Young Al Jazeera correspondent, journalist Tamer Almazhal, confirmed that coverage of the Israeli war on Gaza, at the beginning of 2009 was a real test for him. However, he found his feet as a reporter, and received a degree of excellence from the public who expressed their admiration for his performance and his success in transmitting a humanitarian message to the people of the Gaza Strip during the war, and later during the siege. ArabsToday interviewed him at the Al Jazeera office in Gaza.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself:
A: My name is Tamer Hassan Ibrahim Al-Mazhal. I was born in 1983, as the son of a displaced famiy from the village of "Jura" near Ashkelon, in the north of the Gaza Strip. I have a Bachelor's degree in journalism and media from the Islamic University of Gaza in 2004, and a Master's degree from the University of Westminster in London in 2007 with Honours. As a kid I was interested in reading the paper, and enjoyed activities such as listening to the radio. In school it was my intention from the very start to study journalism, even though I graduated from the scientific section in my secondary school. I got the chance to train at the BBC while I was at university in 2001, and in my opinion it acted as my second university. I moved from being a BBC trainee translator, to being an assistant, and then I became a producer and a correspondent. It was a brilliant progression - It took place over six years. I excelled in this great institution thanks to God. I was equally willing to join Al Jazeera television in March 2008, which was a transitional career move. Al Jazeera and the BBC have similar professional environments, and most of the workers at Al Jazeera are from the BBC.
Q: How was the beginning of your time working at Al Jazeera? Did you feel intimidated when working at the channel?
A: The beginning of my time at Al Jazeera presented me with big challenges and a lot of concerns, as I would be appearing on television for the first time, especially given that Al Jazeera is a very important channel, and is considered the best in the Arab world. Journalists usually work for small channels and then move to bigger channels, yet I found starting out there difficult. However, my work at the BBC before helped, and I was covering a lot of events in the Gaza Strip, such as the Israeli withdrawal, the wars, assassinations, invasions, and elections; so I was always in the field which taught me a lot about working at Al Jazeera. The biggest challenge for me since joining the workforce at Al Jazeera was the war on Gaza, but thank God I was able to leave my mark on the coverage of this war by focusing on the humanitarian aspects. The Shifa Hospital in Gaza turned into a source of humanitarian stories, as it was
very difficult for us as journalists to get to the centre of the action, and the places where bombing was taking place, but we were able to get through to the suffering of the people and into their hearts, thanks be to God.
Q: You say that you studied for your masters at the University of Westminster in London - Did your studies in Britain have an impact on your outlook on global media and its mission?
A: Certainly, it was through my studies at the University of Westminster in central London that I often met with Times reporters. I was in the district where there were journalists from more than 25 countries around the world. In this situation it is up to you to continue trying to share your experiences and field work experience with journalists who have different experiences to you, and from different countries. Thus throughout my studies I was able to look ahead, and to evaluate, wonder, pursue and research other areas, far from the Palestinian concerns. I gained the experience of others, and took advantage of them to find out what was positive about them, and what was best for the development of the media in our world according to culture, religion, and society, and also the geography. I took on enormous challenges, and thus the experience was extremely useful and it expanded my horizons, and took me from a smaller circle to the wider community.
Q: You have now become a celebrity working for an important channel, but you remain very modest?
A: I have a personal conviction of the value of humanity. It is very easy to innovate in the press, and to rise to become one of the biggest celebrities, yet it is even easier to fall. It is humbly submitted to God, and we in the media are required to be close to the people, and to live their suffering. The press is an accumulation of experiences, not an isolated experience. And that's it - we are talking about a new and variable world, and therefore the journalist must humble himself to the profession. It is by showing modesty in this profession that I excelled in it.
Q: You're only 27. Does the fact that you are young for a correspondent carry many burdens with it?
A: Yes, it means that I have great enthusiasm and motivation! I go into the midst of different experiences and break into the field, and I am trying to evolve by producing different reports. Youth carries with it motivation and enthusiasm, and a great amount of encouragement, and it is a period when determination is very strong. Thanks be to God, I am lucky that I am young; it has given me a kind of adventure, unlike the period of life between your 40s or 50s, when there are fewer adventures to be had. The margin for moving around and embarking on adventures is great for me, and I am ready to try out different experiments in order to develop my career. I'm not in a rush to become famous or to achieve great things, but I hasten to gain different experiences, and to develop my career, and to stay on a positive path daily. Every day you should experience some kind of evolution, even if it's small.
Q: What about your family life? Does it affect the nature of your job?
