The morning of Tuesday, October the 13th was a bright start for all the Media students as they excitedly filled the seats of the Oasis Theatre in anticipation of the distinguished guest lecturer, Mohamed Chebaro. Mr Chebaro is an award winning broadcast journalist who has covered various regional conflicts of the 1990s in the Middle East for MBC News and more recently when heading Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.
Mr Chebaro spoke about his tender years in the field of journalism. His first 10 years in the industry involved a lot of travelling and he treated his job as more of “a journey than a vocation.” His 25 years of life in the field of journalism have taken him to over 50 countries. His interest in journalism started at a very young age as he recollected “actively listening to the radio every morning.” He then gave a detailed overview of the history of 25 years of journalism and media in the Middle East. He explained that until the events of the Gulf War, there was no independent broadcast station in the Middle East, as all forms of national media of the 22 Arab states were state-operated and used for state interests. The launch of Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) in 1991 and the subsequent rise of other networks such as Al Jazeera in 1996 and Al Arabiya in 2003 resulted in what he described as “a pluralist middle ground voice” and the choice of options worked better.
“However, ownership of channels was an issue as all 22 Arab states had different interests and were a part of different societies and finding a common denominator affected your news choice,” he said. He also spoke about the shifting landscape for journalists in the Middle East, “Journalists became a machine of war in the eyes of the audience and policy makers alike,” he said, referring to the challenge in reporting conflicts after the events of 9/11.
State and society conflict in the Middle East was “a pressing issue and living and reporting in a troublesome environment resulted in journalists writing and reporting from past experiences,” he said also going so far as to say that “they changed work and tried to speculate and work with other (not necessarily original) sources, thus creating debates in newsrooms.” He discussed citizen journalists as a source and spoke of the need to try to judge authenticity when not working with assured sources.
The last quarter of the lecture involved a short, compelling ‘Letters Game’ based on reciprocity which involved Mr. Chebaro giving the audience a letter of the alphabet in expectation of receiving words starting with said letter that were quotidian in news and other forms of media.
During the Q&A session Mr Chebaro was asked, “What drives journalists to do what they do, despite facing probable danger?” to which he replied, “Far from being forced to report on war, journalists beg to be sent out to conflict zones in order to bear witness and report on their findings.”
In response to a student’s question, “What is the state of journalism in the UAE?” he replied, “The UAE is an island of good stories, no different from other developing third world countries. There are few politically charged stories to tell here. There are, however, social issues that journalists choose to take up from time to time.”
The chance to interact with this inspiring speaker truly made the event a day to remember for all the aspiring journalism and media students and for the University staff.