Sep 02, 2010
Ten minutes with… Sharif Nashashibi (BSc in Business Studies 1998 and MA in International Journalism 1999)
What is your current position/occupation?
I am chairman of Arab Media Watch, and a journalist by profession.
Why did you study at City?
I did my BSc in Business Studies and my MA in International Journalism because both departments at City were ranked among the best in the country. I also wanted to stay in London, where I live, due to family commitments.
How has your career developed since you left City?
I set up Arab Media Watch after graduating from my MA, and have worked on it ever since, but since leaving City I have also been a:
- Presenter for Press TV
- Editorial coordinator and regular contributor for Sharq (Arabic for East) magazine
- Media consultant for the United Nations Development Programme in Palestine
- Freelance consultant for Euromoney
- Managing editor of the Middle East Times
- Copy editor at Dow Jones Newswires
- Trainee reporter and editor at the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus
While at City, I interned at Reuters and the Middle East Broadcasting Centre.
Please can you give us an overview of the mission of the organisation?
Arab Media Watch is an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. We are the only organisation of its kind in the UK. Our activities include:
- Monitoring and analysing the British media
- Establishing a dialogue with journalists and editors
- Helping journalists and editors with research and information
- Fielding and arranging interviews
- Producing monitoring studies, reports, press releases, background documents and fact sheets
- Writing articles and commentaries for various newspapers, magazines and websites
- Getting letters published in the press
- Organising and speaking at topical events, universities and debates
- Encouraging members to engage the media in a polite, factual and targeted manner
What was the catalyst for starting up AMW?
I have always been very proud of, and interested in, my Arab roots. During my MA, I studied the way the Arab world was reported in the British media. I found it severely lacking and problematic in various ways. So, after graduating I wanted to work for an organisation that dealt with this issue.
Given the long history of negatively stereotyping Arabs, I was shocked that no such organisation existed, so I decided to set one up. It was initially a hobby, but our success, and demand for our work, was such that after a few years I left my job at Dow Jones Newswires and worked fulltime for AMW.
You’ve met some very influential figures through your work. Who has most impressed you?
There are so many! Certain people have left a huge impression on me for different reasons.
In terms of my decision to become a journalist, the three pivotal people were Nasreddine Nashashibi, Walid Khadduri and Colin Bickler. Nasreddine is a famous writer in the Arab world, and as a kid I used to listen in awe at his fascinating tales and experiences of politics, injustice, scandal and intrigue. Walid was the only one of my parents' friends who supported my decision to become a journalist. All the others thought I was crazy to go from business to journalism. I will never forget the encouragement he gave me, or the invaluable experience I gained interning for him at the Middle East Economic Survey. He threw me into the deep end straight away, and I relished the responsibility and sense that my contributions really mattered. This was in stark contrast, a few months later, to my internship at Reuters, where I was asked, for the one and only time in my life, to make someone coffee! Colin was one of my lecturers in the Journalism Department at City, and he interviewed me when I applied for my MA. Some people thought he was formidable, but I immediately warmed to him, and I felt that he took me under his wing. He arranged my Reuters internship, and when I told him that they did not make proper use of me, I will never forget him picking up the phone straight away and bollocking them! He left the biggest and most lasting impression on me during my time at City, and to this day, whenever I see him I feel like I am in the presence of a mentor.
In terms of orating skills, one of the best I have ever come across is Azmi Bishara, the Palestinian former member of Israel's Knesset (Parliament). Whenever Arab Media Watch hosts him at events in London, we cannot find venues big enough, as people flock to hear his views and, like me, hang on his every word. He can talk for hours, without any notes, and the time flies by. He is, in my opinion, one of the great Palestinian intellectuals of our time, up there with the likes of the late Edward Said. He can mix in-depth knowledge with sarcastic humour, and can electrify his audience with his powerful voice. As much as I lament how high a price he has paid in Israel for his views, I greatly respect him for standing by his convictions for the greater good of his people's basic rights. Another great speaker, whether you agree with his views or not, is George Galloway. I will never forget his outstanding, meticulous defence at the US Senate or his thunderous anti-war speeches. And Afif Safieh - a dear friend, and former Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, the US and Russia - is the most media-savvy, eloquent and tireless ambassador I In terms of journalists, those I have met who I admire the most are John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Rageh Omaar and Alan Johnston. I am a great fan of the fearless, courageous investigative journalism of Pilger, Fisk and Omaar, and not just their ability to empathise with those they are reporting about, but their insistence on doing so. They are defenders of the down-trodden, always questioning authority, highlighting injustice and educating the masses through fascinating, insightful programmes and articles. I was a long-time fan of Johnston's reporting for the BBC from Gaza, not just because of its exemplary quality, but because he was, for some time, the only western journalist based there. This showed in his superior knowledge and understanding of the daily trials and tribulations of life under occupation and siege, certainly compared to the vast majority of journalists who are based comfortably in Israel. I will never forget presenting him with AMW's 2007 annual award for excellence in journalism at our fundraising dinner. It was a few months after his release from captivity, and I was honoured that this was his first public appearance. He was so humbled and grateful at the support and attention he received, at our dinner and during his kidnapping. It was such a touching moment - truly one of the highlights of my journalistic career.
Another such highlight was interviewing the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu in Jerusalem. This was a man who spent 18 years in prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement. It would be enough to make most people go insane, but I was blown away by his coherence, intelligence and moderation, and honoured that he granted me the interview in defiance of the Israeli authorities
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