share
Senior Journalists Seminar

Senior Journalists feeding ‘sacred’ cows in Mumbai, India.Launched in 2003, the Senior Journalists Seminar (SJS) is an immersive dialogue, study, and travel program intended to enhance media coverage and elevate the public debate regarding identity and religion’s role in and resulting impact on the public sphere, specifically as it concerns U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions.

Designed for senior print, radio, broadcast, and online journalists from the U.S. and countries with substantial Muslim populations, the seminar offers an opportunity for journalists to engage their peers, experts, and the citizens of those countries visited on issues that are thematically relevant  including:  the cultural identity, treatment, and representation of religious groups, specifically Muslims; the religiosity, religious diversity, and religious freedom/rights; the A Senior Journalist tours the Gawad Kaling Housing Project, a faith-based community project in Manila, Philippines.political context, structures, and policy influencers that shape domestic and foreign policymaking; the  impact of religious and cultural identity on the national and political identity of citizens; and initiatives to reduce religious tensions and domestic extremism. Another key component of the Senior Journalists Seminar is the exploration of religious identity, experience, and diversity in the literary, visual, performing, and media arts of those countries visited and the role of the arts in building bridges between and across communities. The media’s role in choosing, framing, and disseminating stories with a religious element and its effective shaping of public perception and U.S. relations with the Muslim region is also explored. A diverse mix of background sessions as well as interactive meetings with government officials, military and business leaders, academics, civil society activists, artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and others enables participating journalists to better understand the political, economic, educational, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in society and provides them with tools necessary to report on and analyze U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions. It is a signature program at the EWC due to its demonstrated outcomes and impact:

  • Nuanced understanding of religion’s role in the public sphere, specifically as it concerns U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions gained by participating journalists through discussions at the EWC and during study tour meetings with government, military and business officials, religious leaders, academics, journalists, authors, artists, filmmakers, musicians, educators and students, and community activists.
  • Informed regional perspective of religion’s role in the public sphere and cultural identity in the countries represented by participating journalists through their engagement with one another throughout the 21-day seminar and beyond via social media.
  • Development of reliable professional and personal information networks upon which journalists may draw for future coverage and analysis of U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions.
  • Enhanced media coverage and increased public awareness of religion, its role in the public sphere and U.S. relations with Muslim majority regions through:
    • interactive dialogue between SJS participants and outreach to local communities via panel discussions, student forums, interviews with local media, observance of religious services and interaction with adherents, host family dinners, art and cultural activities, and public events;
    • tweets, blog postings and stories written, produced, and edited by participating journalists;
    • greater depth and balance to future media coverage of stories with a religious element.

To date, 171 journalists from 20 countries have participated. For a complete list of our Senior Journalists Alumni, please click here.

The 2018 Senior Journalists Seminar is tentatively scheduled to take place from September 3 - 27, 2018 with travel to Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; Honolulu, HI; Yangon, Myanmar; and Tunis/Djerba, Tunisia.

Funding:  The Senior Journalists Seminar is funded by the East-West Center, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.

As the Senior Journalists Seminar requires participating journalists to attend various religious services as respectful observers and includes both high level government meetings and tours of impoverished areas, it is important to note that the seminar is both mentally and physically very challenging.

2017 Senior Journalists Seminar

Dates:  September 6 - 29, 2017

Study Destinations:  Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; Manila/Cotabato City, Philippines; Rabat, Morocco

The 2017 Senior Journalists Seminar took place September 6 – 29, 2017 with travel to Washington, DC; Minneapolis, MN; Manila/Cotabato City, Philippines; Rabat, Morocco and included 12 journalists from 10 countries. Immersive study tour visits to the United States, Philippines, and Morocco enabled participating journalists to meet with government and military officials, business leaders, academics, and their media peers regarding the political, economic, educational, artistic, and cultural role religion plays in society. It was the Seminar’s various people-to-people interactions with religious leaders, educators, artists, students, and community activists, however, that truly contextualized the complex role religion plays in societies. These people-to-people interactions were also overwhelmingly mentioned as highlights of the Seminar.

Highlights of the 2017 U.S. study tour were largely consistent with previous years and reinforced the importance of certain sessions and experiences. Religious observance and community discussions at the ADAMS Center, the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Temple, and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC were noted by participating journalists as a highlight. For eight of the 2017 journalists, these visits marked the first time they had ever stepped into a mosque, synagogue, or church and “engaged in constructive discussions with an imam, a rabbi, and a pastor.” For others, attending these religious services and meeting with congregants provided a better understanding of “the relationship between the different communities” and “the status of various religious groups in the fabric of U.S. society and their influence.” Many journalists specifically mentioned the visit to Substance Church, an evangelical, mega-church in Minneapolis, as further illuminating American religious diversity and influence. One participating journalist wrote, “Their sophisticated packaging, branding, and messaging (not to mention, merchandising) really opened my eyes about a phenomenon that I had only heard about, leaving me both impressed and unsettled based on what they were trying to accomplish and how (successfully) they’ve been able to do it.” A substantive tour of the Al-Amal School, an accredited private Islamic school serving over 370 K-12 students in the Minneapolis area, further underscored both America’s religious diversity and the free practice of those traditions. Principal Audrey Zahra Williams best captured the journalists’ sentiments in a statement regarding the school’s mission, “Not total assimilation, not isolation; just positive integration.” The journalists also appreciated meetings at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Pentagon, which offered them “access to subject matter experts…[and] brought to the fore the critical role the U.S. plays in counterterrorism.” Similarly, the journalists benefited from a joint discussion with Minneapolis’ Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding their efforts to prevent and prosecute domestic terrorism and emphasized the overwhelming importance of peer-to-peer networks in recruiting American foreign fighters and domestic terrorists.

