AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, thank you very much. Thanks to Cornell. Thanks, Daniel Kops for funding this lecture series. And thanks, of course, to Dr. [INAUDIBLE] for that generous introduction.
So after finding out that we went to high school together, you're thinking, they can't possibly be the same age. And I think it has something to do with the career choices we made. [BANGING NOISE] And sudden booms.
Journalism has actually been a fascinat-- my journey to journalism has been a bit eclectic. And I'm actually-- I came here at the end, through things that I encountered with journalists at the beginning of my career. And I'm going to tell you a little bit about that.
But I know this is a self-selected group. You all came here, you probably are familiar with Al Jazeera in some capacity. But I thought I would spend a minute just explaining how the network is structured and the different channels that we have.
Al Jazeera media network is based in Doha, Qatar, and it is a parent company that owns a number of channels, including a cartoon channel, a C-SPAN-like channel called Al Jazerra Mubasher. But it really started-- and it's what's most known for are its news channels. And it started the first news channel in 1996 in the Middle East, Al Jazeera Arabic. Al Jazeera Arabic was the first pan-Arabic news channel. It was government funded but not government run. And unlike all the other channels in the Middle East that the time, did not take editorial direction from the government, or from the foreign ministry, or from the Minister of Interior.
And it had Arab journalists, many of whom had worked for BBC prior, but who were from all over the Middle East and all over the region. They provided a unique perspective on a region that had never encountered dissidents or opponents of governments on TV. They encountered people who had grown up turning on the TV and having news reports that started with, well, the leader today met with the Minister of Agriculture, and the Minister of Agriculture and he discussed ways to increase crop yields. And the crop yields are very successful.
From that kind of news to the kind of very rambunctious argumentation and multiple viewpoints that Al Jazeera Arabic presented, actually opened up and exploded the entire media landscape in the Middle East. By 2006, Al Jazeera decided to launch an English language 24/7 international news channel called Al Jazeera English. Now, that channel is still on, and that channel effectively didn't-- it wasn't entering an empty space. Obviously, BBC, and CNN International, and other channels existed. But what it was trying to capture was a global south perspective and a global south audience representing-- the line we use is voice of the voiceless.
It's not just reporting on stories from countries because they impact more powerful countries, but we talk about the stories in the countries because they matter to the people in those countries. So we can do stories about the Central African Republic, but not only because there's some intersection with France, or Britain, or the United States, but because there's an intersection of course with the lives of the people in the Central African Republic. Now, in 2011 we launched Al Jazeera Balkans, and I bet you didn't know that. That's a Serbo-Croatian channel. And it is a pan-Serbo-Croatian channel which hired reporters from all of the countries of the former Yugoslavia-- it's multi-ethnic, it's multinational, it does not represent a particular nationalist perspective or viewpoint-- to attempt to give a 24/7 news channel to the Balkans that would bring in news not only from inside the Balkans, but from outside from the entire world.
And we're able to leverage, of course, all of these channels for each other, so that one channel can use the reporting of another channel. Al Jazeera Balkans, for example, did fascinating reporting on the consequences of all the flooding that took place last year in Serbia, and in Bosnia, and in Croatia. And we were able to then highlight that on Al Jazeera Arabic and on Al Jazeera English.
In 2013, we launched Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera America is available on cable and satellite channels in the United States, and that channel is presenting American news from a global perspective. It's not just-- it's not just American news, it's global news, but it's for an American audience from an American perspective.
And then in 2014, we launched AJ+. And I suspect for the students here, a lot of them are probably most familiar with that channel. That's an all digital channel. It's a free app on any device that you have, and it's available on YouTube. And that channel, in the last week actually-- it's only a year and three months old, but in the last week hit a billion views on the videos that they've been producing over the last year, which is an amazing accomplishment.
So since many of you may not be familiar with Al Jazeera America, the channel that I work with, I have a sizzle reel that I was going to show you. It's only a few minutes long, but it sort of introduces you to what I do, but it also introduces you to the topic that we're going to be discussing. So Adrian, if you could dim the lights, and.
- I'm going to take my voice down, as we are so close to the ISIL position right now.
- We are going back to old school journalism, finding stories that you're not seeing elsewhere.
- [INAUDIBLE] we're sending their government a message.
- [INAUDIBLE] themselves. Learning how to practice democracy.
- Good evening, everyone. We have an exclusive.
- At the end of the day, we're going to give you a comprehensive [INAUDIBLE] context [INAUDIBLE].
- Does that create a false narrative?
- I think what's important is that we're having the discussion about.
- Welcome to election night coverage.
- Al Jazeera America has bureaus across the United States, not just New York and D.C.
- Every story starts as a local story.
- In metro Detroit, many residents are still recovering.
- It is a crime that is under-reporting.
- It's just a little card, but it's life changing.
- With 82 bureaus around the world, Al Jazeera's global reach is unprecedented.
- Paris is in a state of shock, but also defiance.
- He said they did it to try and protect their families. [INAUDIBLE]
- We're bringing old school journalism front and center.
- [INAUDIBLE] watch the news, you can't emotionally connect with something, then you don't really necessarily pay attention to it.
- Let me put you on the hot seat, though, and get your opinion.
- That's a very difficult question.
- That was awesome.
- Don't try this at home.
- Commercial space exploration has grown, and there are plenty [INAUDIBLE].
- It would be tremendously beneficial for Russia to [INAUDIBLE].
- I'll take you to the front lines of the new Cold War.
- So they knew more about me than my friends around me.
- They know more about you than you know about you.
- The workers at General Motor's oldest north American factory survived the auto industry's near death [INAUDIBLE] bankruptcy and the shutdown of 17 facilities.
- What worked in this plant is that we worked together.
- I'm just like you. I can do whatever I put my mind to.
- I have to do [INAUDIBLE]
- The [INAUDIBLE] epidemic could be much higher than anyone knows.
- [INAUDIBLE] between North and South Korea, the most militarized border in the world.
- They wanted their country back.
- [INAUDIBLE] essential to the media landscape in the United States.
- We're going to take you someplace you haven't been, introduce you to people you haven't met, and tell you a story you didn't know.
This is incredible
- That's a little disingenuous. You're running the campaign.