A: I got married in July 2008, and thanks to the grace of our Lord, I have a son called Karim, who was born on the 8th March in 2009. My wife has entered into education and culture now - initially she had no experience in the press, or the media, but after getting married, thanks be to God, she became a
journalist. She supports me, and was extremely supportive of me during the war. Her support made it easier for me, even during the war. My family is my social life. It is difficult to excel in the practical side of my job at the expense of other areas of my life. Life is composed of knowledge, work, and social life, and when you start establishing a family, they are a life guarantee. Your family understands you and is a source of inspiration. When they are happy that you will be coming home, they are the fruit of your life, and it is a positive feeling. I urge every journalist not to put off getting married.
Q: What do you think about the Al Jazeera channel which has become the movement of the people and the maker of revolutions, so to speak?
A: Al Jazeera is a very important Arabic achievement. If the Arab world did not have Al Jazeera it would be a different in a different place altogether. Followers have watched them go through very difficult times - they always try to reach the voice of the people, and are still working towards breaking the influence of the official media, which misses the voice of the public. Over the past years, the uniqueness of the people has been shown. If you compare the number of ordinary people who speak of Al Jazeera compared with the officials, you will discover a big difference; during the Arab revolutions Al Jazeera has stayed close to the voice of the people. Al Jazeera is biased to the masses, but in a professional manner, and it is in no doubt that it was facing criticism at the time, but it is still going strong at a steady pace, and I would say to those who criticize it, that they are trying to set up a second competitor to Al Jazeera to serve the Arab citizen. Al Jazeera is a great professional achievement that we are proud of - not only as an Arabic channel, but as an English channel that addresses the international community.
Q: What about the campaign of resignations from Al Jazeera?
A: The world of journalism is a changing world, and there are people who join it, and leave, only to return again. Al Jazeera elevates its correspondents, and its correspondents improve upon it, so it is a reciprocal process of upgrading. Al Jazeera has given me a lot, and at the end of the day it is moving forwards, and will not stop at any point on account of this. Its professionalism will not be affected by it at all.
Q: What is the most difficult situation that you have experienced during your time at Al Jazeera?
A: During the Israeli war on Gaza I found the stories about children were very difficult. For example, the story about the child "Louis Sobah", whose eye was melted by an Israeli shell. The second most moving story was about the child Firas. He was an oppressed child on whom we decided to base a humanitarian story, because he was ill and needed treatment abroad. We accompanied him in these proceedings at the end of 2009. It was the Al Jazeera camera next to him that gave him the impetus to accelerate the procedures, and to communicate with the Israeli side, and to get the required forms completed. He had to get to Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip, but he died, and we were with the family at the time. We decided to follow up this story a year later, and directed a film called "Born in Gaza". That was the most difficult situation that a journalist could be in.
Q: How would you rate the Palestinian media reality?
A: The Palestinian media reality is difficult. We have the competencies of a lot of different media, but unfortunately it is all going to international and external channels, as the local media is weak does not give the opportunity for creativity. I want us to have a strong trade union, and I have found in many countries that the union is the primary shelter for the journalist. The weakness of the union, and the policies and funding, all influence the local media, which suffers a lot. There is a chronic media reality, and we hope that all efforts will become mutually supportive, that the union will be reformed, and the body of the media will improve and grow in strength. It is unreasonable for us to have all these media competencies, in addition to international awards received by Palestinian media professionals each year, and not to become a strong media body.
Q: How do you evaluate the reality of your work in the Al Jazeera office in the Gaza Strip currently?
A: We have worked in different conditions in many different phases, and the conditions in the current phase are better than they have been in the past, in terms of media scene in Gaza. However, even this atmosphere is not what I would desire for a Palestinian journalist. If there was freedom of the media in Gaza, then that in itself would not be enough. What is needed is unity, and an end to the division. We need to look forward to a Palestinian renaissance, and the reconciliation must be completed as it is in the interest of all Palestinians.
Q: From your experience what are the important characteristics that a television reporter must have?
A: A reporter must be able to find out what the public wants, and what touches the viewer's heart. When I worked on Al Jazeera, I was interested in humanitarian stories, and I made great efforts in this area. I believe these are the most important characteristics in a reporter, in addition to having a professional and effective humanitarian nature, is the ability to be able to write in different styles, and to use your intuition. It is also important to develop and learn quickly, and this comes easily to the younger generation. You should listen attentively to the criticism of others, and take their advice into account, because they want to see you improving constantly.