First and foremost, do not overestimate or under-estimate your ability to communicate. Good activist remind myself themselves that they have certain strengths (be it organizing, networking, bringing people etc) and weaknesses (which may include communication). The most rewarding and effective action you may do is to refer the journalist to someone else who is really good at interviews. Always have handy a list of at least 5 key people with excellent communication skills and refer journalists to them.
Preparing yourself for interviews is actually much more important than the interview itself. The old axiom of practice, practice and practice cannot be overemphasized. Have a friend videotape you being interviewed by another friend. Make a list of as many questions that reporters could ask you as possible and practice your answers with other friends. Always ask friends and knowledgeable colleagues to give you input on your answers even if you think you know what the correct answer is. You always get useful hints and ideas.
Always remember who your audience is and speak to them (not to your own constituency). An example: while the death of Palestinian civilians is sad on its own it is not as effective as giving the statement on an CT television that "US Tax dollars to the tune of 5 billion per year (more than what federal government spent on the state of Connecticut) are being used to support Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians. These killings were condemned by Humnan Rights Watch, Amnesty International ...."
Very few local television stations, even in the largest cities, have reporters assigned specifically to cover your issues - or any other specialized topic, for that matter. Almost all TV reporters are generalists and employed for many reasons and not necessarily for investigative abilities. Add to this the fact that TV reporters are often assigned to cover two or even three stories a day, forcing them to race from story to story with only the most cursory research and preparation. You'll begin to see why local TV news is so shallow - forcing you, the activist, to make your message as simple and easily understood as possible in order to have any chance at accurate coverage. Thus, you have to educate them and you have to be very patient.
Remember that an interview of 15-20 minutes can and will end-up in a 10-30 second clip on the news. This is very, very important. Reporters and editors can pick the one sentence you did not want them to air and air it and ignore all your other material. So how do you deal with that? You can be smarter and insert your own soundbit in each of your own sentences. Examples of not letting reporters dictate the answers:
Q: What do you think about the election of Sharon?
A: Both Sharon and Barak are Israeli army generals who ordered the attack on civilian targets and are responsible for numerous violations of Palestinian human rights as documented by independent groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Q: Why couldn't Arafat stop the violence?
A: Occupation is the Violence. Over the past 10 months, Israeli Occupation forces and illegal settlers have killed over 600 Palestinians, and injured 17000, over a third are children, and over half of those victims were hit while not near areas of friction or demonstrations.
Q: But what about attacks on Israelis by Palestinians?
A: As I said, occupation is the Violence. Over the past 10 months, Israeli Occupation forces and illegal settlers have killed over 600 Palestinians, and injured 17000, over a third are children, and over half of those victims were hit while not near areas of friction or demonstrations. Acts of resistance to occupation will end when occupation ends and justice prevails.
In interviewing it is important to:
- Be brief and factual. Answer in usable soundbits and repeatedly (you see they will interview you for 20 minutes and use two 30-second clips. Try to incorporate basic facts ignored and intentionally suppressed in all your answers (a Palestine/Israel 101 abstract). If the question is about Arafat stopping the violence, a poor answer would be that Arafat is trying to stop the violence. A more needed answer would be "How could Arafat stop the violence when Israeli forces supported by billions of our tax money have killed thousands of innocent civilians, demolished thousands of homes, confiscated lands, and suffocated peoples lives and livelihoods.
- Bring your questioner to your points and do not let them lead you away from your main points. Do not let the interviewer completely set the agenda and what is discussed. This is because journalists are influenced by editors and a power culture that influences average people in directions that do not neccessarily reflect truth or justice (which is what we are after).
- Use no notes: if you are not able to remember your points, you should not be interviewing
- Use body language effectively. Put more emphasis in your voice on the critical points
- Be calm, collected, respectful of your adversaries (the worst emotion to destroy your message is any with a visible hate or anger). Speak calmly and do reflect your other emotions: sadness, frustration, empathy, care.
- Don't be afraid to use humor or to make friends with the reporters. They are not our enemy but can be our best ally if given appropriate information and helped to do their job well.
- Do not use ambigous terms like "they" or us" but always refer to who you are talking about precisely: Palestinians, Israelis, Israeli government, Palestinian Authority, American Government etc. Use active voice, e.g. instead of homes were demolished, state that "the Israeli army demolished 9200 homes since 1967 according to B'Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Organization"- not we or they.
- PRepare facts and issues to address. Answer the questions using as much description of what you are talking about as possible. In stead of "Palestinains want an end to the occupation" try "A brutal israeli military occupation of Palestine has caused incredible suffering for teh native Palestinians who try to resist mostly by non-violent means" (this is a fact BTW). Draw parallels with familiar imagery and storis. For example, emphasize teh facts that Palestinains live in segregated communities, Israel build Jewish only settlements on confiscated Palestinain lands, Palestinians aren't even allowed to have the same rights to drinking water or even to travel on roads that are reserved for Jewish settlers only. Black South Africans struggled for their rights, and Palestinians are doing the same. If the Soviets occupied America, bombed all its infrastructure, destroyed all its police force, would you be talking about stopping "American violence." Israelis treat Palestinians worse than African Americans were treated in this country in the south 50 or 60 years ago. You can think of other facts to add to show Israel's discrimination/apartheid policy.Whenever asked about violence, if time permits, you may also mention the huge Palestinian non-violent resistrance.
- If you have personal experience with Israeli brutality, or your family has, please use it but make it short. Do not be afraid to express your emotions. Do not be too proud. If you or your family suffered (and certainly most Palestinains have), share it and feel it.
- When terrorism is mentioned, state that most of the Palestinians shot, killed, or injured by Israelis are helpless civilians according to human righst organizations. If asked why would Israel do that. It is simple, that is what they did in 1947-1949 to drive Palestinians off of their lands. The Zionists massacred hundreds of Palestinians and forced 800,000 others to leave their homes in order to get their lands for Jewish only settlements.
- In answer to any questions on the right of return, again make it short and simple. 54 years ago Israel ethnically cleansed over 800,000 Palestinians out of their homes. The Palestinians have deeds to
homes and property. Israel, in defiance of International law and human rights treaties, won't give Palestinians their property back or even allow them in the country. If this happened to Americans, they'd try to get their homes back. As to maintaining the "Jewish character", would Americans allow someone to take their property and refuse to return it to maintain a religious character of the neighborhood.
- Try to avoid terms and references unfamiliar to most of the public you are addressing (for example UN resolution 242, 338 etc). You can state things like, "The United nations and the whole world has asked Israel to withdraw from the areas it illegally occupies and Israel refuses." The word occupation by itself is meaningless. I occupy my home! Try to explain what is this and use terms that are reflective of its brutality. Palestinians are denied basic human and civil rights under a brutal and foreign military colonization. Palestinian lives and property are being destroyed. The American media doesn't explain how Palestinians live or what is their rights.