Getting the full picture

Aspiring reporters from abroad discover Israel during war; hailing from Brazil, Hungary, France, Canada, US, group of students, some already working in the media, take part in three-week program.

Journalism students pose for a photo at the offices of Galei Israel radio station. (photo credit: TAZPIT)
Journalism students pose for a photo at the offices of Galei Israel radio station.
(photo credit: TAZPIT)
While it is common knowledge that much of mainstream news coverage of Israel is fraught with controversy, especially during times of war and conflict, there is a new journalism internship program in Israel that is trying to change the often one-sided reporting.
Amid rockets, sirens and Iron Dome interceptions, six aspiring international journalists made their way across Israel, learning to read the country in the midst of a war. Hailing from Brazil, Hungary, France, Canada and the US, the group of student journalists, some already working in the media world, participated in a unique three-week journalism program called Get to News.
Developed by the Tazpit News Agency and Faces of Israel, the summer internship program offered a variety of journalistic tools and practical knowledge, as well as on-the-job experience.
With the unexpected summer war, the participants, some who were visiting Israel for the first time, found themselves covering a situation that none of them had expected when signing up for the program.
“We experienced at least one rocket siren a day, and at some point we stopped counting them,” Germania Rodriguez, 19, told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s been a life-changing experience.
I had never been to this part of the world before.”
Rodriguez, originally from Venezuela, is majoring in journalism and politics at New York University.
“I didn’t know anything about Israel before coming here. The people really impressed me; they are kind of like Latino – very open and warm and also very Western. Throughout our time here and speaking with Israelis from across the country, I can see how much they love this land and don’t want their country misrepresented in the media. So many people thanked us for being here,” stated Rodriguez, who comes from a family of journalists.
Her grandfather owns a newspaper in Venezuela, and her mother is a journalist.
The first part of the Get to News program was dedicated to workshops with veteran Israeli media professionals and journalists who provided different tools and skills in print media, television, radio, social media and blogging. The second part gave the students a chance to practice their reporting in the field. In between, the students listened to lectures by experts on Middle Eastern and foreign affairs, as well as domestic affairs, including Israeli culture, economy, technology and the history of the state.
“I came here with a specific mindset and saw that there is more than just one side of the story,” said Emerald Bensadoun, 19, who is majoring in journalism and communications at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Going to the [Safed] hospital to see the Syrian refugees and seeing how they are treated really gave me insight into how Israel helps as much as it can.”
During the program, which ran from July 13 to 31, the group traveled across Israel, spending time in the North and the South, visiting Gaza border communities, the Negev, the Golan Heights, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Judea and Samaria. They toured the Knesset and the Defense Ministry and visited various media outlets. They also met with a wide spectrum of Israelis, spending one Shabbat on a secular kibbutz in the North and experiencing a religious Shabbat in the Tekoa community of Judea, as well as meeting with representatives of the Christian Arab community in Nazareth.
According to Yifa Segal, co-director of Tazpit and one of the program’s organizers, the program was designed to expose the young reporters “to what is really going on in Israel.”
“They got to see for themselves the security threats, meet and interview Israeli civilians under fire, IDF soldiers, officials in various Knesset ministries, as well as Knesset members, while discovering how Israeli medical institutions treat Arabs and becoming familiar with the rights of minority communities in Israel,” explained Segal.
“The idea is to educate a future generation of journalists to understand that the reality of Israel is much more complex than what is reported in mainstream media,” she continued.
“We focus on the importance of fully researching an issue, and we teach them to understand the challenges of reporting on a conflict, as well as the potentially devastating effect of misrepresenting reality in their reporting.
In the end, the goal is to get young journalists to develop a more fact-based understanding towards Israel that will serve them throughout their careers,” she said.
“It got very real for us when we traveled to the Eshkol region and saw a home on a kibbutz destroyed by a rocket,” said Lidia Neves, 34, who works as a TV journalist in Brazil. She said she had visited Israel once before for a work-related conference.
“This second visit really opened my eyes. We only see one side in Brazil, the pro-Palestinian perspective. This program gave me the opportunity to see a bigger picture and another point of view of the conflict,” she said.
Neves said that her family in Brazil was worried about her throughout the trip.
“I told my family not to worry about me; the Iron Dome is protecting us here,” she said.
But Neves, a mother of two, won’t forget her first experience with the rocket siren blaring over Tel Aviv.
“When I first arrived here, I had no idea what to do when the siren went off. I couldn’t find the shelter, and I panicked. Then I saw all these people running, and I just followed them. I learned how to listen for the siren, so the second time I heard it I was prepared,” she recounted.
“The next time, I turned on the video camera on my phone, and the journalist in me started to record the people running. We don’t see these images in Brazil,” Neves explained.
She plans to create a documentary with her footage of Israel for Brazilian TV when she returns home.
Julia Bihl, 24, of Paris, echoed similar sentiments.
“I was interested in the conflict, but I didn’t really know much about it. I had a very bad image of Israel because of the media. I just understood from my own eyes that life here is very different from what I originally expected,” said Bihl, who studies political science and journalism at the Aix-en- Provence Institute of Political Studies in France.
Program participants David Surjanyi and Jordan Petrocz, both 24, who study politics at the Elte Ajk University in Budapest, had been to Israel with their Hungarian Faith Church, a major Pentecostal church in Hungary with 100,000 members, known for its support of Israel.
“I was able to get firsthand accounts and write news articles for media outlets about the war,” said Surjanyi.
He and Petrocz both write for the Hungarian Christian weekly Hetek and work for the Hungarian ATV television channel.
“I would recommend this program to anyone, students and journalists alike, as well as to pro-Israelis and anti-Israelis,” said Petrocz. “You can experience Israel from sources firsthand and see what life is really like here.”
The internship, whose programming and accommodation costs were covered by Face of Israel and Tazpit, with participants paying only for their flight, was publicized throughout social media and Facebook and drew applicants from across the globe.
Only second-year college students excelling in journalism studies or older journalists were accepted into the program. Bar-Ilan University served as the location base.
Amit Barak, activities coordinator of Face Of Israel, told Metro that the “Get to News program” is designed to give future reporters the tools to cover Israel in fair and balanced way and not through a distorted understanding of the country.
“Reporters have great influence in the world,” he said, “and therefore it was important for us at Face of Israel to carry out this unique initiative and have these young reporters witness elements of Israel that otherwise they would not have had access to as journalism students.”
“This is was a pilot program, and I believe it was a great success this year,” said Tazpit News Agency director- general Amotz Eyal. “We are planning to bring 30 journalism students to Israel every year from now on. I believe that the positive impact of this program on foreign correspondents reporting on Israel in the future will help produce of a wave of change in the way Israel is portrayed in international media.”