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For our fourth Informal Dialogue Session for this year on Thursday October 10th we had the pleasure of having the Senior Program Coordinator Middle East North Africa and Pakistan, and the Programme Coordinator from Free Press Unlimited as our speakers. Free Press Unlimited is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Free Press Unlimited’s media projects in 31 countries around the world are overseen by our Programme Coordinators, who specialise in particular fields and/or geographic areas. They are dedicated media professionals who believe that independent information can save, change and improve lives. This is done by strengthening local media professionals and journalists to help people gain and keep access to the information they need to survive and develop.

The session focused on how Free Press Unlimited counters the negative trend of declining space for freedom of expression in the Middle East, with case studies from Iraq and Syria.    Given the challenges facing independent journalism in the MENA region as well as the complex character and highly dynamic environment of the region, Free Press Unlimited shared with our audience its believe in its mission that people ‘deserve to know’ and that the space for independent journalism and secure press freedom in the Middle East and elsewhere needs to be increased and fought for. Therefore, the session dealt with two specific questions:

1). How is media an actor for peace and inclusion in the context of Syria and how to increase media ethics in a time of (post-) warfare?

2). Why does independent journalism matter in tackling big social challenges such as climate change, water shortages and pollution in Iraq?

The Programme Coordinator shared with us her experience while working in Syria after starting a programme in 2011 focused on implementing a training for youth with the potential of becoming independent journalists in order to have access to neural information and encouraging them to use media as a weapon for justice and peace. Among other things the project was able to establish an Ethical Charter when it comes to spreading information. The Senior Program Coordinator Middle East North Africa and Pakistan during his focus on Iraq and its climate change challenges, stressed that the main issue remains corruption in media development in the form of intervention from the state or companies.

Both speakers also underlined other challenges coming from the current use of social media as source of news where there is a serious problem of ‘quantity over quality’ of the delivered news. They also asserted that while neutrality and objectivity are big issues facing the MENA region and while Free Press Unlimited strives to promote these norms and values in media development in the region, these issues exist on a global  scale and are not  exclusive to the region. It is a problem facing many countries in Europe as well as journalism in the United States.

The Lutfia Rabbani Foundation would like to thank our speakers for presenting and sharing their fascinating experiences and work in advocating for objective and neutral journalism in the Middle East and around the world. We thank all attendees for participating in this discussion.

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