Jordan radio goes citizen reporter



 
Protest actions in the Arab world are not a new phenomenon since Israel launched its military blitz on the Gaza Strip on December 27. What is new is how they're being covered at least for one radio station in Amman, Jordan, who has turned to their listener's club to cover recent Gaza protests - citizen reporters turned loose.
 
By DAOUD KUTTAB
 
JORDAN GAZA PROTEST 1
Protesters during Gaza protests actions in Amman, Jordan last week. © Laith Al Majali

AMMAN, January 12, 2009 (MENASSAT) - Last Friday was a slow day at the offices and studios of Radio al Balad in Amman. All the staff were off for the weekly holiday leaving a minuscule skeleton staff to run the station. But you would never have guessed it by listening to 92.4 FM in the Amman metropolitan area.

The station ran field interviews from throughout the city during what security sources said were some 30 protest actions on Friday. Play by play coverage went out on the airwaves as a huge rally was held at King Hussein Sports stadium, and as clashes with the Jordanian police took place later in the day. Every hour, a live interview was made with a person covering events at the tent protest near the Israeli embassy in the upscale Rabbiya neighborhood.

All of the coverage was from eyewitness accounts.

Trial by fire
 
Sawsan Zaideh, Radio al Balad's station director said that the events in Gaza and the public reaction to them forced the station to think of more creative ways of covering events with the small number of reporters working for the station.

"We were surprised in the number of individuals who were willing to volunteer to help us out."

Radio al Balad already comes from a trendsetting mold for new media in Jordan. The station was established first as an internet radio site (ammannet.net) before it obtained a terrestrial FM license.

Registered as a not for profit community organization, Radio al Balad has won the confidence of activists as well as public officials in the seven years since it first appeared online.

 

A scene from the front lines of last Friday's Gaza protests in Amman. © Laith Al Majali  



Police spokesman Mohammad Khatib was a regular guest last Friday answering questions and explaining the police actions against the protesters.

Jibril a Palestinian high school graduate who had come to Amman from Ramallah was in the right place at the right time. She came to visit the station because her sister was a former employee, and during one demonstration, station reporters were unable to cover the events.

Radio al Balad's veteran reporters Sawsan and Mohammad Shamma gave Jibril a ten minute crash course in radio field reporting - and off she went.

Within days, Dana Jibril became a radio star. "The directions Sawsan and Mohammad Shamma gave me were very helpful and I was surprised at how things turned out," she said.

Taxi cab confessions
 
The greatest number of volunteers came from the station's listener's club. The club made up mostly of taxi drivers continues to be a bonanza of information. Taxi drivers have contributed to the bulk of our eyewitness reports.

Khaled Jaber a taxi driver and a member of the club was present at the Rabiyya protests when stones were thrown at the police and the security forces responded with tear gas. His live report as everyone was running away gave listeners a colorful picture of how the protestors were feeling.

Jordanian riot police ducking stones at last Friday's Gaza protests. © Laith Al Majali



On another occasion during last Friday's protests, the local police began arguing with a protester as she was speaking live on the air presenting her take on the protest actions.
 
Mohammad Shamma, Radio al Balad's anchor, said that like Jibril, he conducted crash reporter courses with several volunteer reporters. He recounted, "I know this young person named Ziad who has always wanted to be a reporter and he called me saying he was planning to attend the rally at the Sports stadium. I told him if he wanted to report he should restrict his reports only to what he sees and hears and not to make comments or give topics a value judgment."
 
Mohamad Abu Safia, the head of the radio club has been reporting for some time, mostly on road accidents and traffic related issues. But his  reports during the January 9 protests actions last Friday were presented with the confidence and details of  a veteran reporter.

His reports included both eye witness details  as well as analysis. In one of his reports last week, he noted that of all the signs that were raised in the protest, none were signed by the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's leading Islamic opposition movement.

While he didn't explain the reason, it was obvious to listeners that the Jordanian security and the Islamic movement had reached some type of agreement to keep a lower profile during the Gaza solidarity protests. Abu Safiah also reported on clashes that took place between protestors and the police in the Nasser neighborhood of Amman.
 
Radio station manager Zaidah noted with some satisfaction that none of the reports from the listeners club or other citizen reporters on the scene have proven to be wrong or exaggerated.

(Daoud Kuttab is the General Manager of Radio Balad, 92.4 FM Amman, www.ammannet.net.)