Sunday, July 24, 2011

Understanding the conflict

By Syed Irfan Ashraf

Perhaps, understanding the conflict is more important than plunging headlong to report on it from the first shot. This is the way a reporter can help save himself/herself by not becoming a victim to wars and also making it possible to provide uncontaminated news to readers.

Last week, such observations were part of the discussion at the E.W Scripps School of Journalism, where 17 scholars from different countries of the world gathered as part of the SUSI program. Though, the scholars realized that it is increasingly difficult to understand conflicts in an era of proxy wars. Because in such a situation shadows are fighting, which makes it hard for reporters to understand the issues.

What to do then? Should a reporter leave the job and go home or should he work harder to understand what is going on? The first option is not possible as no media outlet can afford to shift focus from reporting wars and conflicts in their respective regions. The latter case, though, is not only possible but also preferable. However, it will add some more responsibilities on the shoulders of the already overburdened war reporters.

Keeping in view the changing patterns of global conflicts in terms of technological development and usage of new warfare strategies and tactics, it is increasingly important for a journalist to work extra hours. "We need 'thinking journalists' to stay aware in a conflict zone," one of the SUSI scholars said. "They must understand what is happening around and how he should report about it in the safest possible way," he added.

In fact, to get it done properly, it is important for a reporter to understand the history of the conflict and to stay in touch with the local people and conflict players. In addition, personal observations and analytical skills are the most sought after requirements of conflict sensitive reporting. It all will help a reporter to put information in proper context.

Usually, journalists are the victims of their own dull routines. Since they, in most cases, are used to work in normal environments for long periods of time, they expect the same when they find themselves in abnormal situation or when they are sent to a war zone to cover it. In some areas like the north west of Pakistan, such insensitive coverage of the sensitive issues are increasingly leading to the death of journalists.

Under abnormal circumstances, a better journalist is the one who is more professional. Who is not only aware of the skills of reporting but also understands the changing nature of conflict dynamics. And most important of all, who knows how to present information in its proper context. This is the job of a "thinking journalist." Such measures will help a reporter to access himself/herself every time by not becoming party to the conflict and also to avoid losing to it personally.

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