Press Freedom Celebration in Beirut
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), UNESCO Beirut office, Maharat Foundation and in collaboration with United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) organized a one day conference on this year’s theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media”.
World Press Freedom Day is a yearly stop where we celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom starting from Human Rights going through the danger that media professionals and citizens face while fighting for the right for freedom of expression.
The Conference was attended by Journalists, bloggers, civil society activists as well as representatives from syndicates, government, military as well as the head of the National Council for Heard & Viewed Media and Mr. Ghassan Mekheiber, Member of Parliament and reporter for Human Rights committee.
Through the opening statements, Mr. George Awad, Communication and Information Programme officer, stressed the importance of this day and talked about the three sub-themes governing this year’s celebration, namely, safety of journalists, combating impunity and online safety. He also talked about the UN plan of action of the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity and how UNESCO is taking the lead in its realization. Mr. Awad added that we don’t have a unique definition for a journalist nowadays, where citizen journalist is the most recent one, in addition, to broadcasting news through the internet.
On his behalf, Mr. Bahaa ElKoussy, director of UNIC-Beirut office highlighted UN secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon’s word on the occasion and stressed on the fact that Press Freedom is a fundamental human right for citizens and an important axe for democracy and for fighting corruption. Mr. ElKoussy also talked about the role various UN information centres are doing in the region.
Then, Ms. Aline Farah, president of Maharat Foundation talked about the region and how it mounts attributed sectarian and the language of exclusion, prevention and repression, even though it is testing today the “Arab spring” and its liberation from dictatorship.
Lebanon was not immune to what is happening in the region, and its global ranking has fallen by 8 degrees, according to the report, "Reporters Without Borders". Lebanon is still ranked among partly free countries in the field of freedom of opinion and expression. Ms. Farah added that we are seeing this trend downward since 2005, where it began the playoffs of journalists and physical harassment and attacks during the professional performance of their duties, while spreading the culture of impunity and without much of a protection from the security forces.
Ms. Farah also talked about media laws that are being proposed to the parliament through MP Ghassan Mekheiber with their input, in an effort to update both the traditional media law and online one. She then concluded with the importance of having up to date media law capable of facing press freedom challenges, technical changes and wider freedom of expression scope.
Following that, two main sessions were distributed between a) Protection of journalists: between law and practice, and b) Online Safety.
The first session looked at the protection side from government, military as well as journalistic point of views. Mr. George Awad moderated this session and interventions were made by Mr. Abdel Hadi Mahfouz, head of the National Council for Heard & Viewed Media, Brigadier General Naim Ziade, Lebanese Army and case study from Mr. Malek Sharif, AlJadeed TV.
The second session highlighted the online safety topic from both organizational point of view as well as a parliamentarian one. Ms. Roula Mikhael, a journalists and director of Maharat Foundation moderated this session and both Dr. Imad Hobballah and MP Mekheiber did their interventions on what is there in terms of online safety, obstables, challenges and how to move forward.
Following each session, enough time was given to participants to discuss and make their voices heard in the presence of this wide variety of representatives.
This conference received support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) as part of a project that promotes Freedom of Expression in the Arab states.
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