Media Reform through Capacity Building
Media Reform through Capacity Building
Abstract and Keywords
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom has introduced numerous capacity building initiatives to improve the ability of media consumers in Qatar and in the region to process the vast array of information with which they are bombarded on a daily basis, while also focusing on developing the abilities of those behind producing this information. DCMF’s Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programme is one of the centre’s flagship initiatives, which since its launch in 2011 has grown into one of the world’s most successful programmes, with the centre working alongside partners such as UNESCO to promote MIL education in Qatar, the wider region, and around the world. While DCMF has hosted training sessions for local journalists, the centre also conducted training workshops across the wider Arab region, with a particular focus on Syrian journalists covering the ongoing conflict. In a region where the right to information and free expression is too often denied, educating a young generation of media consumers who are aware of the importance of defending these rights is an essential aspect of DCMF’s mission.
Media Reform Strategy
The rise of online media and citizen journalism, as well as regional coverage of the recent revolutions in the Arab world, reaffirms the importance of upholding international standards of journalism. The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) has introduced numerous capacity-building initiatives to improve the media and information literacy among media consumers in Qatar and in the region. In addition, the DCMF organizes training programs across the region, aimed at developing the skills of journalists and defending media freedom in the Arab world. The center also conducts workshops across the wider Arab region, with a particular focus on Syrian journalists covering the ongoing conflict. While the jury is still out as to the success of both programs, some of the effects of promoting the DCMF’s Media and Information Literacy (MIL) program throughout Qatar are already visible as more students opt to engage in media production. In a region where the right to information and free expression are too often denied, educating a young generation of media consumers who recognizes the importance of defending these rights is an essential aspect of DCMF’s mission.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) is a nonprofit press freedom organization, which works to support quality, responsible journalism and seeks to guarantee the safety of journalists worldwide, with a specific focus on the Arab region.
(p.313) Since its re-establishment in 2011, the center has been working in a particularly fragile and restless environment. The Arab Spring, which some hoped would blossom into democratic governance, has adversely brought significant political instability. Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent consequences of this instability has been the increased number of violations committed against journalists and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of attacks against media workers. Indeed, the three countries with the highest numbers of journalists killed in 2013 are all located in this region: Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.
In parallel to these developments, the Arab region has witnessed an exponential growth in social media usage, enabling citizens to use mobile and online platforms as journalistic tools. Yet, growing concerns have been raised about the state of the media in the region: the professionalism of Arab journalists—whether traditional or citizen journalists—working in highly polarized contexts, is increasingly questioned, and so is the quality of the message they deliver, which has in most cases become impossible to separate from its political agenda.
DCMF has responded to these recent concerns through four main programs: training, research and monitoring, emergency assistance, and MIL education. Through its emergency assistance program, the center offers support to journalists who are being persecuted because of their work. Over the past year, the center has been able to assist more than sixty journalists in distress across the globe through relocation, medical, start-up, or legal support. The center is committed to promoting quality responsible journalism and to enabling journalists to continue to carry out their work despite the difficulties they face, and therefore assists journalists in a sustainable manner, with a focus on allowing media workers to continue with or return to their work.
DCMF also engages in advocacy work for journalists in distress, helping to raise awareness of their cases with government officials and joining international campaigns calling on media freedom to be respected. Another essential aspect of DCMF’s work revolves around monitoring press freedom violations in the region and covering news stories from around the world on a daily basis on its website.
DCMF’s capacity-building efforts have resulted in the training of some eight hundred journalists, and the center has conducted MIL workshops for more than six hundred students in ninety schools in Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Egypt. This program is aimed at producing significant reform within the media sector in Qatar and the region, through developing the capacity of news consumers and creators alike.
Media and Information Literacy Training
The starting point for the center’s MIL program was its home country, having noted the need for the development of critical thinking throughout the Qatari (p.314) youth. Qatar is an incredibly wealthy nation, and much of its wealth has been invested in education with a National Vision for 2030, which places emphasis on developing human potential (GSDP 2008). DCMF firmly believes that entrenching the concept and value of media freedom is essential to developing the nation’s human capacity. Like any society, educating a young generation of people who appreciate the importance of information and fully comprehend that information can be manipulated by media producers, is an integral aspect of human development. The distinct lack of critical thinking or MIL being taught in schools in the region has been highlighted by researchers (Abu Fadil 2007) as well as the global realisation that MIL is an increasingly important subject for governments to factor into educational programs (Torrent 2011). According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), MIL can be defined as “the ability to access, analyse, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.”
