Interview with Tamer Aboalenin, correspondent in Geneva for the Kuwait News Agency | January 2014
Tamer Aboalenin works as a foreign correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency in Geneva. He talks to us about his job , the issues he covers, and his views about the evolution of international Geneva's media coverage.
Tamer Aboalenin works for the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) as its foreign correspondent in Geneva, covering both the United Nations and Switzerland. His office is located on the fifth floor of the Palais des Nations.
KUNA's newswires and articles are distributed and red in the entire Arab region, as well as in the rest of the world through KUNA Anglophone service. As on of the largest news agency in the Arab region, KUNA counts 33 office worldwide in Europe, the United States, the Middle-East and Asia.
In this interview Tamer Aboalenin tells us about his job, the issues he covers and his views about international Geneva's media coverage.
Since when are you working for the Kuwait News Agency?
I have been working for the Kuwait News Agency since 2009. So it has been five years and I am very happy with this job! This being said, I have been living in Switzerland since 1998. I was living in Burgdorf at the time but visited Geneva for the first time that same year!
Where were you before?
I used to work before for several Arabic media, including Al Hayat and the Kuwait Radio, covering Switzerland and international Geneva. I have also been working for the Arabic service of the Swiss Radio International (now Swissinfo), the BBC and Aljazeera.
Since when does KUNA have an office in Geneva?
Kuwait News Agency has an office in Geneva since 1989 as Geneva is a very important centre where many international organizations are based. Geneva is, for me, like the kitchen of the world, dealing with trade, economy, telecommunications, heath, humanitarian, environment, meteorological, development, human rights and other important issues. It is also unique in the sense that you can listen here to different opinions, from the North, from the South, from the East, from civil society, from governments, etc. You also see how decisions that are crucial for the world are taken.
How big is KUNA office in Geneva?
The office is just me! But with e-mails, internet and all the new communication tools, you can do more work now than before.
Do you only focus on international Geneva or do you cover other issues related to Geneva and Switzerland?
I focus on international Geneva and Switzerland. For Switzerland, we do focus on the economy, as well as on political, cultural and scientific issues. In 2014, we will for instance do a series on National Parks in winter, another one on hunting in Switzerland and another one on famous caves. These types of features have a lot of success in the Arab region! We also do a lot on the EPFL in Lausanne and the EPFZ in Zurich which are both doing very good work. But most of my time goes to international Geneva.
In relation to international Geneva, which issues do you cover?
With the Human Rights Council based here in Geneva, we do focus a lot on human rights issues. But we also cover trade with UNCTAD and WTO, meteorological and climate issues with WMO, health with WHO, migration and refugees with UNHCR and IOM, and telecommunication issues with ITU. All these agencies are doing very important work. For instance, UNCTAD is producing reports that are very useful for our audience. Same for the ITU as telecommunications are part of our daily life and have an impact on it.
We issue newswires but we also do features and stories. The advantage of being in Geneva is that you get the all the information without having to travel to the field.
How many papers do you write every week?
It depends. The features, or stories, take more time so I would say that I do an average of two features per week, both on international Geneva and Switzerland. We also issue daily news which are shorter. On average, I issue four daily news per day on both international Geneva and Switzerland. I also do books review on Swiss books but also on books available at the UN Library.
How do you see the evolution of international Geneva's media coverage?
I see it increasing. You have here all the well-known press agencies like AFP, AP or ITAR-Tass. Other media and journalists have also come here, like Chinese medias, as they want to have their own opinion about what is happening in Geneva. It is the same for my agency. We might be interested in issues that are not necessarily covered by the big agencies. As an Arabic media we might cover different issues or look at an issue from a different perspective. The impact of a decision taken in Geneva might also be different for a specific region or country.
Does KUNA have correspondents in other international cities?
We have an office in New York, covering the UN there, as well as one in Vienna, covering the UN and the OPEC. We also have offices in all the Arab countries, as well as in different capitals throughout Europe, in Russia, China, Japan, Iran, the United States, Malaysia, etc.
How is your typical day?
My day starts at 5:00-6:00 am due to the time difference with Kuwait which is two hours ahead. I start my day by consulting the agency regarding the issues to cover and then start preparing my newswires and features. On Tuesdays and Fridays we have the UN press briefings and these two days are reserved for UN issues. The other days are more flexible, depending on what comes up from UN agencies. I also try to work on longer stories and features during these days.
In any case, I always like to give some background information about situations I report on. Our clients are the media in the Arab region but also the Arab population. So I think it is important to provide some background information, analyzing for instance the impact of an issue on the region. I understand that people now think in term of Facebook, Twitter, and short sentences. But for me it is important to give more substance in order for people to understand an issue and its implications: what are the causes and consequences.
Your next story?
It will be on the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos and on Geneva 2. I will do a feature on the world before Geneva 2 and after Geneva 2, as this Conference is about the future of the region.
Your last one?
It was on Geneva 2 and the current situation. We have, at the moment, two constants and six positions. This is my analysis. The two constants are the terrible humanitarian situation and the Geneva agreement. The six positions are the ones from the governments of Russia, the United States, the EU, Syria, the Gulf States and Iran.
Your impression about working and living in Geneva?
I am living in Bern but comes almost every day by train in Geneva. I am living in Bern because Geneva is expensive and because I am also covering Switzerland. Bern is very central and it is therefore easy to go to Zürich, Basel or elsewhere. If you focus only on international Geneva, it is good to be in Geneva. But if you also cover Switzerland, Bern is a good base. I don't mind to taking the train, I can work and read in the train and connections are very good.
Geneva is a mixture of different things. You can find the entire world in Geneva: the rich, the Marxists, the liberals, the human rights activists, Governments, etc. It is a multicultural city: you have many different cultures and nationalities and they are living in peace!