Dorothy Parvazparvazscarf is a senior producer and special online projects editor for the global news organization Al Jazeera International. She has covered a variety of international topics including the conflict in Syria, uprisings in Egypt, the nuclear disaster in Japan, and, more recently, the election in Afghanistan. Much of her reporting focuses on human rights issues and governmental struggle. Her commitment to providing the most current reports requires that she frequently put herself in harms way in conflict areas. In a high profile incident, Parvaz was detained by the Syrian government on May 7, 2011 after attempting to enter the country to report on conflict there. She was taken to a Syrian jail under the accusation of using a fabricated, expired passport. While in jail, she endured constant interrogation, intimidation, and uncertainty. Her captors refused to notify anyone that she was still alive and subjected her to solitary confinement and Spartan living conditions. In the middle of her imprisonment, she was handed over to Iranian authorities. On May 18, 2011, Parvaz was released after the authorities holding her determined that she was not a spy or a threat to Syria. Upon returning to Doha, and subsequently to America, Parvaz wrote about her time in prison. Now she continues to report on human rights issues around the world, educate students about the importance of journalism, and advocate for the release of Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned for trying to report information.

Conversation

On Tuesday, April 24, 2014 at Brooks Hall Commons, Al Jazeera Senior Producer/Special Projects Editor Dorothy Parvaz shared her knowledge and experience on a provocative topic titled, “Who’s Reporting Your News and Why It Matters.” The Point of View Journalism class taught by Professor Lisa Goff and writer, journalist and expert in the Middle East Helena Cobban also joined the conversation to discuss the media.

discussion_1
Parvaz began her presentation by describing the ideal reporter as a simple machine that observes, gathers facts and provide objective information in the simplest form. However, this ideal is unattainable because bias is an inherent and inevitable aspect of the work. Firstly, reporters must choose what to publish in a given story, and what to omit. The angle of a story is also influenced by the publishing organization and its editorial judgment. To illustrate this point, Parvaz compared two articles written about the bombing of a restaurant in Kabul. An article by Reuters highlights the threat on foreigners in Kabul by the bombing, whereas an article published in Al Jazeera points out the total neglect of the officials and international attention on the death of Afghans from the bombing. Rooted in the differences in organization and readership of Reuters and Al Jazeera, Parvaz emphasized the stark differences in reporting the same incidence due to editorial bias.

Additionally, students interested in the future of journalism directed the conversation towards the rise of citizen journalists. Parvaz clarified the pros and cons of regular citizens using communication technology to capture and deliver news via blogs, videos and social media. The definite benefits to citizen journalists are the quality and the depth of information from the locals who have greater insights into the issue at hand. For example, a renowned citizen journalist Mohammad Nabbous founded Libya Alhurra TV, the first independent news organization in Libya since Gaddafi arose in power and closed any international affiliations. Nabbous was an only source of information about the truth of what is happening in Libya under Gaddafi’s oppression, because foreign correspondents from major news corporations could not get into the country at all. Nabbous informed the world of the heinous acts of Gaddafi, even inadvertently live streaming his own death. However, after lauding their mission of social responsibility and fighting for the cause of citizen journalists, Parvaz pointed out that they simply do not have their professional reputation on the line to uphold the highest journalistic integrity. From a practicing journalist’s perspective, audiences will have to be careful and discern the quality of the information produced by citizen journalists.

Response

Over the three days she was at UVA, students interested in foreign policy, Middle Eastern studies, and journalism had a chance to share a meal or conversation with Parvaz for smaller group discussion. At all of the informal meetings with the students, she emphasized individual responsibility to be educated on current events in the world of digital news. Students discussed how easy it is to ignore dense news on foreign policy because of other entertaining easier reads online. She recommended reading several sources to avoid editorial bias of each news corporation to try to gather a well rounded perspective in the current media environment. She emphasized the importance of reading about the same issue in multiple news outlets, including prominent sources across the globe. As the Internet is inundated with resources, readers have to be more responsible for forming their own opinions, seeing the truth from multiple angles.

Parvaz with MS Students
Students interested in journalism asked similar questions regarding increasingly shorter writing styles for digital news. In response, Parvaz stressed the importance of never compromising journalistic integrity regarding fact check. Especially in light of the rise of online news, questions of ethics on social media platforms such as Twitter – whether reporters should “be the first” versus “getting the facts right”– are concerns of current journalists. For students wishing to enter into the world of journalism, Parvaz advised from her experiences to clarify the facts to honor the truth even if it means sacrificing being first to break the news.

Mapping Connections

Parvaz believes that Transduction is integral to the journalistic process. One of her primary concerns is how she translates the signal she sees in the field into words on the page that are able to convey an effective message to her readers. Complicating this process are the realities that everyone including her possesses bias, she works in extremely dangerous areas, and that many people she covers do not want the truth to get out. Below is a map demonstrating the interplay of these forces in her life and career.

Parvaz map

Report by SunHye Park and Joseph Woodlief.

 

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