Ahmad al-Rashid grew up in Syria where he says the predominant perception of journalism was information released in line with government policies. However, it wasn’t until working with foreign journalists who had started covering the country’s civil war that he became interested in actually become one himself. Below he discuses his story and how it has influenced his journalistic aspirations.
For me, as a Syrian who has lived their entire life in a country run by a government governing with an iron fist, it is very difficult to say what journalism is. We were not exposed to ideas developed in nearby or Western countries.
We had only one source of information for the entire 22 years that I lived in Syria. For us as students, intellectuals and even ordinary people from all walks of life, what the media, affiliated with the ruling party, produced was known as JOURNALISM.
We had newspapers, magazines, radio and TV controlled by the state. We had the same clichés, the same slogans and same mottos repeated over and over by the same elite who were controlling the media outlets in Syria.
Over the last five decades, we never had the opportunity, or to be precise, never dared to question what we were reading, watching or listening to.
With the progression of technology across the country, we were exposed to the outer world. We started navigating online, where we were exposed to new ideas like freethinking, critical thinking, skepticism, analytical thinking, impartiality, credibility, professionalism, the value of truth and accountability. These were the basis and core of journalism, which we had never heard of before.
Journalism for me, before 2011, meant watching, listening or reading what the propaganda machine produced while accepting that it was the truth without ever doubting or questioning it. Reporters, journalists, writers, news readers and others in similar roles were trained and equipped with pre-made ideas and assignments to produce what they were asked to produce, avoiding any critical thinking.
After 2011, with the bombardment of information on the Syrian war, I got the chance to meet dozens of foreign journalists in Syria and beyond. I worked with them as a fixer and interpreter and it was the first time that I was introduced to genuine journalism. I started to discover how the media and news industry works and how journalism shapes our world.
I began to recognise its value and impact on our everyday life. Its value flows from its purpose of providing people with verified information to use in order to make better decisions and most importantly its practices involving a systematic process of disciplined verification. Journalists use these to find not just the facts, but also the truth behind them, which ultimately leads to changes in individual perspectives, societies and governments.
As a student in this course, I want to finish off by listing the main elements, which form modern journalism. I assembled these elements by reading various sources and researching this particular subject.
The elements of journalism:
- Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
- Its first and last loyalty is to readers/lanterns/viewers.
- Its essence is a discipline of verification.
- Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
- It must serve as an independent monitor of power and it shouldn’t affiliate itself with it.
- It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise and open up debates and discussions.
- It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant.
- Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience
- Respect and truth should be associated to journalism at every stage.