My passion for journalism ignited when I first picked up Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky, an outstanding book that reveals – with great journalistic clarity and quality – the unfortunate circumstances of women living throughout the developing world.
I read the book in the comfort of my first-world home loaded with basic – and excessive – conveniences and filled with amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity, both foreign to many. Unaware and oblivious to the atrocities happening thousands of miles away from home, I flipped through the pages with an unquenchable curiosity.
The book discussed with gruesome detail the poor and deteriorating living standards of women, many of whom are uneducated and illiterate, and have been raped, abused and frequently mistreated. One particular story of a 3-year-old Congolese girl still resonates with me. The young girl was shot in her vagina just because rape and sexual assault are weapons of war. Another story tells of an Indian girl who went to report her rape only to be raped again by the officer who was supposed to defend her.
In addition to detailing the bleak lives of women, Kristof and WuDunn actively encouraged their readers to overcome their fears of traveling to impoverished locations and instead to courageously make an impact and change in the world. The book opened my eyes and transformed my perspective on the world. It planted in me a desire to leave my comfort zone and travel to all corners of the world to report and draw awareness to events that don’t earn the proper attention they deserve.
After completing the book, I became aware of how sheltered I am from events happening all over the world and how preoccupied I am with unnecessary and petty things when calamities are happening all around me. Perhaps it was also because I was still in high school and only concerned with the latest trends and movies and the little gossip I could mull over with my friends.
I started reading the newspaper more to keep myself updated. I began to familiarize myself with the rhetoric and style of journalists and noticed how swift and hasty the news is; one day a story is popular and the next it’s no longer a front-page headline. It fascinated me how rapidly the news functions, not waiting for anyone or anything, but rather traveling at its own speed, and only allowing a short time for reflection and understanding until another story rushes forward.
I paid special attention to the presentation of Muslims and Arabs in the media and noticed how frequently misrepresented they are. I began to notice how biased and impartial the media can be to skew its audience in a certain direction, how it can paint only a sliver of the truth and convincingly present it as a whole picture. The misrepresentation of Muslims and Arabs in the mainstream media fueled my desire to accurately inform even more. I wanted so badly to be a voice for Muslims in the Western world, to dismantle misconceptions and replace them with the truth that is often deliberately obscured.
I found that the media’s impartiality doesn’t only exist in the Western world; rather, it exists everywhere. For instance, Egypt’s state-sponsored media fits perfectly into army strongman and dictator Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s undemocratic agenda. Egyptian popular media often presents Sisi as a kind gentleman who seeks to protect and defend Egypt. It justifies Sisi’s brutal murder of over 500 people who were peacefully protesting in Raba Square, and defends Sisi’s law banning public protests under the disguise that it serves to protect the interest and safety of all Egyptians.
The more I read and the more I began to grasp the world around me, the more I began to realize the absence of objectivity in the news that firmly claims to be impartial.
My understanding of objectivity was questioned when I read Jorge Ramos’ speech at the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Awards. Ramos discussed the importance of taking a stand against injustice and refusing to side with corrupt people in power. He articulated, “The best of journalism happens when we, purposely, stop pretending that we are neutral and recognize that we have a moral obligation to tell truth to power.” He quoted Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
His speech made me reconsider my reverence for objectivity that doesn’t even exist and essentially strives to balance and equate the oppressor with the oppressed, the weak with the powerful. He made me reckon that perhaps objectivity is another weapon of war and not an agent of justice.
The more I read, the more words enthralled me. They contain the power to alter and modify an entire definition and understanding of something. The more I wrote, the more I found it important, and often difficult, to find the right, adequate word to capture the essence of the topic at hand without transforming the truth.
Despite its many flaws, journalism is a vital component of society that serves to educate and inform. Its challenges are many, but at its core is the truth waiting to be exposed.