- This Is the harsh reality on the ground.
- [INAUDIBLE] could be held to account.
- Where they're asking you what's happening in your community, in your neighborhood.
- How big do you see this getting?
- We're making history.
- And that's really the essence of [INAUDIBLE]. That's what we do. That's real journalism.
AMJAD ATALLAH: Now that's obviously a promotional sizzle reel. Everybody should have one made for themselves, but it gives you an idea of the kind of range we have, and gives you an idea about the kind of ideology that we try to follow. Now, I wanted to start by actually talking about my own journey, and how I got here, and the role that journalism played in it, or the role that journalists had on me.
A very long time ago, at the beginning of the 1990s, I was actually in a graduate program in religious studies and comparative religious studies at the University of Virginia. And I was studying Holocaust literature. And we were studying the Holocaust, and we were studying colonialism and in the Middle East, and a number of other related topics.
And one of the questions, I guess, that everybody had was that, I guess as you grow up, there's an assumption that World War II was designed to stop the Holocaust, but in fact it was to stop German imperialism. And many people didn't find out about just how horrible the Holocaust was and what was happening until after the fact, even though governments knew, and people knew. And people were trying to bring it up, and people lobbied Roosevelt and they lobbied Churchill to bomb the lines to the death camps. But nobody did, because they weren't considered necessary military targets.
And that's a really hard thing to wrap your head around. It's a really hard thing to understand. And we'd have classes, and teachers would give us readings, and we would read about them. And we would come in, and we would discuss and debate.
But I was a news junkie, so I would always pick up the newspaper every day. And I would carry it with me in my backpack, and then at lunch I would read the newspaper after classes. And there was a reporter named Roy Gutman who worked for Newsday at the time. And Roy had been actually assigned to go to Germany and set up a bureau for Newsday.
And while he was there, the wars in the former Yugoslavia started. So he was sent to Yugoslavia to figure out what was going on. So Roy gets there, and he begins doing what reporters do, which is to ask questions, try to figure out what's happening.
And everybody he's talking to is suggesting that there are some horrible things happening, but they're not really explaining what those horrible things are. And they're saying, you know, populations are disappearing, whole towns are disappearing, people are being put on cattle cars, and the cattle cars are going off, and nobody knows what's happening. And so they tracked down the story, and they found their way to a concentration camp in the middle of Europe in the 1990s.
And they managed to talk to some of the people in the camp. They managed to talk to some of the guards. They took pictures. And then they came out, and they published it.
And those pictures went everywhere. And then all of a sudden, everybody began reading and realizing that there were death camps and concentration camps. And then later we found out rape camps in the middle of Europe, close to every European capital. And there was no international response about it. In fact, that part of the story at the beginning of the war was buried.
It was all about ancient ethnic hatreds, and it was designed to be or described to be a conflict that you really couldn't understand, and so you should really stop thinking about it. Other reporters went in, other reporters started reporting. Christiane Amanpour really made her name in Bosnia and did some fantastic and amazing reporting from there, and actually was holding heads of state, including President Clinton at the time, to account, asking, these things are happening, what are we doing? Why aren't you doing something? Well, did you know that this was happening, et cetera?
But there were also Bosnian reporters on the ground, risking their lives every single day to get stories out. Oslobodenje was a newspaper in Bosnia that was started in 1943 as an anti-Nazi newspaper. Oslobodenje continued to report. It was in a 10 story building.
That building was mortared, shot, bombed, tanks hit it. And they continued to report through three years of the siege every day. And they published the newspaper every single day except one day. And they operated out of a bunker.
And many of their reporters were killed. Now, one of the reporters who was reporting for Bosnian Public Television was Ivica Puljic. Ivica had a chance to leave the country and the war started. Instead, he sent his family out, but he decided to stay. And he continued to report for Bosnian Public Television. And those reports also were very instrumental.
I'm proud to say that Ivica now is working for Al Jazeera Balkans and is our Washington correspondent. In all, 19 journalists were killed in Bosnia. When I heard from all of these reporters and I began following their reports and hearing about what was happening, and then I would go to class and have an academic conversation and discussion about World War II, I was having a real problem with cognitive dissonance. I couldn't actually understand if I wanted to do with it, if I wanted to be-- if I wanted it to go this way.
I couldn't believe that these kinds of things could happen again, and again, and again, despite all of the slogans about never again. And my question was a very personal one. It wasn't, what should the world do, but it was what should I do? What do I need to be involved in? How do I need to be engaged?
And so I cashed out with my masters, if anybody with a religious studies degree could be said to be cashing out. And I started working on humanitarian issues on Bosnia. And I began working on policy issues on Bosnia. And that effectively started my professional career.
And the people that-- some of the most amazing people that I met were journalists who actually were changing the world. Without the reporting that came out of Bosnia, it's unclear what would have happened. I mean, that war continued even after people found out that rape camps, and concentration camps, and death camps were in place. The war continued for several years after that.
But imagine if there hadn't been any reporting at all. Or imagine if the reporting hadn't been able to come out. Would the genocide have actually played itself out to its logical conclusion?
And so I realized then that the ability to either tell a story or hide a story-- because if you don't tell it, you're hiding it. If you don't actually tell everything that's happening, then you're only presenting a part of the truth. And if you're only presenting a part of the truth, you're not presenting the entire truth.
Now, that war ended in 1995. We're 20 years later now. As a matter of fact, I think the anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war, is coming up next month.
It's been 20 years. How's the world changed? How's the world changed for journalists, and how's it changed for their reporting?
So I had one of my reporters produce this just for this-- it's a three minute piece, so it's not as long as the sizzle reel, but it is specifically about-- it's specifically about the situation we're in right now. So if we can just show that one. No, not this. That's killing the messenger.
- [INAUDIBLE] rushed to the hospital. He's buried with his camera. In Paris, eight journalists with the magazine Charlie Hebdo are killed, shot by two gunmen. Then, in Syria, an American journalist vanished three years ago. His parents say they hear from what they've called credible sources he's still alive.
- Reporters without Borders says, this year alone 48 journalists have been killed. The Committee to Protect Journalists says, in many countries, not only are journalists killed, but their killers go free. In Somalia, at least one journalist has been murdered every year in the past decade.
