This year, UNESCO has chosen World Press Freedom Day to highlight the importance of working with different stakeholders to “Let Journalism Thrive.” By promoting “better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age,” UNESCO intends to bring together its expansive network of press freedom, civil society and media organisations to share success stories and exchange best practices, while also reiterating problem areas in terms of restrictions on members of the media, and also remembering those journalists and media workers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of their work.
In line with this objective, Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) remains committed to promoting high quality, responsible journalism and raising awareness of the significant role that the media play in society, especially in light of the ever changing face of technology and its impact on the media landscape.
Because of its geopolitical location and its access to the Arab world, DCMF has kept a close eye on the recent development of media in post-revolution countries, as well as the region as a whole. During times of political transition and instability the media’s role is intensified, with journalists and media organisations often providing the clearest insight into the social situation facing citizens at any given point. While serving to emphasise the importance of this work, times such as these also bring to light the great responsibility borne by those providing news coverage of historical developments as they occur.
Sharing misinformation and failing to work according to the principles of professionalism represent the clearest examples of journalists failing to act in accordance to this great responsibility, and the subsequent impact can be extremely destructive. Political, ethnic, cultural and religious divisions can be deepened by irresponsible journalism, and all too often media organisations become aligned to political factions, engaging in the production of little more than propaganda posing as news.
While this results in the media failing to perform their roles adequately, it also enables governments and other powers to further target and restrict them. By producing irresponsible work and ignoring professional standards, journalists themselves hand the initiative to those who would silence them. Governments around the world are often presented with clear evidence of the damage that this poor journalism can generate, and as a result, they can point to justification for their efforts to curtail press freedom.
Consequently, promoting responsible journalism and building the capacity of journalists in the Arab region and around the world has never been a more pressing mission. DCMF has continued to offer training programmes for journalists across the Arab world, aiming to foster sustainable change and development in the industry. A major part of these efforts has been the centre’s train the trainer programme, which has focused on building a pool of Arabic-language journalist trainers who can assist in training a larger number of media workers in the future. Creating a network of professional journalists who can develop the skills of members of the industry represents an extremely important aspect of establishing standards to defend media freedom and allowing members of the media to thrive.
This year, World Press Freedom Day emphasises the importance of promoting quality journalism in the digital age, and in this regard, DCMF has identified the need to train citizen journalists who have been providing extensive coverage from war torn countries such as Syria. Citizen journalists continue to provide footage and stories which are in turn being broadcast by international news organisations, and it is unacceptable to expect them to carry out this dangerous and life-threatening work without adequate training or the basic understanding of journalistic skills and ethics.
Hence providing training programmes for citizen journalists is essential if we are to successfully defend media freedom and citizens’ access to accurate information.
The high numbers of journalists and media workers who continue to face danger as a result of their work remains a primary concern for organisations such as DCMF. No story is worth a life, and journalists should not be placed in positions where this may be brought into question.
While the dangers of covering events in countries currently experiencing violence is to be expected, media houses have a responsibility to ensure that they provide their employees with the best possible training and resources when working in such circumstances. Similarly, media houses must do more to protect the safety of freelance journalists they continue to use to gain key coverage. Freelancers are increasingly throwing themselves into more dangerous situations with the aim of differentiating themselves and standing apart from an ever-widening pool of peers. Unfortunately they are too often encouraged to do this because of current practices in the industry, and media outlets consistently fail to adequately provide for this category of media worker.
DCMF’s training efforts focus on these issues, and the centre has provided a large number of journalists from across the region with basic safety training. By arming them with professional skills training combined with safety expertise, the centre aims to ensure that journalists covering political instability and violence will be able to do so in a safe and accurate manner, ensuring their wellbeing and hopefully contributing to a better understanding of the situation they are covering.
In terms of gender issues in the media, DCMF participated in the Global Forum on Media and Gender in 2013, and continues to promote the issues which were discussed during this international conference. Combating gender stereotypes in the regional media is an important mission for journalists and media organisations alike, and the best way to achieve this is through education. It is also important to provide support to any female journalists working in the field. DCMF welcomes all genders to participate in its training courses and has hosted a number of events specifically aimed at highlighting gender issues in the media. However, it is not enough to host events for female journalists or bring together female professionals to discuss these problems; any solution will require significant change within the traditionally male-dominated media industry, and as such it is important to adopt a multi-stakeholder strategy when addressing this challenge.
DCMF works closely with educational institutions in Qatar to support efforts to encourage local women to study journalism and enter the workplace in the media field, and this is something the centre will continue to do in the future, with the aim of establishing gender balance within the local media. Promoting gender equality in terms of media ownership remains a major challenge for the global
community, as does the development of a global media which covers and understands gender issues and stories related to gender in a sensitive and responsible manner.
At the heart of all of these efforts lies education, whether it be educating journalists themselves on how to work safely and responsibly, sharing best practices with media houses on how to train and look after their employees and freelancers in the field, or raising awareness in general about the importance of defending media freedom and promoting the values of democracy which free media define.
DCMF has been particularly active in its Media and Information Literacy (MIL) education programme, which aims at providing a preemptive, proactive strategy for combating many of the obstacles to seeing journalism thrive around the world. By promoting MIL education and engaging as many educational institutions as possible in Qatar and then across the region, the centre provides younger generations with an understanding of modern media which will enable them to become engaged, fully participative global citizens. Ensuring the development of critically aware future generations represents one of the most important tools to combat the issue of impunity, which continues to threaten journalists around the world on a daily basis, as well as to introduce cross-cultural understanding and dialogue, which remain essential priorities for the international community.
DCMF is extremely glad to join UNESCO and other partner organisations to promote the message of World Press Freedom Day 2015 and “let journalism thrive.” To allow the industry to be successful in performing its essential social role, we must ensure that journalists themselves are allowed to thrive. Sustainable capacity building programmes will allow journalists to be able to work effectively and safely, however a multi stakeholder approach is essential if we are to combat the issue of impunity and promote gender equality in the media.
These are complex and extremely important issues for the global community to address, and World Press Freedom Day provides us with the opportunity to evaluate efforts to promote responsible journalism, to defend media freedom and to protect the safety of journalists. While efforts to promote these issues, raise awareness of their importance and overcome the challenges they pose have been fruitful to some extent, much more must be done if we are to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in 2016 as a time when journalists are able to carry out high quality, responsible work in a safe and secure environment, wherever they may be.
Abdulrahman Nasser Al Obaidan
DCMF's Executive Committee Member and Acting Director General