Friday, September 21, 2012

Freedom of Expression, Political Depression or Conspiracy ? Protests against Anti Islamic movie turning into Mob Behavior and Violence in Pakistan

Aazadi Fateh Muhammad - Pakistan

Pakistani nation strongly rejects defamatory attacks on the profile of Prophet of Islam Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) in the name of freedom of expression when the movie trailer ‘Innocence of Muslims ', triggered intensive protests and anger in Pakistan after Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Public protests began across the country starting from a rally launched by Majlis e Wehdat ul Muslimeeen in front of US Consulate building in Karachi, last Saturday. Police used warning shots and tear gas to disperse the participants of the rally against the anti-Islamic movie resulting in 1 killing and 6 injuries.

Soon after this, number of demonstrations took place in Karachi city and across the country by various religious - political parties and civil society to condemn the blasphemous movie mocking the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). In Karachi only, 1 killed and 8 people injured; two police vans set on fire when these protests turned violent and formed clashes with Police and law and order personnel.
The government of Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the first Muslim state in the region to announce a public holiday on September 21 and banned the web portal across the country to mark the protest against the film. However these steps did not do much to calm down the aggression and public protests as on Thursday evening biggest hike and violent protest was observed, when more than 3000 people gathered in Islamabad tried to enter in diplomatic enclave area consisting government official buildings and embassies of US, France and other countries leaving at least 15 injured.
Earlier in the week, the city witnessed the worst industrial fire in the history of Pakistan on September 12 when almost 300 workers burnt to death in a garment factory. Being in trouble all the time, the society not only suffers floods and natural disasters but also crime and terrorism. Target killings, political riots and call for strikes are part of routine life here. With nearly 40 million people living below poverty line, 60 percent of population illiterate, increasing terror, insecurity and unemployment left the nation depress and hopeless. Erfan Aziz a senior academician from Karachi expressing his remarks for public culture said that, ‘Public in Pakistan has remained much oppressed in the past. Even the genuine issues of society were not allowed to be discussed in public. You’ll still see messages such as SYASI GUFGTOO SE PERHEZ KAREN (Avoid Political Conversations) in some public restaurants and places.  He believes that with the Private media working in line with popular-Islam-loving set of people and ideology, the show of aggression and violence has attracted tremendous value in the society.’  
  In this scenario the news of anti-Islamic movie received immense anger and condemnation by the folks at all public platforms including social media, mobile messages (SMS), wall chalking and crowd marches, still the opinions regarding methods of protest may vary from one segment to another.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) is most respectful and loved personality among Muslims. His flawless character and biography considered as an ideal way to follow to get a fruitful and ideal life. His immense impact on humanity and strong profile has been recognized not only by Muslims but non-Muslim communities in the world as well. Michael H. Heart included personality of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as most influential person at top of the list in his book ‘100 Influential Persons’ in 1978. With the clear understanding, honor and status of him in the world, the content of movie seems an intentional insulting attempt and producer’s self-prejudice. 

The heterogeneous Pakistani society responded differently in their ways to protest against the controversial movie. Numbers of rallies by socio-political groups are on the go to mark the protest against the disrespectful movie. After religious parties, political segments, traders, lawyers, teachers, students, and members of minorities also joined Muslim communities in protest.
The major part of protest is based on marching rallies and enchanting slogans, but many academics and scholars believe in nonviolent actions depicting disapproval of the movie.
Narjis Fatima, a graduate student in University of Karachi suggested using vice-versa mediums to mark the protest on such offensive attacks on religion and society. She said ‘we should protest in similar terms by using cartoons, films or mass media to portray and register our disapproval with sufficient arguments and rationalizations. She forced on the idea of social tolerance and respect by conveying a message to the international community that we respect their beliefs and ideologies and expect them to do same for our faiths. Peaceful planned protests are necessary to show this respect and understanding among the world communities.
Pakistani youth must come up with creative ideas to register their feelings and hurt the movie did, thought by Kulsoom Shah a Pakistani Graduate and Fulbright scholar presently studying in USA.  She further explained the idea of unity and understanding among the Muslim Ummah around the world. She liked the way of protest in France where Muslim students distributed copies of Islamic holy book Quran in non-Muslim communities. She further added that with the support and consensus of International community the Film crew may be sued for the act of defamation.
There are serious concerns among the scholars of society on the ways to treat controversial messages avoiding violence and conflict. Responding to the question that how this situation may be positioned, Erfan Aziz firmly believe that a democratic government is bound to follow popular public sentiments. Yet on the other hand it has to guide its public to the sensible course of action in such situations.
Present situation is sensitive indeed and cannot be dealt in isolation. Islamic scholars of modest approach should be brought forward on the popular media to calm down people resentment, hard-liner political parties and public figures should not be allowed to use public space, and Government should address the situation at some reasonable and adequate forum so it can have its due impact.
Lindsey Boyle graduate and journalist from Ohio University strongly condemns the offense attempted by the movie and added that an overgeneralization is occurring. For one, the film does not represent popular U.S. opinion (partly, unfortunately, because many U.S. citizens do not even know who the Islam prophet is). Second, the U.S. government has condemned the movie, so burning the American flag is not necessarily a reasonable reaction. The problem with the freedom of speech we enjoy in the United States , a freedom that many nations wish they too enjoyed is that it applies to essentially all material, whether our government or citizens endorse it or not. I hope that Muslims throughout the world can understand that the film is not airing because all U.S. citizens believe it is true, but instead because the freedom of the media in the United States allows it to.

