I don’t remember, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot after participating at the annual Thomson Reuters Foundation Training at European Forum Alpbach.
Together with nine other journalists from Central and Eastern Europe, we debated the role of journalist in today’s society that is increasingly divided. I asked them about the last time they interviewed someone with different views, and invited them to share their stories.
Daiva Repeckaite, a Lithuanian freelance journalist based in Malta, talked about the time she interviewed far-right demonstrators in Valetta.
“I told them I was a journalist, and they asked me what kind of journalist: liberal or one who tells the truth?
“I wanted to know why they feel so strongly about migration and I was quite surprise to find out they don’t oppose migration within the EU, or at least that’s what they said because they knew I was an immigrant from another EU country.
“I would have thought they would oppose anything that might threaten their national homogeneity. It was a challenge to talk to them because these people deny humanity and rights to some of the people I care about and love.
“For the sake of professionalism I had to suppress the human side and listen and nod and ask. I wouldn’t be able to and it’s also not my job to persuade them in any way. That would probably undermine the interview if I tried to do that, so I only used questions to challenge their views.”
Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, a Polish journalist and frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English, said that the last time she talked to someone with opposing views, she was writing an article about German identitarian movement and their project in Lebanon aimed at helping refugees stay in the Middle East, so they don’t come to Germany.
“I quoted them and this was criticised by some journalist, because it was viewed as giving them a platform.
"The main challenge was to understand where they come from, to understand their fears, their problems, their arguments, but at the same time my role is not to judge them, but to report on the situation.
“I consider myself a left-wing person, and I work for a media that shares my values, so of course we can’t be totally objective, it is impossible. We write for certain audiences who have values which are not negotiable. At the same time, reporting on far-right views doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.”
Stephen Sackur, a British journalist who has been a BBC correspondent for more than 15 years, said that if there are people in politics who are winning votes and who have far-right views, then it is his job as a journalist to interview them, confront them with the facts, and to try to hold them to account.
“I think it’s a delicate balance. There is no easy distinction between those we should interview and those we should ignore. You have to use your experience, look at the context, look at the laws, the political situation, then make a judgement for yourself.
“I wouldn’t interview people who voice racist, anti-semitic, anti-muslim, violent language, whose views and ideas have crossed the line and are probably criminal in at least some societies. But that is very different to not interviewing people with far right views at all.”
Maybe it makes us angry, maybe we think it’s useless, or maybe we are scared there’s more of them than we think. But getting out of our bubble is important for journalists.
When did you last talk to someone with different views than yours?
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