Inside Media: "Drama and Journalism: Stories Under Occupation"

February 28, 2009

Guests: George Ibrahim and Jim Hoagland

By Rich Foster, programs and education director

Do media reporting on conflict lose sight of the human factor?

George Ibrahim, general director of the Al-Kasaba Theatre, thinks news stories too often reduce victims to statistics.

“We became suddenly [the] number of dead people, number of injured people, of demolished houses. This is inhuman. People begin dealing with us mathematically like numbers, he said.”

Ibrahim, a Palestinian Christian, brought his play “Alive from Palestine: Stories Under the Occupation” to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Feb. 27, 2009, as part of the Arabesque Festival. Ibrahim described the play as an attempt to share his perspective through a series of monologues based on events that actually occurred. The setting includes six actors emerging from piles of rumpled newspapers to tell their stories.

“Ninety-five percent [of the events] happened during the last Intifada in Palestine,” Ibrahim said.

The play raises questions about the capabilities and limitations of journalistic and dramatic storytelling. Ibrahim and Jim Hoagland, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the The Washington Post who covered the Middle East, discussed how the distinctly different forms of storytelling can influence public perceptions and how one’s point of view is influenced by the prism through which they are informed.

Ibrahim maintained that the West Bank and Gaza, where the stories are set, don’t get coverage that adequately represents the Palestinian point of view, because Israeldominates the media in the region. He maintains that American and European media fail to provide a perspective that is distinguishable from the reporting in the Israeli media. 

Hoagland disagreed. 

“What you try to do [as a reporter] is to get as close as you can to the subject, to the event that you are covering, and to be fair in reporting it.” 

There is a danger, he said, of becoming too sensational, and reporters must take a “sober” approach in conveying the human drama when trying to explain complicated geopolitical issues to an audience that may not have a depth of understanding.  

Hoagland added that The Washington Post and other major Western media are too independent to be influenced in their reporting by whatever media may dominate in a specific region or conflict — a point in which Hoagland and Ibrahim agreed to disagree. 

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