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Australian journalist headlines heritage festival
Peter Greste’s career has spanned across two decades where he acted as a foreign correspondent for international news agencies including, Reuters, CNN and the BBC. Photo: Amy Gibbs.
By Olivia Bunter
With 25 years of knowledge and experience to his name, Australian journalist Peter Greste shared his life learnings to a full auditorium of the wider community at the Notre Dame Heritage Festival on Friday 17 May.
The author, media-freedom activist and academic headlined the annual festival giving a thought-provoking talk titled “Fake News and false history: the use and abuse of truth and lies”.
His keynote address explored the complex issue of truth and lies; questioning the role of modern media and further outlined the importance of transparent journalism and the distribution of reliable content.
Peter explained in his talk that social media has become a catalyst for the distribution of news, but the context of the narrative can be easily lost through misinterpreted or misleading content.
“False content is shared when the images are genuine, but the source and origin of the narrative is misleading,” he explained. “And so we’re unknowingly forced to draw false connections from that image.”
The 53-year-old’s career has spanned across some two decades, acting as a foreign correspondent for Reuters, CNN and the BBC in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.
His global experiences have made him into one of Australia’s most recognized foreign correspondents, having reported on major crises and conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa.
In 2013, Greste became a victim of the global war on journalism whilst working in Egypt, reporting on the Arab Spring for the Dubai-based Al Jazeera network.
He delivered his keynote address to a full auditorium, exploring the complex issue of truth and lies. Photo: Amy Gibbs.
Greste was captured and held as a political prisoner in Egypt for 440 days. His conviction and imprisonment with two other Al Jazeera journalists led to widespread international condemnation.
“We were doing what was considered to be ‘vanilla journalism’,” he coined.
“It was basic journalism; I was only supposed to be there for three weeks covering for Al Jazeera.
“The Egyptian government had made an announcement that some changes had been made to the constitution, and our job was to try and make sense of it all.”
The night of 28 December, Peter was in his hotel room at the Marriott when a knock came at the door. Before he knew what was happening, the door had sprung open and his room was being raided by 10 men.
“It took 28 minutes for them to ransack my room and march me off to the police station where we were charged with offences of terrorism.
“I was accused aiding and financing a terrorist organisation, and broadcasting false news with the intent to undermine national security.”
“Because I was working for Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera was paid for the by Qatar government, Qatar was supporting the Muslim brotherhood, therefore somehow we must, by definition, be involved in that conspiracy and part of that attempt to destabilise the state.”
“We got caught up in this campaign and it had extraordinarily real world consequences.
“In Egypt the narrative of us as terrorists and not journalists became so deeply imbedded in their political discourse that it obscured narrative of the nation.”
The hashtag #freeAJstaff was shared some 350 billion times on social media, half of which, Greste joked, were shared by his parents.
“The volume of noise was so great; the Egyptian authorities had no choice but to release us.”
Peter linked his experience back to asking his audience to find their own way of understanding what they read in the news, urging the auditorium to question what is shown to them in the general media.
Peter currently holds the UNCESCO Chair in journalism at his alma mater, the University of Queensland, and a significant advocate for freedom of the press.