In Iraq and in Syria, ISIL has kidnapped and killed several journalists, at least two in Iraq and at least three in Syria, including Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff. [INAUDIBLE] across the world, Reports Without Borders says 147 journalists are now in prison, 38 of them in Iran, including the Washington Post's Jason Rezaian, held since last summer. [INAUDIBLE] spent four years locked up in [? Tehran. ?]
- [INAUDIBLE] I experienced the worst pressures in prison. But after I was released, I would like to say that more determined than ever that I wanted to continue my profession and career.
- Other journalists like the head of Russia's only independent TV channel stay out of jail, but are slowed by government efforts to silence them.
- Unfortunately, we are [INAUDIBLE] and we've had several blows.
- The channel was evicted from its studio [INAUDIBLE] by cable and satellite offerings.
- [INAUDIBLE] trial [INAUDIBLE].
- But there are widespread efforts to fight back. Al Jazeera received worldwide support in its campaign to free three of its journalists held in Egypt. One of them, Peter Greste, left Egypt in February.
- Last month, he learned that the Egyptian president pardoned the two colleagues he left behind. People around the world have joined calls for press freedom on social media, using Twitter and online petitions to demand that governments free journalists. And as the UN gathered in New York, artists pained murals to shine the light on journalists held beyond.
- My message is that you can't have a great society without great journalism [INAUDIBLE].
AMJAD ATALLAH: Thank you, and I'll just lower that volume with the feedback. The situation hasn't gotten better. So the situation has gotten worse, and I wanted to kind of exemplify the situation we're facing right now through talking about some of our journalists.
We've had a tough time with Al Jazeera because of the kind of reporting that we do and the places that we do it in. There isn't a-- I'm not positive that there's a Middle Eastern, or an Arab country that hasn't actually closed us down at some point or another, and then opened us back up. The pressures we get from reporting stories that governments hope desperately not to have reported can be extreme.
This reached a climax two years ago when Peter Greste, Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Abdullah Shami were arrested in Egypt when they were covering the counter-revolution. During the revolution itself, when Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and which led to Egypt's first election in 3,000 years, Al Jazeera was reporting live from Tahrir Square. We were reporting in Tunisia from when the young man set himself on fire. We reported on that, and we kept on reporting on the demonstrations that were happening in Tunisia thereafter.
In Cairo and later in Libya, in Benghazi, there was so much support for our coverage that in the demonstrations, they were putting up screens and they were live feeding Al Jazeera onto the screens. So that was the positive side. Those were the good days.
And then when the counter-revolutions happened, we also became associated with-- by reporting on the revolutions, we became considered supporters of the revolution and we became targets, as well. Peter was actually our Nairobi correspondent for Al Jazeera English, and was in Egypt to cover vacation leave for Christmas when he was arrested. Abdullah Shami was Al Jazeera Arabic's Nigeria correspondent who was there to cover the demonstrations that were taking place at the time.
They were all arrested and accused with spreading "false news", in quotes, and also being members of the then banned Muslim Brotherhood. A lot of propaganda was presented publicly against them, but no evidence was ever presented in court. Publicly, there was a video distributed on Egyptian state TV which showed their computer equipment, their Macs, their phones, et cetera, and they stole the music from the Thor movie, I think the second Thor movie, with ominous-- they played the ominous, evil music which is supposed to make you believe something bad is happening over the tape as they scrolled over the equipment, as if they were showing you bomb making equipment.
During the trials, they had affidavits presented, but unfortunately they were all identical to each other. The witnesses who allegedly wrote the affidavits didn't know what were in them and couldn't comment on them, except to say, well, whatever the affidavit says. The pictures that they showed as evidence of being working for the Muslim Brotherhood or spreading false news, including showing pictures of Peter on vacation with his family, because that's what they found on his computer. And it showed pictures of animals and fields, which were some background photos that they were doing for a story on Egypt's economy.
And over the course of the entire trial, no evidence was ever presented. Our journalists were held in maximum security prisons. They were held with other political prisoners, including not only members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the secular opposition as well, which had been involved and the first revolution.
And in times there were held-- Peter and others were held in very small jail cells packed with people. They had to take turns lying down in order to sleep. They had a bucket that was to be used for all of them for the restroom. And then after that, they were moved into solitary confinement. Each of them was put into solitary confinement. Abdullah finally went on a hunger strike and became so ill that he was released by the government on humanitarian grounds.
Peter was ultimately deported to Australia, which is the country of his citizenship, by the president of Egypt. But the charges against him were never lifted. And Mohamed and Baher were just recently, two weeks ago, pardoned-- just before President Sisi visited the UN for his speech were pardoned by him, and are now free. And we're very pleased that they're free.
So nine journalists altogether, however, from Al Jazeera were charged with these crimes, most of them in absentia. Many of them weren't even in Egypt during the period of time, or reporting from Egypt from the period of time that the accusations existed against them. And because there are arrest warrants out against them including, Peter Greste who you saw, the ability for them to travel freely or to do the reporting that they normally would do is severely prescribed.
How do you travel to an African country, which by its treaty with Egypt and by its treaty with the African Union has an extradition treaty with Egypt, if there's potentially an arrest warrant out against you when you arrive in that country? You may think the countries know that these are political crimes or political accusations, and therefore wouldn't act on them. However, bureaucracies don't necessarily know. And you may actually end up being held at the airport, or you might be arrested at the airport until it's all cleared up. And so we're still requesting that the Egyptian government lift all the charges against them.
You also saw in that Jason Rezaian, who is a Washington Post reporter. And Jason is still being held in Iran. He was convicted just this week, we believe, on espionage charges. But that's not been confirmed by the Iranian government.
And the Washington Post is demanding that he be released. There has been no evidence presented publicly in his case, either. The last thing he did publicly, I think, was appear on an Anthony Bourdain special. And there's been no reason to believe that any of the accusations against him, any more than any of the other journalists, have any bearing. So we're hoping that he gets released and is with his family as soon as possible.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, it's been more than just arrests. The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that 85 journalists have been killed in Syria since 2011. And that's probably an under-reported number. I mean, that number is probably a low estimate because the CPJ is very good at making sure that they have all the evidence they need to assure that each one of these is accurate, but it doesn't necessarily include people that we don't know. Bloggers, and others, and local journalists that we may not know about.
