The past week had been a stressful one for Peter Greste. Though now he was safe on Australian soil and far away from the nightmare that was the Egyptian courtroom. A guilty verdict for broadcasting false news that, in the eyes of the Egyptian government, went against national security had been handed down to him and his two colleagues, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. But with both relief and despair in his voice, Greste announced he stood before the small crowd as a free man.
Those in attendance were mostly suited up journalists as well as those who work in the media. After scanning the room that was filled with suits and ties I admittedly regretted wearing my jeans and Jay-Z shirt, especially when one of the greeters followed me to the bathroom to see what shifty business was afoot. The view from the top of the Westpac building was quite nice though.
When Greste stood behind the podium people immediately found their seats. The man who had just been charged by the Egyptian courts for aiding the Muslim Brotherhood began his speech. Talking about his career as a journalist as well as his time spent in an Egyptian prison, Greste went beyond his own experiences and spoke on the journalism industry as whole.
Somewhat bleak yet funny topics such as the future of news reporting were touched on as Greste brought up his time as a young journo where “carrier pigeons” and “horse and carriage” were all part of the gig. Now the Peabody Award winning reporter says he recognises that novice journalists with “faster thumbs” are the ones who will inherent the media world, particularly through the use of social media.
As a young journalist myself it’s precious talks like these that feel like the passing of the writer’s torch, with a careful focus on keeping the dwindling flame alight. Though it didn’t seem like Greste was preparing to retire just yet.
When a question from the crowd prompted the man of the hour to speak more on his trial that played out in front of an Egyptian judge and what this new verdict meant for him, he went onto to explain that as an international journalist and correspondent he was now limited in where he could travel to, further explaining that his lawyers had suggested he not even consider leaving Australia.
In a moment that saw Greste go off script he explained that compared to the jail time his Al Jazeera colleagues are now facing, his limitations are just a “pain in the arse” and that the real focus should be freeing these two journalists.
But Greste’s talk did not focus on just his trial. In fact it was only a mere stepping stone used for him to talk on a journalist’s responsibilities as well as what freedoms the press are entitled to in order to report objectively. One fundamental duty of a journalist that was mentioned was providing viewers and readers with “nutrient rich information” instead of the “junk food” news they’re used to consuming.
As the event began to wrap up Greste took questions from the audience. A journalism student managed to get in the last query asking the established professional what the future for up and coming journalists was looking like. For the first time all night Greste seemed to be lost for words jokingly burying his face in his hands with mocking pain on his face. He pointed out that the ever changing and unpredictable world of journalism was at a major crossroads with more and more newsrooms cutting jobs and relying on reporters to be multi-skilled.
Greste went on to explain the landscape of modern journalism as being a place where it’s easier to get published online than it is to get paid for it. With these somewhat depressing but honest words the talk was over and it felt good to have this man exercise a right we might take for granted: freedom of speech.