Battling media bias

Students from around the world gather in Beersheba for conference on conflict reporting.

By
August 13, 2013 05:34
2 minute read.
College students listening to former FM Danny Ayalon

College students listening to former FM Danny Ayalon 370. (photo credit: SCOOP Israel)

 
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Student reporters from university campuses across Europe, Asia, Africa and America are congregating at Ben-Gurion University this week for a program that delves into the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the media.

The 22 students from 15 countries are participating in the five-day “SCOOP Israel” conference, organized by 25 students at Ben-Gurion University who are part of the StandWithUs Fellowship program.

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While in Israel, the student reporters will focus on newspaper coverage of conflicts in general, with a particular concentration on the Israel-Palestinian situation – enabling them to return to their home countries with the tools and knowledge to report in a more balanced manner, according to the coordinators.

Among the countries from which the participants hail are Turkey, Greece, Kenya, South Africa, South Korea, Holland, Hungary, England, Australia and the United States.

“Student media is an important and central aspect of campus life, and how these students learn to do their job carries into their careers,” said Shahar Liran, the project’s chief coordinator.

“Our main goal was to bring in students from universities in Europe, Asia, and North America because they generally have a negative image of Israel that is depicted in the annual campus anti-Israel ‘Apartheid Week.’” Liran said it was crucial for students “to do what we can to improve Israel’s global image – an image that is portrayed in the press often in a distorted manner due to lack of facts and a real understanding of events.”

The students are spending the five intensive days hearing from experts about conflict-sensitive reporting, with lecturers including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, historian Richard Landes, journalist Itai Angel and others. In addition, they will tour areas around the country, including around the Gaza Strip and in Judea and Samaria, where they will participate in workshops conducted by both Arab and Jewish experts.



Part of the program also aims to give them an experience of Israel “beyond the conflict,” with cultural visits to Jerusalem, a kibbutz, Abu Ghosh and night life in Tel Aviv.

While participants have all covered their own flight expenses, funding for the rest of their time in the country is coming from money that the SCOOP organizers at Ben-Gurion University have raised.

As part of the StandWith- Us Fellowship, 25 students from six Israeli universities study how to advocate for Israel, and choose a campus project to work on for the year, Adina Rothman, SCOOP’s PR coordinator, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. The conference was the result of this goal, she said.

Speaking with the Post on the second day of the program, Rothman said that so far, the visiting participants had heard several of the expert lectures about the Israeli and Palestinian media, as well as about covering conflict in a broader sense.

“It’s fascinating to listen to their questions,” she said.

Only one of the 22 participants is Jewish, though many have been to Israel before. To recruit the students, Rothman said, the coordinators relied largely on Facebook advertisements, and they interviewed the candidates over Skype.

While the StandWithUs Fellowship does teach its students how to advocate for Israel, Rothman stressed that the SCOOP program aimed to provide a balanced perspective for covering the Israeli-Palestinian situation and other conflicts across the world.

“We honestly believe that if someone has the opportunity to hear both sides, they will be more balanced in their story, whichever side they choose to write about,” Rothman said.

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