Is it narcissistic for me to stand up here and say that these journalists-- OK, Syria has millions of people who are displaced, 250,000 civilians have been killed, an ongoing war. There is the reintroduction of sexual slavery by ISIS in the region. There are barrel bombs being dropped on people on a regular basis.
And so, is it a little bit self-centered, a little bit narcissistic for journalists to say, well, what about us? We're being intimidated as well, and we're being challenged as well when you're in light of all of this. I would say no, not because journalists can't be narcissists. Anybody who you put on TV, sometimes there's a connection between that.
But it's actually, I believe, a correlation. There's a correlation and causation between attacks on journalists and the greater crimes that are taking place around them on the stories they're trying to cover. What is it exactly that journalists do? We are supposed to be a check on power.
Power inevitably is excessive. Power inevitably will take steps that will break the law. There will be corruption, or there will be-- unchecked power, by definition, is dangerous.
And that's why journalism exists, to be able to hold all power centers to account. It doesn't matter what those power centers are, whether they're corporate, whether they're financial, whether they're governmental. And governments, militaries know this. They also know that if they can control the narrative, and if they can deny the story getting out, they know that they can actually push their agenda a bit further.
Reporters provide a reality check, but not everybody wants you to know what that reality check is. If there is a military intervention in a country, is that an invasion? Is it a liberation? Is it a humanitarian effort?
Is it imperialism? Is it colonialism? It matters what the narrative is. It matters how people respond to what's happening.
And reporters are supposed to not pick the narrative for you. They're supposed to actually identify what's happening on the ground, and they're supposed to challenge all of the narratives that are being presented. And then you ultimately make up your mind as to what the story is. You ultimately make up your mind, is it an invasion?
Is it a liberation? Is it a humanitarian effort? So the effort by governments, and by militaries in particular, to try to restrain and stop journalists from reporting, at its mildest form it was involved with spin doctors, right?
Governments would try to spin the story to the media. They would try to give their version of the story. They would try to provide access, or they would reward you with access if you reported the right things. And they'd deny you access if you didn't report the right things.
And that was on the mildest form. And the most extreme form, you had, of course-- you have what you have now, with killings and jailings. Now the killings and jailings are what the subject of the Killing the Messenger documentary that will be airing tomorrow. It will be abou-- and that will be airing also on TV on Sunday at 10:00 PM.
But I wanted to show, for those of you who are available and those of you who are interested in seeing it, we're happy to show it tomorrow at 1:30. Now, but it's the milder form of censorship, it's the milder form of intimidation and pressure that's actually more prevalent, and actually in many ways as dangerous. Public pressure is actually a very strong method of censoring journalists, especially in times of national distress.
If your country is under attack, if you feel there are horrible things happening in your country, anything from a terrorist attack to civil unrest or sectarian strife, et cetera, there is a normal human tendency to rally around the flag. But a lot of people confuse the flag with the government. A lot of people confuse the flag with the narrative that's being presented by official power centers.
And so when reporters try to report outside of what becomes conventional wisdom during these times of duress, these times of national stress, they can actually be shut down by their peers. They can actually be shut down by the public. The best journalists, of course, don't allow that to happen. But the best media outlets have to actually support them to allow them to continue presenting that news.
You can think about what happened here in the United States after 9/11. Was there enough reporting on whether Iraq was involved in the attacks on 9/11? Was there enough reporting on whether Iraq, in fact, had weapons of mass destruction or not? Had there been more reporting on that, or had the reporting of the brave outlets that continued to report on this been made more public and picked up by other outlets, would things had been different with the Middle East today be different?
Would our actions be different? We don't know. It's a theoretical question, but it's that question that we face, not just here, but we face in every country in the world. In Egypt today, people are also stressed. There's a very strong national concern about what's happening in the country, and people are rallying around the flag.
But in that case, journalists who don't present the same or the right story can be considered the enemy. Now, I don't want you to think that this is only a Middle East problem, or a Central American problem. It's actually a problem here in the United States.
The Pentagon this year-- and I think at the beginning of the summer-- actually published its first guidelines on its interpretation of the rules of war, on its interpretation of the law of war. The New York Times editorial board summed up exactly why this is a direct threat to journalists, and why it's a direct threat to journalism. And they did such a great job that I'm just going to read to you the New York Times summary of it.
Quote, "the Defense Department earlier this summer released a comprehensive manual outlining its interpretation of the law of war. The 1,176 page document, the first of its kind, includes guidelines on the treatment of journalists covering armed conflicts that would make their work more dangerous, cumbersome, and subject to censorship. Those should be repealed immediately".
"Journalists", the manual says, "are generally regarded as civilians, but may in some instances be deemed unprivileged belligerents, a legal term that applies to fighters that are afforded fewer protections than the declared combatants in a war". So, IE, journalists would have less rights than a soldier from the enemy side that was captured. So going back to them, "in some instances", the document says, "the relaying of information, such as providing information of immediate use in combat operations could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.
The manual warns that reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying, so it calls on journalists to act openly and with the permission of relevant authorities. It says that governments may need to censor journalists work or take other security measures so that journalists do not reveal sensitive information to the enemy. Allowing this document to stand as guidance for commanders, government lawyers, and officials of other nations would do severe damage to press freedoms. Authoritarian leaders around the world could point to it to show that their despotic treatment of journalists, including Americans, is broadly in line with the standards set by the United States government," unquote.
The New York Times is right. I don't normally argue for exceptionalism. I don't believe in necessarily exceptional peoples, exceptional countries, even exceptional corporations. But there is something to be said about the United States being a trendsetter, in rights, around the world.
There's something to be said about the rights that the United States and European countries, that they adopt and how they're held up by other countries. About two months ago, about the exact same time that the New York Times editorial came out, the Egyptian government passed a law had the cabinet passed a law that made it a crime to report on a security event in a manner different than the Ministry of Defense's official statement on the event. And if you violate this law, you can be fined $26,000 to $64,000 US dollars, and you can be accused of publishing false news or statements.
