will be more activity then.

Ben was speaking to Gorkana’s David Keevill and John Basquill

- See more at: http://www.gorkana.us/news/consumer/gorkana-meets/gorkana-meetsal-jazeera-english/#sthash.lHwbiQmw.dpuf

Describe your role at Al Jazeera.

I am in charge of the London news operation for Al Jazeera English, which is the global English-language branch of Al Jazeera. We have Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera America which launched last year, as well as Al Jazeera Balkans. Our service is divided into news and programs, and my role is to run coverage for news across Europe.

Four Al Jazeera journalists are currently imprisoned in Egypt, with their trial having been repeatedly adjourned. Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed were arrested at the end of 2013, and Abdullah El-Shamy has been held since August of the same year.

What are the specific allegations against the detained journalists?

They are threefold. The first one is an allegation of being involved in terrorism, the second about faking reports, and the third is a lack of accreditation. All three are absurd. All we’ve ever done is report all sides of the story and what upsets the Egyptian authorities is that in pursuing standard journalistic practice, we’ve been accused of supporting terrorism.

Regarding the faking of coverage, we insist upon all our reports being balanced and objective, and they’re still there online for anyone who wants to look at them. The lack of accreditation is an administrative thing – we had applied, but it hadn’t yet been given to us. We were licensed as a channel in Egypt but the specific individuals didn’t have their accreditation. If all journalists still awaiting individual accreditation were jailed, this would be happening all over the world. It is not a criminal offence that sees people locked up for three months.

How does the #FreeAJStaff campaign hope to help the four detainees?

The first thing to say is that they've now been held for 122 days, and are next in court on 3rd May. As an organisation, we have put our resources behind trying to get them out, a process that has involved diplomatic channels, appealing to the Egyptian government, and generally influencing in any way we can. It has been a global campaign, not just by Al Jazeera journalists but by journalists from many other media organisations. The part of the story that has been so empowering has been seeing your daily rivals come together in support of both of those individuals in prison and of journalism as a whole.

There was a day of action at the BBC; the National Union of Journalists have been very supportive and we’ve had pickets outside the Egyptian embassy in London; CNN have been very helpful in reporting the coverage from Cairo for us, because we can’t go there and report at the moment. This means our plight has stayed in the headlines. You wouldn’t normally see CNN reporters appearing on Al Jazeera, and I’ve never seen that in peace-time, but that shows the commitment and support of the wider journalist community.

All the world’s press have been incredibly supportive about this. For example, there was recently a day of action across Pakistan, where local journalists were out campaigning, holding pickets, and appearing in photos with tape across their mouths. It’s been incredibly heartening to hear and see this, and has brought a great deal of support to the journalists in prison.

What’s also important is to get across the significance of journalism. Journalism is bigger than anything I do, you do, or any journalists do on a minor level. It is about democracy and free speech, and it’s about society functioning and moving forward. If governments are locking journalists up for doing their day jobs, then there’s a real problem.

One of the most interesting things to come out of this is the use of #FreeAJStaff as a hashtag, and how social media has enabled the whole campaign to go global. Involving journalists around the world has kept the story at the forefront of people’s minds, and the hashtag has been a really important part of that. People have been able to retweet it and push it, and it has helped drive the campaign along. The hashtag itself was actually a spontaneous thing that came out of a journalist demonstration in Nairobi. Peter Greste was based in Nairobi, and it was one of his colleagues who held up a sign with that text – it’s snowballed out of that.

At the time of publication, the #FreeAJStaff hashtag has had 1.2 billion impressions on Twitter.

What is your role, and the role of Al Jazeera English in the campaign?

We have organised major press events in London, bringing people together to continue campaigning, and I’ve helped with organisation locally. Although I haven’t been out to Cairo, various Al Jazeera managers from Doha have. For us, our role is about maintaining the European end of campaigning, and encouraging staff to keep the story in the headlines.

The crucial thing is that this could, potentially, affect anyone in journalism. They are trying to clamp down on free press and journalism, and we’re fighting that.

What wider issues does the campaign seek to address, and what has been achieved so far?

The campaign operates on two levels. The first is about getting these individuals out of prison, but the second is about protecting free speech and journalism globally, and particularly in Egypt. And of course, it is about freedom of speech for people who are non-journalists as well.

We’re showing the Egyptian authorities the extent of what they are doing, and keeping the story high in the headlines. However, the campaign won’t have achieved its objectives until the charges are dropped and these four people are out of prison and safely back at home with their families. What we want to do is be in a situation where that all happens, and we can report from Egypt again, reporting all sides of the story.

We’ve tapped into a realization of how important real journalism is, and the necessity of free speech. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate something until it’s taken away from you, and if you’re operating in a society where people lose the right to report freely then other practices can start to happen as well. Without free journalism, there wouldn’t be the oversight or investigation into other human rights abuses.

What should the relationship be between political or state operation and journalistic freedom? And what are your thoughts about press regulation?

Journalism is about holding governments to account. That’s an enormous part of the job. We need to show the impact of the government on ordinary people, and if we’re not doing that then there’s going to be issues.

In terms of media regulation, Al Jazeera works within Ofcom guidelines. There is inevitably some form of press regulation there, in terms of technical requirements, taste and decency, balance, objectivity, but these are the basics of decent, serious journalism. I have no problem with that element of press regulation, and it’s something we’re all used to. It doesn’t prevent us from telling certain types of stories.

Given Al Jazeera’s global audience, do you ever run into issues with press regulation in other countries?

We’re going into hundreds of different markets with different sensitivities and opinion, and as a global operation we’re covering areas that might be offensive in one country and not in another. It’s essential to remain aware of our international reach and our global situation. Of course, we will generally operate a sensible approach to these things. For example, we wouldn't curtail a story itself, but might do so for the accompanying images we show.

Ultimately, we’re happy to work within a framework laid down by Ofcom. It’s extremely useful to be able to say that we abide by Ofcom guidelines, and that helps when we’re moving into different markets around the world. We see it as a gold standard of regulation.

Do you see freedom of expression online as being under threat?

Clearly there are certain governments who are finding it hard to deal with the globalized media world online. They’re used to regulating domestic press in a somewhat more aggressive fashion, and are finding that difficult with Twitter. I'm sure we’re going to see a lot more of that in future, and in different countries.

The Global Day of Action on the 27th February saw worldwide demonstrations against silencing the press. Are there plans for similar protests?

The journalists’ next trial date is May 3rd, which coincides with World Press Freedom Day – so I’m sure there will be more activity then.

Ben was speaking to Gorkana’s David Keevill and John Basquill

- See more at: http://www.gorkana.us/news/consumer/gorkana-meets/gorkana-meetsal-jazeera-english/#sthash.lHwbiQmw.dpuf

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