Answering the query about international community role and protests made by Muslims she said that the Muslim community should regarding a message to the rest of the world focus on debunking the myths of how the Islam prophet is portrayed in the film, as well as the incorrect portrayal of the religion itself. I know that is easier said than done. However, I believe there are many similarities between true Christianity's Jesus and Islam's Mohammed - they are both open-minded, they both help the weak, they both overcame struggle, and more. The biggest problem in the world today, religiously and culturally, is misunderstanding. People on both sides of this situation simply need to take time to learn about one another. That becomes almost impossible when one side is making an overgeneralized, demeaning movie, and the other side is violently protesting it in an overgeneralized way. We need to work to promote positive messages and understanding, above all else.
The question about nature of protest remains sensitive to answer, and far more difficult to motivate people to follow that in practical. Lindsey added her opinion that Peaceful protests that are truly peaceful are often effective. However, there is an almost inevitable challenge that comes with huge peaceful protests. When you bring a large body of unhappy people together in a small area to protest, the maintenance of peace can often become a problem.
 A large number of academicians and scholars strongly believe in peaceful protests, as violent and mob based protests not only will generate more violence and conflict but also make it easy to lose the true spirit of message and cause.
Lindsey Boyle is sure on the bases of her own knowledge of Christianity that violent aggressive protests may not be the way how a Prophet would also want the people to react in anyway.
The similarities in faith led to equal reactions around the Muslim regions and communities. The neighbor country Afghanistan witnessed same levels of angry and huge protests when they came to know about the movie. Taimoor Noorie senior journalist and academician from Kabul told that People responded critically against that depiction of Muhammad (peace be Upon him) at provincial and capital level and series of demonstrations still on the way through all Afghanistan, in Kabul the protest turn to violence which resulted  20 police men injured and dozens of civilians also have inflicted injuries. Universities students protested by burning the flag of United States, chanting slogans They demands the culprits should bring before justice. The clerics, tribal elders and civil activists hold meeting and condemned the action seriously and asked the USA Officials to take the halt such depiction which damage the relationship being created, they said it only generate hatreds towards Americans and benefits those who wage war against them.

In any society of the world Human diversity and pluralism must be understood to promote peace and prosperity. Present world is in a subtle need of Peace and Harmony, by showing tolerance and giving space to each other’s differences like color, race, creed, religion or country we can promote a more genuine and friendly life around us. Educational Institutions and Mass media must play their roles in promoting world knowledge and obvious presence of difference, which may be accepted as a law of nature rather than seen as reason of clash or hatred.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

First Steps in the realm of investigative journalism

Sagar Atre
Reporting Intern, Healthcare
ProPublica, New York
Recipient of John R Wilhelm Foreign Correspondence Internship, 2012
M.S. Journalism, E.W. Scripps School of Journalism

Being an investigative journalist is a tough job, and completely without the glamor until your story creates a big splash. Even then, the next story is also another rather rigorous investigation before it goes live. Investigative journalism is probably deemed to be the most interesting and valuable, but the work done by an investigative journalist rarely comes to the fore. Only a few investigative journalists ever catch public attention, others are silent guardians, tirelessly working to expose problems and anomalies in the system. The only thing sustaining them is the overwhelming evidence that they are doing good. As my first month at ProPublica as a healthcare reporting intern draws to a close, I see this as a vital takeaway during my time here.

ProPublica is a serious organization, working against the tide in a time when the media is getting shallower, and stories are pandering more to the needs of the market and advertisers than the needs of societal needs. ProPublica journalists sometimes don’t seem to be journalists, they seem to be an investigative committee investigating the many wrongs happening in American society and government today. They study huge amounts of documents which are almost always available, accessible and readable, to get a story which is powerful to rock the most dominating centers of power in the country; governmental organizations, large corporate houses, and even presidential campaigns (whose funding is one major ongoing investigation right now).