You can also go to jail for five years if you're deemed to have promoted, directly or indirectly, any perpetration of terrorist crimes verbally, or in writing, or by any other means. If you consider reporting on a terrorist event promoting the terrorist event, then that would mean that effectively every journalist, blogger, citizen journalist in Egypt could go to jail under this law. I don't know if there's any connection between this law passing only a few months after the US comes out with its guidelines, but it's a lot harder to argue against these laws when the United States, which is supposed to be the trendsetter in press freedom, is promoting laws that come really close to that.
So in conclusion, I want to argue that the impact of shining a spotlight, not only on all of the extreme forms of violence, not only on concentration camps that are now part of stories in the Middle East, or the sexual slavery that's taking place in the areas under ISIS control in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, but also the systemic injustices which are much harder to cover, but that which we try to do in our own cities and countries, has meant that the efforts to cage journalists, both figuratively and literally, have gained ground. From lawsuits against media outlets to government hacking of their e-mails-- it's not just every other citizen that's being hacked, but it's also journalistic outlets-- to criminalizing journalism, to death threats against journalists and actual violence, the risks faced by journalists, just like the civilian populations that they represent, are extreme. That violence is not incidental to the greater violence that's happening in these countries. I would argue, it's an instrumental part of that violence.
Attacks on journalists are nothing less than an effort to intimidate the general population, or at best to keep them in the dark. In the United States, it's an attempt to degrade the role of the fourth estate, from one serving as a check on the abuses of power to one serving the interests of various power centers. So the lives of journalists are not any more important than the people that they cover, and they're not any more important than the lives of the people whose stories we try to bring to everyday.
But the impact on journalists and the-- the impact of the intimidation and violence against journalists is to make that other violence that much easier to perpetrate. Imagine a world in which everything that you knew about your world was provided to you by a lobbying group press release. Imagine if all you knew about the world was what politicians told you, and then you'd be confused because they change their mind often. Imagine if military establishments-- how would we have reported on Kunduz, on the hospital that was being bombed in Kunduz, if medicine [INAUDIBLE] frontier wasn't actually there and wasn't actually able to report back on exactly what happened?
They had credibility that Afghani doctors unfortunately wouldn't necessarily have had if foreign doctors weren't working and operating in that hospital. Imagine if all we knew about the lead in our water, about our prison systems, about what's happening to marginalized groups in our own country and individuals, imagine if you had no access to any of that information. And all you knew was what those who had the ability or the money to hire lobbying groups, or to create groups, PR groups that actually just spin their side of the story.
That Orwellian kind of world isn't that far away. We always have to struggle against it. We always have to fight against it.
And the encroachment on rights is never absolute. It never comes in a one day you're free, and then one day you're living in a totalitarian state. It's always in the creeping encroachment. It's always in the small, little steps that one after another build upon themselves, until one day you realize that you haven't written an email that hasn't been saved and recorded by seven different governments and seven different companies.
So that's why we have to continue to fight for the right of journalists to do their craft and for freedom of the press. And in that struggle, I think all of us have to participate. And I'm going to end by telling you a story about Peter and about Roxana. Roxana was the journalist who did the interview that you saw there.
Peter told me that, at the beginning he was allowed family visits occasionally. And when his family would tell him, don't worry Peter, I know things look dark and they look bleak, but there's lots of support for you. The international community, BBC reporters, CNN reporters, I mean everybody is having solidarity vigils, et cetera. And he said to me, at first I thought they were just trying to cheer me up, because-- and Peter is an amazingly strong person, amazingly centered, amazingly zen, but he was feeling hopeless.
And he thought that they were just trying to build him up. And then they started bringing in clippings for him, and he began to see that, yes, in fact, the entire staff of BBC was standing outside of BBC headquarters with tape on their mouths holding up "journalism is not a crime". He began to see-- he knew, of course, that all his Al Jazeera colleagues cared.
But then to find out that reporters from AP, from Reuters, from CNN, from his native Australia were all engaged in these support activities, he said, made a world of difference, of helping him survive every single day that he needed to survive, until he was let out. Roxana was a freelance reporter, before she came to us, for BBC and National Public Radio in Iran. She was arrested.
Like Jason, she was charged with espionage. And she was convicted, I think, to eight years in prison. Now, she managed to get out after 100 days on an appeal. During that time, however, she didn't know that she'd be able to get out, and she actually started a hunger strike.
And she said she found out that-- she went to Northwestern University. And so she found out that students at Northwestern had found out that she was on a hunger strike, and they joined her on a hunger strike. And it spread this grassroots movement to free Roxana around the world, where people were engaging in symbolic hunger strikes, in order to show solidarity with her.
And she said, for her, that made a world of difference in helping her endure, and helping her until she came out. For each of these individuals, the help that they got that was most meaningful was the help that came from ordinary people around the world, who actually identified with them and showed that identification with them in very public ways. And so, I look forward to a year when we have zero journalists killed, where we have zero intimidation of journalists. But realistically, that's not going to happen immediately, unless we work to make it happen. So thank you very much.
SPEAKER 45: We have about a half hour for questions. So if it's OK, do you want to state the questions?
AMJAD ATALLAH: Mm-hm.
SPEAKER 45: So, ask away.
AUDIENCE: Hello, my name's Keely Sullivan. I'm actually a journalism student from Syracuse University who made the trek over here to see you speak. You were talking about the really strong relationship between ordinary people and journalists.
And you look at America, and you see that there's really low trust among Americans regarding their journalism outlets. And I wanted to ask your opinion if American news-- if it actually was able to challenge the narrative in a successful way. There's a reason why Americans are not trusting their journalism.
AMJAD ATALLAH: I mean, that's a good-- I mean, you're right. So the profession of journalism normally isn't held in high esteem in the United States. I'm also an attorney, so I've got two, and so if I become a politician, I'll have the three most disliked professions or distrusted professions in the United States.
I think partly, part of the problem has been the commercialization of news, and the pressures that the commercialization of news creates. Because when journalists become celebrities, then just like any other celebrity, you can love them or you can hate them. You can have a personal relationship with them, but it's not about the story anymore. It's about them.
