With unrest ‘springing’ up across the Middle East, nations buoyed by the energies of neighbouring lands, images of civilians rallying and revolting against their governments have beamed into our living rooms more so than ever.
Last week a panel of journalists discussed the role social media has played in the revolutionary phenomenon during a special seminar organised by the Faculty of Creative Arts (Wednesday 1 June).
‘From Afghanistan to the Arab Spring’ brought together two Middle Eastern journalists who are undertaking further training in Australia and international broadcast consultant Steve Ahern.
Mr Ahern led the seminar with a presentation about Afghanistan, having only recently returned from training emerging broadcasters in the region. He says that only military forces can use the internet reliably.
“For a long while the Taliban were blowing up the cell phone towers,” Mr Ahern said.
“I can tell you that the internet it is really slow, really bad and you wouldn’t bother to use it unless you were very desperate.”
“If you happen to be someone in the military then you have amazing satellite infrastructure for your internet but the rest of the population don’t have it,” he said.
In a country with about one million internet users, even modern advancement in mobile telephone technology is limited.
“There is no 3G phone infrastructure so even those who have cheap knock-off smart phones can’t get much out of it,” Mr Ahern said.
“Most telephone handset usage is still small text and talk phones,” he said.
According to Mr Ahern predictive text and emoticons are facilitating a whole new literacy among the largely illiterate population.
“70% of the Afghani population can’t read and write but that’s changing. I was astounded that people were texting all over the place,” Mr Ahern said.
“In a country where people can’t read and write, predictive text and emoticons have had an unbelievable effect on communication,” he said.
Bahraini national Zainab Abdul-Nazi focussed on the political climate of her home country where she worked as a television and newspaper journalist. She spoke of horrific military crackdowns against civilians that showed excessive use of force.
“People in Bahrain are uprising because there is discrimination; in our country the division between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is stark,” she said.
“In the Middle East we have a strange situation where the minority control the majority. We are demanding democracy, fundamental rights and political freedom. We want an elected government, not to be ruled by royal members who are parachuted into our country,” she said.
To cap off the seminar University of Wollongong Visiting Fellow Ali Mohammed Hesamfar offered a comparative summary of the freedoms enjoyed by various news broadcasters in different Middle Eastern countries.
Mr Hesamfar is a morning announcer on Iranian state radio, IRIB and acclaimed actor, playwright and producer. He has one month remaining of journalism training at UOW with the support of an Australian government Endeavour Executive Award before he returns to Shiraz, Iran.
Iranian dramatist and radio producer Ali Mohammad Hesamfar, 29, has been awarded an Endeavour Executive Award based at UOW’s Faculty of Creative Arts.
Endeavour Executive Awards, worth up to $20,000, are granted to high achievers in business, industry, education or government, to allow them to develop their professional skills and acquire new knowledge, during up to four months in Australia.
Mr Hesamfar will be supervised by Siobhan McHugh, a lecturer in journalism, who met Mr Hesamfar at the International Radio Forum in Iran in May 2010, where she was keynote speaker. He will be based at the Faculty of Creative Arts from 1 March to 30 June.
Mr Hesamfar studied law at Azad University, Shiraz, where he founded a theatre group, which is still active. He has won awards in Iran for acting and writing, and is also a radio presenter in Shiraz.
He will attend classes at the Faculty of Creative Arts in radio production, journalism, writing for sound and performance. He will also observe the latest radio production techniques at ABC Radio National in Sydney, under the auspices of Prix Italia-winning producer Jane Ulman.
During his stay, Mr Hesamfar hopes to develop his knowledge of technique, form, practice and content in the fields of radio and drama.
“My access to international developments in theatre and radio is very limited in Iran and I am thirsty to see how other artists and media producers approach their creative work”, he said.
While at UOW, Mr Hesamfar will offer performances and seminars in the Persian arts.
FOOTNOTE: In Round 1 of the 2011 Endeavour Award Scholarships Mrs Hua Zhao (Faculty of Engineering whose supervisor is Associate Professor Muhammad Hadi) has been awarded a Prime Minister’s postgraduate Australia Asia Endeavour Award. She will travel to Hong Kong Polytechnic University where she will research engineering and related technologies. Madelaine Dickie (Creative Arts) has been awarded a Prime Minister’s undergraduate Australia Asia Endeavour Award and will be travelling to Indonesia.
Professor Buddhima Indraratna (Engineering) will be supervising two incoming PhD recipients of Endeavour Awards; Associate Professor Mohan Chinnappan (Education) will supervise one student and Dr Michael Flood (Arts) will supervise one student.
Research Fellowships have also been awarded to UOW with Professor Indraratna having three Research Fellows coming from India, Iran and the People’s Republic of China researching in the area of geotechnical engineering.
Recipients of the Endeavour Research Fellowship from UOW were: Associate Professor Weihua Li (Engineering) with host institution the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; and Ms Cassandra Smith (Science) with host institution the Institute National de la Recherche Scientific.