UNESCO and CFI supported World Press Freedom Day commemoration at Birzeit University in West Bank
On 2 May, Birzeit University’s Media Development Center (MDC) organized a local celebration of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) in partnership with UNESCO Ramallah and Canal France International. The seminar brought together 70 participants, including key Palestinian media stakeholders. It was held at Birzeit University’s campus in the West Bank, under the theme “Legal and Ethical Framework for Journalism in Palestine: Challenges in a New Media Environment”.
The agenda for the celebration was developed with input from a steering committee constituted by WAFA news agency, Ma’an news agency, Palestine TV, I’lam Media Center, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Ramallah and the Government Media Center. A similar commemoration will be held in Gaza on 10 May.
Munir Qazzaz, Vice President for Community Outreach at Birzeit University, representing MDC, and Derek Elias, Head of UNESCO’s Office in Ramallah, opened the event, highlighting the mission and activities that their respective institutions undertake to face press freedom challenges in Palestine. The seminar’s moderator and lecturer at MDC, Abedrahim Abedallah, focused on the shortcomings of the Palestinian legal framework in regards to freedom of expression, comparing media to a ballet dancer performing on a slippery ground - a metaphor of the sensitive environment in which Palestinian journalists work and the diverse pressures they often come under. Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (Canada), examined the fundamental transformation brought about by digital communications, emphasizing the democratizing power of new media along with complex questions emerging in connection with regulatory aspects.
Representing the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Naser Abu Baker focused on the obstacles media professionals encounter in Palestine, as well as on the Syndicate’s work to protect them and promote professional and ethical standards in journalism. Following, journalist and media expert Aref Hijjawi, referred to the problematic issue of lack of objectivity in journalism, and highlighted the importance of combining of news and entertainment in broadcasting to capture the public’s attention, among other topics. In turn, journalist and lecturer at Al-Quds University, Nahed Abu Teimah, brought attention to the particular obstacles faced by women working in media in Palestine, and stressed that these should be taken into consideration when discussing improvements in legal and ethical standards.
The structure and functioning of Palestinian media houses was analyzed by Walid Shurafa, Head of the Media Department at Birzeit University, who linked these to a broader conflict structure, as well as to ideology and power, pointing out to what he viewed as “selective criticism” - based on its possible repercussions. Kholod Massalha, Project Coordinator at I’lam, spoke about Palestinian journalists’ restrictions in Israel. Zolfa Shahror, correspondent and Head of the Syndicate of WAFA workers, shared the experience of WAFA news agency, including in regards to the recently passed law that regulates its functioning. In turn, the case of Palestine TV was presented by the station’s Programs Director, Emad Al-Asfar.
Ghassan Al-Khataib, Director of the Government Media Center, welcomed the event as an opportunity to hold a dialogue among different concerned parties, which he viewed as necessary for addressing unsolved issues pertaining to the ethical and legal framework affecting media in Palestine.
“Freedom of expression is one of our most precious rights. It underpins every other freedom and provides a foundation for human dignity. Free, pluralistic and independent media is essential for its exercise”, stated the UN Secretary-General and UNESCO’s Director-General on the occasion of the 2012 World Press Freedom Day. Aligned with this message, the celebration supported by UNESCO and CFI in the West Bank aimed to feed into future coordinated efforts toward the full enjoyment of freedom of expression in Palestine.