And I think we've lost sight of the idea that journalism is actually supposed to be in the public interest. It's a required element for open societies. It's a required element even in an autocratic society to have a civil society. You cannot have these things without some free flow of information.
Journalists provide that information. And if journalists are perceived to be hacks, working for one side or another, working for one political party or another, or representing one side or another, then it is hard to give them the kind of respect and the kind of support that they need. I think that that's changing, though. I mean, I think we may have reached the peak of that, and now we actually have, I think, so many new media outlets that are coming up, so many new media outlets that are actually having an impact on even the old legacy places which are commercially driven.
And I'm hopeful that that will have more of a positive impact. I mean, the work that National Public Radio does on any given day is pretty remarkable. And it's probably hard-- there may be people who don't agree with NPR, but it's hard to find people who are going to consider it a disreputable, or consider the journalism they do to be advocacy journalism on behalf of anyone. And so I think the more and more that we see of that, I think the more and more support that the industry will get again from the American public.
AUDIENCE: I've always been perplexed about how Al Jazeera is funded by the funded by the country of Qatar, and yet, as you say, is not editorially beholden to them. And it just seems that with corporate media and [INAUDIBLE] government funded media, there's inevitably conflicts of interest. How is that avoided? Or is it able to be avoided?
AMJAD ATALLAH: Sure. So we're funded-- we receive a subsidy, so we are a subsidized network. So for all the channels, there's a subsidy.
That subsidy comes from Qatar, and Qatar gives the subsidy in a lump sum to the network. And then the network decides how they're going to divvy it up and divide it among the channels. There's a law in Qatar that makes it illegal to link the money to any of the editorial directions or perspectives of any of the channels And so that's left to the editorial boards of each of the channels. And as the Emir of Qatar, the father of the current Emir who was the one who actually established the network and established the channels, was asked this very same question actually on CNN by Wolf Blitzer.
And Wolf Blitzer asked him, do you use Al Jazeera to promote Quatar's foreign policy? And he responded and said, well no. If I did, everybody would know it and then no one would watch it. And the only way for Al Jazeera to be successful, and for us to benefit as a nation from having one of the world's most powerful and respected media outlets is and, in fact, if I leave it alone.
AUDIENCE: Well couldn't that lump sum be withdrawn at some point--
AMJAD ATALLAH: It could be. No, I mean, you're right. It could be.
Britain is facing a similar problem, because they're cutting back on BBC's funding, and BBC is having to make very draconian decisions about what to do in terms of what they're going to save or where they're going to shift resources. So France supports France 24. So France 24 is another international news channel that is also government-funded.
Ultimately, the ideal situation would be a guaranteed form of subsidy from parliaments, as opposed to necessarily the governments, but from parliaments that would respect, and defend, and recognize the necessity of having a free journalistic outlet. But of course, even parliaments suffer from political infighting, where there's an argument about, well no, they're talking about climate change.
Why are they talking about climate change? They shouldn't talk about climate change. Let's take away their funding.
And so it's going to be a never ending battle. I think everybody is struggling to find a commercially successful model for providing news, but nobody has actually specifically come up with one that's not advocacy driven. So there are successful news channels you're probably familiar with that make money, but they also have a very specific agenda and a very specific editorial direction. Yes?
AUDIENCE: I think it's great that you brought the conversation back to the US and the issues of the freedom of the press in the US. I think there's-- well, I guess this occurs globally, but an issue of who has a louder voice. So you can really, certain outlets can do really stupendous reporting, really in-depth, check all the facts on particular issues and have reporters of this highest integrity, but they'll just not get a whole lot of press or not be able to spark any national debate because they don't have that sort of reach. So for instance, just today I was reading the drone papers by The Intercept, which they've been working on for months now. And I just don't-- I think they're great, and I think they're very needed, but I don't know if that would have as much impact as perhaps something leaked on CNN or one of the major newspapers.
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, the world's changing. I mean, if you think about a lot of the other leaks, even the Wikileaks that came out, the New York Times, The Guardian, The Guardian has-- there have been a lot of partnerships where different media outlets-- one outlet has been the one to break the story, but other outlets have taken pieces of the story and tried to pursue them and follow them up. That's happened with some of our investigations. The New York Times, The Guardian, others have picked up pieces and tried to run with them.
We've picked up on The Intercept piece today, and we'll try to actually carry it forward. So I think the-- do we view all of the-- do all of the media outlets view each other as competitors and competition, and everybody just waits for ABC, and CBS, and NBC to provide the official-- that world's changed. I mean, the majority of people don't get their news that way anyway anymore.
They get their news from a variety of sources, right? People aren't as committed. You may have a brand identification-- in the past, you may have had a brand identification with Walter Cronkite. Or you may have had a brand identification with Peter-- I grew up with Peter Jennings, so it was just like ABC, Peter Jennings, that was what I was-- I wouldn't watch the other ones.
But nowadays, that doesn't-- you know, that's not the case. I mean, nobody has a loyalty or a brand identification with a particular journalist, or a particular TV channel, or a particular newspaper. I mean, you're scouring everything to get everything. And I think the media landscape is responding to that and actually trying to provide more of everything.
So I think it's a lot harder to make stories disappear. Now, it doesn't mean that it still doesn't happen. There are-- one of the ways to worry-- one signal to worry is when somebody comes up with a story that's completely counterfactual to the official version. So it may be a version everybody's accepted, but Sy Hersh, when he came out with his story about what happened to bin Laden's body when bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, that story should be investigated more to find out if it's actually true or not.
And if the response is, oh, even though he's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Sy's crazy, and he's lost the plot, and he's com-- well, that's when you worry. When people try to denigrate other journalists in order to make the story go away, instead of actually investigating the story. Because you can investigate it. And if the story is wrong, the story is wrong. But the only way to know-- it's just like science, right?
If somebody has a theory, or they come up with a paper that says, I found out that this happens, 10 other scientists run out to try to do the exact same experiment or to do other experiments to find out if, in fact, that's the case. But journalists have to be the same way. We have to actually check and recheck each other to make sure that the stories that were coming out.