The project I am working on is a major project on healthcare which ProPublica is doing. It is a project investigating patient safety and medical errors in American hospitals. My work is a mixed bag of doing background research for the project, speaking to researchers about some topics in medicine and eventually, writing blog posts for the newly launched page of the patient safety project. ProPublica seems to have a very different environment when compared to the conventional news-based journalism organization, the journalists are not always in a frantic hurry, there is no ticking clock which everyone is nervous of, and the flurry of the day does not rise as the day progresses. There are no last minute additions, no cut-throat deadlines, and the atmosphere in the office is a mixed one of composed silence tinged with some polite humor. Unlikely, we feel, for a top notch news organization that has won two Pulitzers in a span of four years.

The pressures at ProPublica are different. Here, the race is not for speed, but for quality. Every word in a ProPublica story which says something meaningful has to be documented, backed by rock-solid evidence and substantiated through credible sources. This does not always mean sources, it means studying a lot of documentation and bringing evidence to the story which usually few people have looked at. This sometimes means that reporters are working on stories for weeks at a time, poring over documents over mugs of coffee, huddled in meetings with their editors who demand highly from their reporters. This is a new environment for me to work in as a young journalist. 

The reputation of journalism as a high-octane profession is somewhat negated when someone sees ProPublica working, but it is a different kind of rush, a rush when you pore through a hundred pages and find something significant hidden away in a report or research many pages long. Journalists at ProPublica are seekers of deep truths; secrets hidden below the daily facts of news happening across the country. It’s a different kind of journalism, exhausting, time-consuming, but highly interesting and exciting. Work at ProPublica has changed my impression and beliefs about the power of journalism. It is a profession whose power can be incessantly magnified if done right, and at ProPublica, I hope to learn how it can be used as a powerful tool for change.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

SUSI 2012 wraps up in Washington, D.C.

By Lindsay Boyle

The 2012 Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on Journalism and Media program concluded on Aug. 17 in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The SUSI summer institute — in which scholars from all over the world come to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University to study journalism and media — is funded by an annual renewable grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs.

OU has successfully hosted the program for three consecutive years.

The SUSI scholars spent their last four days in D.C., where they visited a variety of both media and cultural locations, as well as attended a debriefing at the U.S Department of State.

Media visits included tours of and discussions at NPR, The National Geographic headquarters and museum, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Voice of America (VOA), and The Newseum.

At NPR, for example, the scholars talked to digital news editor Erica Ryan — who is an OU alumna — about political and international coverage, as well as issues regarding bias and objectivity.

SUSI scholars pose outside NPR with digital news editor Erica Ryan.

Scholar Dr. Murad Abdullah said the visits to The National Geographic and to Voice of America were his favorites. He said he especially enjoyed an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum that displayed many videos and materials about Muslim inventions and discoveries between the ninth and 11th centuries.

Abdullah said he found Voice of America to be interesting because he did not know there was a U.S. radio station devoted solely to broadcasting to the rest of the world.

“I came to know that (Voice of America) is targeting particular countries to preach and promote some of the U.S. values and principles,” he said.

The scholars also visited many cultural landmarks and buildings in Washington, D.C., including the White House, the Capitol Building, monuments and Smithsonian museums.

On Thursday, Aug. 14 — the scholars’ final day in the United States — they traveled to the U.S. Department of State to undergo a final evaluation of the 2012 SUSI program, and to receive their certificates of completion. Kevin Orchison, program officer for the Study of the U.S. Branch of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, conducted the informal evaluation and handed out the certificates.

Several of the scholars said that the evaluation went well, including Abdullah.

“I enjoyed the discussion with members of the State Department as they showed great concern — first, to understand the possible problems we might have encountered and, second, to take our comments seriously in order to develop the program in the coming years,” he said.

On Thursday evening, the scholars shared Ethiopian cuisine during a farewell dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown — a historic district in D.C. filled with shops, restaurants and other entertainment. Toward the end of the night, each of the scholars stood up and gave a farewell speech to an attentive audience.

Abdullah described the farewell dinner as bittersweet, because he enjoyed the company of the SUSI scholars and the program directors and assistants, but was sad to know it was the last time they would all be together.

“The speeches delivered were influential, and it was hard to see some colleagues shedding tears in that farewell dinner,” he said. “I consider my participation and involvement in the SUSI program the best experience that has ever happened to me.”

SUSI scholars enjoy a farewell dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Georgetown.

During the 2012 SUSI program, two newsletters, called Global Spotlight, were created to help capture the scholars’ experiences.

To view the July issue, click here.
To view the August issue, click here.