The 2017 Senior Journalists also highlighted opportunities in the Philippines to attend religious services, engage religious leaders and congregants, and explore the “intersection of religion and politics.” Visits to the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica and the Bolkiah Masjid were visually powerful and offered the journalists an opportunity to observe both mass and Jum’ah services. One journalist wrote, “In the Philippines, the line between the Church and the State is very fluid… religion plays a significant role throughout the country, including Muslim-majority areas where sharia law is practiced.” A roundtable discussion with Polytechnic University students was, perhaps, the most well-received session of the Manila study tour. Approximately eight journalism, political science, and history students shared their thoughts on the Catholic Church’s “intrusion” on individual rights, the treatment of Filipino Muslims, separatist movements in Mindanao, and the extrajudicial killings of drug users and other criminals taking place under President Duterte. The journalists also highlighted high-level meetings with Lieutenant General Cardozo M. Luna, Undersecretary of National Defense, and Jesus G. Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, as “important” in providing a detailed analysis regarding the fragmentation of Islamic separatist groups in Mindanao, how ISIS -ied groups present new challenges to the establishment of peace in the region, and the future of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. These sessions also provided a foundation for later meetings in Cotabato City with the executive secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Regional Government as well as the vice chairman of the “peace inclined” Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). One journalist wrote, “The MILF and ARMM meetings were highlights of the entire trip. Both included candid and eloquent speakers who provided all the details necessary to understand the complex political and religious situation in the autonomous region.” Other journalists commented on the lack of “clear empowerment programs or initiatives capable of stemming the tide of Mindanao youth into violent extremism.”

Perhaps due to the 2017 Senior Journalists’ generally poor prior knowledge of Morocco’s governmental structure, the constitutional and legal basis for religious and press freedoms, and its political, religious, artistic, and cultural pluralism, the journalists found the Rabat study tour particularly valuable. In particular, an interactive roundtable discussion with media peers representing Din Wa Dunia, MoroccoWorldNews.com, and Telquel Media Group provided the journalists with an overview of press freedoms and limitations in Morocco as well as their thoughts on the structural, political, and societal changes affected by the 2011 Constitution. One journalist wrote, “The session revealed a seeming contradiction between Morocco’s constitutionally guaranteed free speech and reporting realities because the journalists still can’t report on the monarchy, the king, Islam, and Morocco’s territorial integrity.” The journalists gained similar insight into the treatment of migrants and women in Morocco via meetings with the representatives of National Human Rights Council, the Anti-Racist Group to Defend Foreigners and Migrants, and women’s rights activists. Additionally, a film screening and Q&A session with Merieme Addou, associate producer of the documentary Casablanca Calling, offered an introduction to Morocco’s murshidat training program and the societal role played by the murshidat. One journalist wrote that the documentary revealed “the socio-economic and gender inequities in Morocco and the push for change.” Several of the journalists also greatly appreciated a session with the delegate general of Morocco’s Penitentiary and Reintegration Administration regarding the country’s efforts to de-radicalize militants and reintegrate them into society. One journalist wrote that it was the “most useful session in Morocco because it provided an overview of very real, viable solutions to the on-the-ground fight against terrorism and violent extremism.” Another reinforced this point writing, “It was mind blowing to learn about Morocco’s penitentiary and reintegration program, which combines psychology, Sufism, critical thinking, and self-esteem building. Even though only 25 convicted militants have participated in the program the fact the government is investing research and resources to rehabilitate and not just prosecute shows potential. Morocco is really at the forefront on this issue.” Together these on-the-ground experiences in both Philippines and Morocco provided the 2017 Senior Journalists with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Islam as it is practiced in Muslim-minority and Muslim-majority democracies.

The 2017 Senior Journalists were:

  • Ms. Saba ALI, Special Projects Editor, Newsday, Melville, New York, USA
  • Mr. Tarek BEN MAAOUI, Reporter, Télévision Tunisienne, Tunis, Tunisia
  • Ms. Arlene BURGOS, Head, Social Media and Mobile, ABS-CBN Corporation, Manila, Philippines
  • Mr. Steven JIANG, Beijing Senior Producer, CNN, Beijing/USA
  • Mr. Usman KANSONG, Editor-in-Chief, Media Indonesia Daily, Jakarta, Indonesia
  • Mr. Mohd Shoeb KHAN, Principal Correspondent, The Times of India, Jaipur, India
  • Mr. Joseph NEFF, Staff Writer, The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
  • Ms. Jane NORMAN, Political Reporter, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Canberra, Australia
  • Mr. Nurudeen OYEWOLE, Senior Reporter, Media Trust Ltd., Abuja, Nigeria
  • Mr. Shakir RESHAMWALA, Front Page and Executive Editor, Kuwait Times, Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Mr. Brian SAGAYAM, Executive Editor, Star Media Group, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Ms. Ilgin YORULMAZ, Freelancer, HuffPost and Reporter, Voices, Istanbul, Turkey

For more information on East-West Center journalism fellowships and exchanges, see http://www.eastwestcenter.org/journalismfellowships

Contact Information
Liz A. Dorn
Program Coordinator, Seminars
East-West Center
1601 East West Road
Honolulu, HI  96848  USA
Phone: (808) 944-7368
Fax: (808) 944-7600
Email: dorne@eastwestcenter.org