But if we ignore the stories, which is what your point was at the beginning, then actually nobody can actually investigate the story. Then, in fact, we don't know. We'll never know if the story is true or not. And so it still happens, but I think that it's changed. I mean, the amount of interaction now between all of the media outlets and the new ones like Vice, et cetera, has actually created a new media landscape. Yes, in the red, yeah.
AUDIENCE: I would like to think that people are scurrying about looking at the various media sources and trying to find all the information we can, but it seems like there's a very specific part of the population in the US that's going to one specific media outlet, getting their information there, and they keep repeating the same information over and over again, even though it may not be factually correct. And I don't know how, as a nation, we counteract that. I'm specifically speaking of Fox News, just in case you didn't know that. And it's frustrating, because I talk to people and people want to listen to their one source. They don't want to branch out and scurry around [INAUDIBLE]. So how do we counteract that?
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, I think the demographics are changing, too. And the way people consume news is changing, as well. And I think, in fact, the majority of people don't do that.
And I think the majority of the TV viewing audience may, but the majority of people who consume news are not the TV audience. And so I think that, on the one hand, the ability to open up that conversation is there, and it exists, and people have begun taking it. Now having said that, I'll say that even with media outlets that may have a particular perspective or a particular ideology, we have to work to defend them as well from attacks on them to encroach upon their ability to express their freedom of expression.
They have to be factual, and they have to be accurate, but we have to defend their right to be able to do that. When the government taps the media offices of AP, or when it does so with Fox journalists because of a report that they're doing, that's a threat on all of us. And all of us, regardless of whether we consider those outlets competitors or whether we consider them peers, we have to actually stand together to try to insist that, no, you're crossing a line here.
You're crossing the line here. Yes, the gentleman in the back? Yeah, you.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] talk. You discussed [INAUDIBLE] national [INAUDIBLE]. Do you believe that Al Jazeera has [INAUDIBLE] involved [INAUDIBLE] US government? And the reason I ask--
AMJAD ATALLAH: I'm sorry, that Al Jazeera?
AUDIENCE: Do you believe Al Jazeera is [INAUDIBLE] in conference with the US government?
AMJAD ATALLAH: No.
AUDIENCE: Well, the reason I ask this is because in 2001 [INAUDIBLE] 2003, [INAUDIBLE] according to the Daily Mail, it's a letter in the UK, there seemed to be a purposeful attack on [INAUDIBLE]. But I wanted to know do you feel there was any efforts [INAUDIBLE]?
AMJAD ATALLAH: OK, so yes, our bureaus in Baghdad and our bureaus in Kabul were bombed by US forces and people died. And we, of course, vociferously complained and vociferously express our outrage about that. And the official response from the government is that that was an accident. And we have no evidence to be able to suggest that it wasn't an accident. However--
AUDIENCE: They had the coordinates for the office though, so.
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, I mean, they also had their coordinates for the Kunduz hospital. So the point is that the-- governments have liked us when we reported news that they thought served their interest, and they've opposed us when we've reported on news that they thought did not serve their interest. And the United States hasn't been different than any other government in the Middle East, or in Africa, or in Central America when a story-- when we've reported stories from Venezuela that the government didn't like, they made that known to us.
And I think the number of official [INAUDIBLE] to the Qatari government to complain about the network as a whole, and the fact that these channels even exist, including from the United States, I think represents probably almost a UN-wide list of countries. And the truth of the matter is that that's what governments do. Governments represent their interests.
Of course, attacks are a different matter altogether. Complaining about a story, arguing that you want to present your side of the story, that's fine. Saying that the facts are wrong, and then saying you want to correct the record, that's fine.
Of course, killing people, bombing people, trying to shut them down, that's not fine. And that obviously crosses a line. And so Al Jazeera is not in conflict with any government, not the United States or not any other government on Earth. Even today, we're not in conflict with the Egyptian government.
We do not support or-- it's not our role as a news agency to support or give legitimacy to a government. It's our job to simply report the facts that are coming from that country. It's our job to represent all of the facts as much as we can, and provide as much of the context as we can. I mean, context is a big part of it, right?
I don't think that people get so upset about our reporting of particular events, but they really get their nose bent out of shape over the context that's provided. Imagine if in the United States, when we reported on every single time a mass shooting happens or every single time an African-American is killed by a policeman-- I'm sorry, an unarmed African-American killed by a policeman, if we reported this as an independent individual unique moment in history that had no connection to anything else, has no connection to American history, has no connection to racial makeups in a city. It has no connection to the racial makeups in police departments.
It has no connection to gun control. It has no connection-- if you treated everything-- the mass shootings. I mean, if we went to breaking news now every time there's a mass shooting, we would literally have breaking news virtually every single day. There are, I think it's over 200 mass shootings in the United States this year.
If you present those stories just by themselves, I think that's not nearly enough. And so what Jazeera has done, which I think has ticked off so many people is that we also try to put them in context. And so we try to understand the history.
A lot of our reporters are-- well, another-- OK, this is a plug for us, but it's something I'm really proud of. So I mean, I just want to mention it, is that one of the ways we keep our editorial balance and we keep our editorial from sliding one direction or another is that we actually have a really diverse work staff, really diverse. And and Al Jazeera English has people from like 50 different countries working for it.
And what that means is, if your American reporters slip into saying something like "our troops in Afghanistan" or something, your New Zealand reporter will be like, I'm sorry, what was that? No, we're a global channel. We represent all of humanity. We're not a national channel.
We have, I think, in Al Jazeera English we have more woman war correspondents than men. Imagine how the coverage of war is different when you have men and women covering the story instead of just men. And in Al Jazeera America, we have a very diverse work staff as well. And it means-- and even ideologically, so that when we're reporting on stories, there can be somebody in the room who can say, hold on a second now, we're getting way too far left. Or, hey, wait a minute now, that's a right wing perspective.
Or hey, wait a minute. And we're able to actually check and balance each other, because I'm the editor in chief, but we do 24 hours of news. The number of stories that we do percolate up from our reporters on the field. And so if the reporters in the field aren't diverse, and if the reporters in the field don't have a diverse background, and aren't equally composed of men and women, you actually have a problem in the kind of output that you end up having. Yes, sir.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much.
