October 2020
Lebanon Media Recovery Fund and Media Development Assistance Efforts - Meeting Report

Meeting Report

Lebanon Media Recovery Fund & Media Development Assistance Efforts

Date: 26 October 2020

Meeting background and organizers:

In response to the Beirut massive explosion on the 4th of August, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), in cooperation with SKeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom, and supported by International Media Support (IMS), initiated an information-sharing effort inviting the international and local media development and journalism support organisations to coordinate recovery and assistance efforts in Lebanon.

Host and technical support

  • Ivana Bjelic Vucinic, GFMD Programme and Project Manager

Moderator

  • Preethi Nallu, Advocacy Specialist at International Media Support (IMS) based in Lebanon.

SPEAKERS

An overview of the Media Recovery Fund initiative and other recovery and media development initiatives in Lebanon was provided by:
  • Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director, SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
  • Roula Mikhael, Founder and Executive Director, Maharat Foundation
  • Mohamad Najem, Executive Director, SMEX
Eight international organisations were invited to briefly present their plans and expectations in regards to the coordination process.
  • Anne Ilcinkas, Project Manager for the Mediterranean region and Asia, Canal France International (CFI)
  • Michael Irving Jensen, regional director, MENA region, International Media Support IMS
  • Leon Willems, Executive Director, Free Press Unlimited
  • Aleksej Demjanski, Assistant Programme Officer, CIMA
  • Kristof Kleeman, Lebanon country director, Friedrich Naumann Foundation
  • Maha Abu Shama, Programme Manager for Human Rights, The Sigrid Rausing Trust
  • Edward Pittman, Senior Programme Officer, Open Society Foundations
  • Georges Awad, Media Program Manager, UNESCO

MAPPING

GFMD has developed a Google spreadsheet that lists the organisations invited to participate in the information-sharing initiative, provides a background of each organisation, and overview of their projects in the MENA region, and outlines their Lebanon recovery efforts.
The sheet also lists those that attended the October 26th meeting.
To access the spreadsheet mapping media assistance on Lebanon, click on the link below and request access. Please note that access will only be granted to donors and those working on media development in Lebanon.

Overview of the Situation in Lebanon

The speakers provided an overview of the pre-existing challenges and contextual circumstances aggravating the impact of the explosion in Lebanon. They expressed concern over:
  • A total absence of (public sector) authority and state assistance: Civic initiatives and NGOs in Lebanon are stepping in and filling the failures of the state, which cannot be sustainable, NGOs cannot replace institutions.
  • Political crisis: Lebanon is a divided society characterized by a conflict of political interests. The Beirut blast has worsened the situation. It is a transition period and there is a huge lack of trust in public institutions and the current political elite.
  • Deep financial and economic crisis: Businesses are shutting down, with the closure of newspapers and mainstream media houses.

Digital rights under threat

  • Self-censorship is being caused by a closing of the online space, detentions and court cases.
  • During the uprising, there were many incidents where security forces have been taking phones or forcing people to open them illegally.
  • Political fights between parties are common.

Lebanon's media landscape - needs and challenges

Some of the main challenges in the media landscape identified in the meeting were:
  1. 1.
    Challenge to find skilled journalists, eager to learn, do research and do another way of storytelling
  2. 2.
    Access to information
  3. 3.
    Outreach - for example, journalists would like to hear what kind of support they can receive from Facebook to increase outreach
Mainstream media is not contributing to any change, because they are part of the system.

Safety and security:

  • In emergencies, basic safety and security issues are often overlooked. Journalists need to be safe and their offices need to be safe. A range of courses offered by SKyes, UNESCO, Thomson and other meeting participants on physical and digital safety, however, there is a need for more resources and coordination.

Economic viability:

  • There is a need to address the economic livelihood of individuals and the economic viability of organizations. The economic collapse in Lebanon, the effects of many transformative and unsettling events occurring within a short time period all contribute to the endangered livelihood of journalists and the viability of media organisations in Lebanon, whether they are traditional or new, emerging media.
  • The economic livelihood of journalists results in a brain drain, with journalists leaving Lebanese media to work for regional media with lower ethical standards.
  • There is a potential opportunity to work with traditional media not directly owned by politicians - since they are vulnerable to market conditions, there is a small chance they will be open to dialogue about better ways to organise business and practise better journalism.

New startups:

  • There is a need to look at new startups, helping them to understand the viability and whole ecosystem, to surpass freedom of expression challenges, sustain themselves and be able to reach new and old audiences.

