Egyptian television covers Serbian elections
Interview with Al-Jazeera’s Belgrade correspondent | December 10, 2002.
Belgrade’s permanent foreign press corps was augmented for last week’s presidential elections by thirteen specially-accredited journalists and crews.
These included crews from Croatian television and radio, Polish radio, two journalists from Romania and a correspondent from Qatar’s Al-Jazeera Television.
Samir Hasan, a journalist from Al-Jazeera’s Sarajevo office, is an Egyptian from Alexandria who has been working in the former Yugoslav territories for the past six years.
Antonela Riha spoke to Samir for B92.
B92: Why are Serbian elections so interesting to Arab viewers?
Samir: First of all, Serbia and Yugoslavia are very important countries in Europe, especially in South-east Europe. We are interested in the whole world, although Arab issues and Arab problems are number one for Al-Jazeera, but we are also interested in covering every event from North America to Australia.
B92: I gather you worked on all day on the election day and then filed a report. I’m interested in what your report was like, what was the aspect to which you paid most attention?
Samir: Perhaps the oddest thing in the election, and I may have begun the report with that, was that Vojislav Kostunica was not waiting for the actual results but for the data on how many people took part in the elections.
B92: How did you explain to your viewers why Serbs did not go to vote in the numbers expected in other countries?
Samir: I agree with other analysts who say that Serbs are not satisfied with the candidates and feel that nothing new or positive would happen after the elections, which is why they are not interested in voting.
B92: How did you describe the candidates? How did you bring those three candidates to life for your viewers?
Samir: It’s already well-known that Kostunica is a reformist and a liberal president, while Seselj and Pelevic are rightists. I think that is very well known and clear.
B92: Do you think that the public in Qatar, and in the world at large, know enough about these three candidates?
Samir: You’re right, maybe a large number of people don’t know, but we’re not speaking solely of Qatar or Al-Jazeera here, we’re broadcasting by satellite throughout the world. In the Arab countries there are people who understand and know, and who have heard the names Kostunica and Seselj. Perhaps the third candidate is not know, but we usually broadcast reports and news from throughout the world. I think it is enough for someone who doesn’t know to find out, or for someone who knows to learn even more.
B92: What sort of priority did the station give your story on Serbia’s presidential election in its television news.
Samir: There are four central news programs which last an hour and a half and the first, and one of the most important, news program is called “Midday”. The news from Serbia made it into the headlines, which means it was in a good spot, a very important slot in that particular program.
B92: Are you covering any other story here beside the presidential elections?
Samir: I’m still trying to assemble a documentary program on Tito. I hope I will get to make something for that program.
B92: Do you think your audience will be interested in the life and role of Josip “Tito” Broz?
Samir: There are viewers who want to know and like to know history and they want to red history again and maybe learn from something between the lines. We are still learning, or reading or watching films about Churchill, Stalin, Lenin, Alexander the Great, there are still studies about him and others. History is full of them.
B92: You are based in Sarajevo. What kind of stories do you usually post from the region.
Samir: When we don’t have anything for the news, we are doing stories. Most of the stories are usually social ones, about people, society, things of interest to people in other places and these go into our program “Al-Jazeera Correspondents”. This program airs various reports from South Africa and Germany, you, the US and China.
B92: Al-Jazeera became familiar here when Osama bin Laden made his video-taped appearance, and it seems to me now that everyone in Serbia knows the name of Al-Jazeera but don’t know much about the station itself? What else do you have exclusive coverage of, besides Bin Laden?
Samir: You’re right, the majority of the public, especially foreigners, think that Al-Jazeera became famous because of Bin Laden and his recordings, but I think that is not true. Al-Jazeera has always had exclusive news and programs which were particularly appealing to Arab viewers. Every media company, papers and television is seeking the path to success and want to be the most popular and, maybe, for Al-Jazeera, that opportunity was the Bin Laden tapes.
B92: Does the station encounter problems as an Arabic station? We currently have one of the gravest world crises related to the threats to Iraq and what happened after the attacks on the US. What problems do you have with respect to that?
Samir: I think the station doesn’t have problems because Al-Jazeera does its job professionally and impartially. It has even happened that our Iraq correspondent has problems with the Iraqi authorities. They said he was not fair, that he was biased and tried to ban his work for ten days. But apart from that we’ve had no problems, we do our work professionally, impartially, and we’re ready, technically and professionally, to cover any event.
B92: As Al-Jazeera’s correspondent do you have any problems here in this region?
Samir: There are all the usual problems, perhaps because of bureaucracy, perhaps the atmosphere. I was one of the journalists who was given six hours to leave Belgrade during the 2000 elections. Unfortunately I didn’t get to cover those elections and I didn’t even get to cover the events of October 5. This was done instead by our correspondent from Prizren, who managed to get to Belgrade.