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The challenge of reporting the context of conflict

Ahead of this week's Olive Tree Forum, BA Journalism student Lucy Thomas met with Dr James Rodgers, from City's Department of Journalism, to discuss the importance of historical context when reporting from a conflict zone.
by Ben

Later this week the Olive Tree Programme is hosting another in their regular programme forums, this time examining the current geo-political context that Israel is operating within.

Last month a special Olive Tree Forum, held as part of the Inside Out Festival, focussed on the role of news and narratives in the middle-east. After the event BA Journalism student Lucy Thomas spoke to panellist Dr James Rodgers from City's Department of Journalism.

Why do you think 'debunking' the news is important?

Reporting the news, and putting it in context, is one of the biggest challenges that face journalists. It is near impossible to tell the daily story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without reference to history and religion too.

It is important to understand that narratives affect the news, whether it is intentional or not. Untangling news from narrative, a journalist has to understand that. That way they can hopefully give their audiences the fullest picture.

What is the effect of narratives in the news?

Narratives shape opinion, and provide the different sides with what they see as the facts. For example, Israelis celebrate the events of 1948, when their state came into existence, as Independence Day. However, for Palestinians it is a day of mourning, al-Nakbah, meaning the 'catastrophe'.

The two sides have increasingly little common experience. Business or working relationships, which, while they did not always go well, did at least exist, are rarer. One consequence of that is that governments', people's and media's own narratives are extremely influential.

What are your experiences of trying to report in the Middle-East? Is it possible to report without historical context?

On a day to day basis it is possible but not in the longer term, because ultimately historical context is what the situation is all about.

When I first arrived as the BBC's correspondent in Gaza in 2002, I went exploring with a Palestinian colleague to get a sense of the place.

During our trip we met an elderly gentleman, living on the edge of Khan Younis refugee camp. Most of the houses in the area house had recently been demolished by the Israeli Army.

After welcoming me, his first thought on meeting me was to reprimand me, via my colleague who was translating from Arabic to English, for a letter written by the British Foreign Secretary early in the previous century. That has always stood for me as a stark example of how history influences day to day events".

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