AMJAD ATALLAH: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I'd like to understand where your optimism is coming from. We're all fans of the network. You do great work. But are you in position to say that your audience is expanding, and you're not just taking a piece of NPR, a piece of [INAUDIBLE]? What makes you think that people are listening to you in greater and greater numbers?
AMJAD ATALLAH: So first of all, I'm genetically predisposed to optimism, so that's been helpful because I just automatically predisposed to being positive. But more to the point, our audience for Al Jazeera America is growing, but we don't actually advertise much. And so we're actually relying on simply grassroots growth. And so that takes a much longer time. And so we have a much longer time horizon to think about, when you're not relying on specifically throwing tons of ads out everywhere--
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, we don't actually share our audience numbers, because--
AUDIENCE: Because they're disappointing.
AMJAD ATALLAH: But what they won't-- our audience numbers for Al Jazeera English, which appears on Al Jazeera America, and their stories appear on Al Jazeera America, we're in 250 million homes around the world. We're the most watched English language channel in Africa. We are, I think, third or fourth in Europe.
AUDIENCE: I was talking about your [INAUDIBLE] optimism in this country.
AMJAD ATALLAH: When Al Jazeera English started in 2006, that wasn't the case. And Al Jazeera English didn't advertise, but it took them a long time. But between 2006 and 2015, they developed a very sizable audience, and then they became a leader in the field. I believe Al Jazeera America is going to follow Al Jazeera English's footsteps and do that.
Now, we launched the digital channel one year after we launched Al Jazeera America, AJ+. AJ+, in one year and three months, just this week reached a billion views of the videos that they've produced. They produce about 20 minutes of video a day, and it's news, but it's news for a different demographic.
AUDIENCE: You answered my question. The optimism is your worldwide view, and that's actually a pretty good answer. But in this country, it's not as good as it's looking worldwide.
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, AJ+ is actually a US-based channel. That's based in San Francisco, but the digital viewership is, of course, not limited to the United States. I believe that Al Jazeera America, several years from now, I believe that Al Jazeera America will have the same kind of success that Al Jazeera English has had.
If we're not going to rely on traditional forms of growth, like advertising and marketing, then we're going to rely on making sure that we have excellent content and build a larger audience. There's some truth to what I think you said and what you've said about the difficulty of getting high quality content in front of large numbers of people. I was at the Emmys, because we were nominated for an Emmy-- we were nominated for two Emmys this year-- and everything that was won, it was like you would sit through and it was like, 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes, Frontline, 60 Minutes, Frontline, Frontline, 60 Minutes, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Frontline, 60 Minutes.
It was like the same outlets were producing 80% of the kind of investigative journalism that wins awards. The Killing the Messenger documentary that we'll be shining tomorrow, you know has won the very prestigious Edward R. Murrow award. But you know, Frontine's audience-- that's a PBS investigation show, for those of you who don't know, and it's an excellent one. And we have one called Faultlines, so don't confuse them. But you could watch either one, and you'll get excellent content.
It is harder to get the deeper, more contextualized stuff in front of a larger audience. And maybe there'll never be the same kind of audience for it that there is for entertainment. I think for people who've wanted news to actually be as successful as entertainment are always going to be disappointed. We're never going to reach the numbers of people.
But can you reach the influence? Can you have the influence that you would need? When Al Jazeera-- Al Jazeera English is available in every US military base.
Al Jazeera English and America appear in the United Nations building, Al Jazeera English appears in the White House, it appears in the Pentagon, it appears in the State Department, at their choice, not because we plugged it or we put it on. You can't go into a world capital and you can't walk into a government office without seeing BBC, Al Jazeera, maybe France 24 up on the screens. And that's a measure of success as well, even if you still don't have the masses of people that you would like to have watching you.
AUDIENCE: Your greatest asset is that independent financing, from worldwide travel. It lets you have the number of people out there in all the locations. It's so hard to pay for news now, and you're in the position to be able to afford to provide it. That's why everybody's watching, because you're often the only people who are there at the source.
AMJAD ATALLAH: You're right. That's the challenge. And that's why I think ultimately we need to come up with a public funding model for news, because as long as you're relying on commercializing it, you'll always-- the documentary, the big investigations never are cost effective. Covering stories with people on the ground is never cost effective. Yes Sir, Mark.
AUDIENCE: Given the emergence of black lives matter in the media, including your organization, objectively, factually cover that movement, given that the institutional structures, including the media, that help perpetuate racism and a racist narrative well back into our history?
AMJAD ATALLAH: Well, we certainly try. And we're always open to constant criticism and kind of correction from the people whose stories we report on. But you know, I can tell you that our reporting on Ferguson, our reporting on Baltimore, our reporting on a number of these issues have actually gained us a following with people who are impacted in those communities.
And so people often say, well Jazeera, it must be a difficult brand perception problem you have. Well, we actually don't have a brand perception problem when we're in Ferguson. And we actually don't have a brand perception problem when we're in Baltimore. And we didn't have a brand perception problem when we were in Charleston.
And so I think that the legacy leftovers from people who heard Rumsfeld say bad things about us, and then they just sort of-- that became the narrative, and they held it with them, and they kept that with them, that's a smaller group. And when we keep on reporting from those communities-- I mean, one of the challenges for us and for any news organization is how do you not just parachute in, and then parachute out, which makes it impossible to actually provide the full context? How do you stay with the people that you're covering?
We opened up an office, a bureau, in Detroit, because we wanted to be able to try to cover the Detroit story all the way through. We didn't want it just to be the story about the bailout for the auto industry. We wanted it to be potentially the resurrection of an American city, but maybe it's the collapse of an American city.
I mean, I don't know what the outcome is going to be. But we wanted to be there and be able to cover the story on a daily basis. And that's one way I think we can try to actually avoid the problems that you raised.
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Journalists often put their lives on the line to cover violent conflicts around the world. Amjad Atallah, executive vice president for content for Al Jazeera America, delivered the Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press lecture Oct. 15, 2015, reflecting on his broad experience with conflict and post-conflict situations in the Middle East and Darfur.
Daniel Kops '39, former editor-in-chief of The Cornell Daily Sun, established the Daniel W. Kops Freedom of the Press Fellowship Program in 1990. Each year the program brings a distinguished speaker to campus through the American studies program.