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Journalism students experience Middle East media

Amanda Jones

25 August 2017: A group of University of Canberra journalism students have visited Middle Eastern newsrooms, a Jordanian refugee camp and marvelled at ancient ruins in Petra and Jerash as part of an international study tour.

Claire Grinsell-Jones, Alyssia Tennant, Tom Storey, Laura Clements and Lucy Harrington visited Qatar and Jordan from 14 July- 1 August as part of the Australia-Middle East Journalism Exchange (AMEJE) study tour.

As part of the tour, the students met reporters working at non-profit journalism organisation Syria Direct and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), which supports investigative journalism in Arab newsrooms.

“The trip with AMEJE was incredible,” Ms Grinsell-Jones said.

“At Syria Direct we met journalists who had been caught up in the conflict in Syria and forced to leave, and are now writing about the conflict from Jordan. The strength that they showed in covering an issue that has so deeply affected them was inspiring,” the 22-year-old, who is studying a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Communications in Journalism, said.

Visiting the newsroom at Al Jazeera in Doha was a highlight for Ms Clements, a fourth-year Bachelor of Communication in Journalism/Bachelor of Laws student.

“Seeing how a global news station puts its content together was really exciting and inspiring,” the 24-year-old said. “Visiting Australian Embassies in Qatar and Jordan were also really interesting and has reignited my interest in global politics.”

Students also visited Qatar University in Doha, Middle East University in Amman, and a Gaza refugee camp in Jordan during their 19-day stay.

“Seeing what a refugee camp is like firsthand made me lose any preconceptions I had,” Mr Storey, who is studying a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism, said.

“It was an unforgettable experience. The people there were welcoming and willing to show us what their days were like. While it wasn't a perfect situation, they were making the best of it.”

The 27-year-old said he has always been interested in international journalism, having interned with the ABC in their Washington bureau while on exchange in 2016, and for SBS’s Dateline program.

“The tour was great for giving me a glimpse into two very different countries in the Middle East,” he said.

Ms Tennant said the tour was a great way to learn about the Middle East and journalism more broadly, with the trip the 20-year-old’s first time overseas.

“I chose to study at UC because of its proximity to Australia's political centre, and its practical-based journalism degree. For me, the tour was a fantastic opportunity to expand my knowledge of a region I've always found fascinating, and to grow both professionally and personally,” the third-year Bachelor of Journalism student said.

“A highlight for me was visiting ARIJ and Syria Direct which were both really engaging. I loved how passionate the people working at both organisations were about journalism and about producing work that is honest, challenging, and important. I also took a lot from our visit to the Gaza refugee camp, which was really eye-opening and inspired me to advocate for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.”

As well as producing work for assessment as part of their journalism degrees, students also visited the State Mosque in Doha, the Amman Citadel, Petra and the Dead Sea.

“The tour is designed to improve cross-cultural understanding by fostering better informed journalism,” AMEJE managing director and University of Canberra journalism tutor Dr Scott Bridges said.

“Students build knowledge about the Middle East in areas such as politics, culture, history and religion. We aim to provide an experience that will hopefully inspire and encourage these future journalists to report on the region in a more informed way.”

Now in its third year, the tour has strengthened students’ interest in working in the industry. Two of last year’s delegates are working as journalists including with WIN News, and Mr Storey has secured a job working as a producer at Sky News.

The Australia-Middle East Journalism Exchange study tour is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR).

AMEJE has also this week received $30,000 funding from CAAR towards its 2018 study tour. It has expanded its partnership and will take six delegates from the University of Canberra and the University of Adelaide on a professional and cultural study tour of Qatar and Jordan next July.