Advocacy, transparency, freedom of expression:

  • Freedom of expression efforts need to continue, and more advocacy in regards to Access to Information law, to closely monitor public institutions, and press public administration to regularly communicate with citizens.
  • SMEX, SKeyes and Maharat and 12 other organisations launched in July 2020 a Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression.
  • Tech companies play a big role and have a responsibility in a region such as MENA where there are less and less democratic states.

Institution building:

  • Many participants indicated the lack of involvement from institutions and noted the need to consider how the NGOs can contribute to institution building, which is difficult with the current political framework.

Media literacy and education:

  • There are efforts to promote media literacy, increase journalists capacity through education and cooperation with Universities, working to promote fact-checking and fighting disinformation programmes. Maharat Foundation is dedicated to implementing such projects.

Lebanon Media Recovery Fund

Ayman Mhanna (SKeyes) spoke about what works for a recovery effort:
  • Needs assessments and mapping of the damages has been concluded very quickly
  • Considering how to respond to direct needs while trying to lay the foundation for a robust media sector. “Media has a role to play to prevent the next tragedy.”
  • “We are looking for a leap of faith from our partners.” - Not writing proposals, and looking from objectives, KPIs and project perspectives. We are ready to be totally
    transparent except for revealing the names of some specific recipient of psychosocial and medical equipment.
  • A demand-driven project, responds to clear needs expressed by journalists. We do want the flexibility to shift funding within six pillars, and we are ready to send the money back to partners if they are strict about money spending.
Summary of what works for Lebanon recovery efforts and how MRF was designed: it is based on a robust understanding of the reality of the ground, where local partners developed lasting relations with the community in Lebanon, sound administrative and auditing practice, flexibility and thinking outside the project funding box because we need to be demand-driven.
A total of $739,000 were pledged and funds have been directed to livelihood support, medical support, equipment, damage repair, office and personal equipment, investigative journalism and safety training and investigative journalism grants. For a more detailed breakdown please see the Lebanon Media Assistance information sheet.
Click on the link above to request access. Please note that access will only be granted to donors and those working on media development in Lebanon.

Media development initiatives

Many projects and initiatives have been mentioned and presented during the meeting including Digital Media Viability Lab (created by Maharat supported by DW Akademie), The Bread&Net2020 conference www.breadandnet.org (1st - 4th December, organised by SMEX), D-Jil project implemented by Canal France International (CFI), and others.
For a more comprehensive list of projects please see the Lebanon Media Assistance.
Click on the link above to request access. Please note that access will only be granted to donors and those working on media development in Lebanon.

Journalism training and investigative journalism projects

Due to the challenges mentioned (lack of skilled journalists, media literacy, issues with access to information, lack of public institutions transparency) investigative journalism efforts need support to become sustainable.
Many of the participating organisations indicated they provide journalism training and investigative journalism support (via training, grants, logistic support).
  • IMS supports ARIJ and their work on a number of groundbreaking investigative stories about economic collapse, lack of transparency, legal failures, things related to rebuilding parts of Beirut demolished in the blast.
  • OCCRP also collaborates with ARIJ on investigations in the Arab region
  • Check Global - Meedan - providing training to journalism students from Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt on open-source investigations
  • Thomson's OPEN Media Hub's online courses, in Arabic and 3 other languages, free of charge, certified, including one on COVID related safety
  • Within the Media Recovery Fund, funds have been allocated to journalism and
    investigative journalism training as well as for investigative journalism grants. These will be designed to complement the existing investigative efforts and provide resources for further and deeper research (research assistant, software, logistics, production support).
  • In addition, SKeyes is working on creating an online database of all published Government and official documents on the blast (with translated documents and searchable) to assist journalists in their efforts and avoid filing duplicate requests.
Click on the link above to request access. Please note that access will only be granted to donors and those working on media development in Lebanon.

Follow Up

At the end of the discussions, co-organisers outlined possible follow up activities:
  1. 1.
    Economic viability
  2. 2.
    Protection of journalists, safety and security
  3. 3.
    Freedom of expression.
These efforts link up to Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression work that the national actors are undertaking, we need to see how international organisations can support these efforts.
Investigative journalism and accountability efforts have been mentioned during the meeting, however, perhaps these have already been addressed by ongoing projects.
There is a window of opportunity for a real change and joint actions are encouraging. It is important to respond to the emergency but also to look to medium and long term viability.
Last modified 6mo ago