Al Jazeera director general advises students on journalism careers

February 27, 2014

Director General of Al Jazeera Media Network Mustafa Souag spoke recently at NU-Q about the profession of journalism within the context of the sociopolitical climate sweeping the Arab world over the past half-decade.

“It’s easy to find a job,” he said to students. “Facing the challenges is the difficult part … you want to be sure from the very beginning that you are following the rules … your only defense, if you face critique, is your professionalism. You need to be editorially sound in everything you do and everything you say, so that nobody can come to you and say you actually lied.”

Souag, the third guest to be featured in NU-Q’s Al Jazeera Speaker Series, commented on the current state of journalism education, saying that successful reporting involves more than just technical expertise.

“If you don’t know philosophy, you don’t know sociology, you don’t know psychology, you don’t know anthropology, you don’t know international relations, how are you going to deal with all of the aspects of life that you are going to face in your work as a reporter or editor in the future?”

Souag encouraged critical thinking around concerns that Al Jazeera is a biased organization. He said many opinions emphasize one side of an argument, while Al Jazeera’s policy is based on neutral reporting of all sides. While he said this position has attracted criticism from those who want their side covered, the job of the news service is to provide the facts, as cleanly as possible.

“If you want to empower people, tell them the truth,” Souag said. “Don’t feed them dreams, just give them facts and they will be smart enough to make their own decision. This is our job; this is what we do.”

Al Jazeera stands out as a brand, worldwide, not just in the Middle East. This is evident in the channel’s popularity in the US and the Balkans, Souag said, answering a question about whether or not its new international channels will spread its efforts too thin. The news organization is now in the midst of setting up a channel in Turkey, and their confidence has been bolstered by the popularity of the Al Jazeera Turk news website.

Answering to the notion that Al Jazeera is influenced by the Qatari government, Souag called on an example in Syria. When Qatar took its own stand on the affairs of the country, the news service went in and reported what was happening on the ground, regardless of how it supported or denied Qatar’s political approach.

“Al Jazeera wants to show what is going on in the street,” he said. “Governments won’t show this. [We] make people aware … give them the knowledge they need. We cover people so they are not in the dark.”