According to initial research carried out at the center, 80 percent of schools in Qatar did not teach MIL prior to 2011, but over 90 percent of students were exposed to various forms of media on a daily basis. As a result, DCMF identified a significant need for MIL education to be introduced to students in the country, and it did so under the slogan: “Reading and writing doesn’t do it anymore—you need to be media literate!”
The multicultural nature of Qatar’s population necessitates improved understanding of the media and how news and information is produced and presented. With locals making up only around 15 percent of the country’s population, Qatar (and especially Qatar’s schools) brings together people from all over the world who interact on a daily basis. Providing news which can be consumed by all is an almost impossible task, but through its MIL programs, DCMF hopes that future generations will be able to consume their news critically, regardless of their backgrounds.
The program was initially launched in 2011, incorporating some 35 students from four schools and the initiative has gone from strength to strength. By the end of February 2014, the program will have been run in eighty-nine schools, helping to train some 130 teachers and coordinators and educating nearly 600 students.
DCMF’s MIL program does not simply focus on the theoretical aspect of media freedom or consumption, but also brings young people to the newsroom, teaching them the technical aspects of journalism. By working on DCMF’s team of junior reporters, these youngsters have the opportunity to learn how news is produced, experiencing firsthand the importance of editorial decisions in terms of the value and reliability of a piece of news.
In line with the program’s aims to develop cross-cultural understanding and promote dialogue, the majority of events covered by the Junior Reporters have been related to human rights and multiculturalism in one form or another. For instance, DCMF’s team of junior reporters have covered the Fourth Forum of (p.315) the Alliance of Civilisations held in Qatar in 2011, the Tenth Interfaith Dialogue Conference, held in Qatar in 2012, and the UN Global Forum on Media and Gender, hosted in Bangkok in 2013, among others. The experience of attending and covering these events will prove valuable for the students in later life as they tackle questions of media ownership and the intentions behind a piece of reporting.
DCMF has been working alongside the Supreme Education Council of Qatar to introduce the subject to schools across the country, but at the moment, it is an extracurricular subject and not a part of the mainstream curriculum. However, the center aims to see the adoption of a curriculum which includes a dedicated subject on MIL by 2015.
As part of DCMF’s strategy for developing MIL in the region, the center has conducted a number of training workshops in other Arab countries, namely Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan. Regional collaboration and development of MIL initiatives remains an integral aspect of the center’s strategy, and with increased experience and success from its work in Qatar, the center is looking forward to exporting its program to more countries in the region in the future.
Developing a network of MIL trainers in the region is another important aspect of DCMF’s program, and in May 2013 the center organized the first MIL Train the Trainer program for teachers in the Arab region, certifying twelve new trainers, six of whom were Qatari nationals.
In June 2013, the center hosted an experts’ meeting on MIL, where the Doha Declaration on Supporting Media and Information Literacy Education in the Middle East was adopted (Townson 2013). The declaration includes a number of recommendations for successfully introducing MIL programs based on case studies discussed during the meeting, such as the importance of developing more Arabic-language training materials for teachers, introducing a system for monitoring and mapping MIL education across the region and forming a steering committee of experts to share expertise and represent the region at international events, among other recommendations.
Equally important to developing media freedom in Qatar and the rest of the region is fostering the creation of a media landscape that entrenches standards of professionalism and ethics. Values such as objectivity and neutrality are often disregarded by journalists in the Arab world, with many believing that they are somehow inadequate tools for covering the situations facing people in the region. As a result, DCMF has focused some of its training efforts on promoting international standards of quality journalism in programs it has conducted in Qatar and the wider region.
As well as improving general standards and promoting professionalism throughout the industry, DCMF has also identified the significance of conducting (p.316) safety training programs, and in 2012, the center launched its Ali Hassan Al Jaber safety training for journalists program (Townson 2012), with a focus on journalists in conflict and danger zones.
The program has been conducted in a number of countries, in partnership with organizations and individuals and tailored to meet the specific needs of journalists in the area. The Ali Hassan Al Jaber Safety Training program for journalists is one of the center’s flagship initiatives. By conducting eighteen safety training workshops for journalists from across the region in countries such as Yemen, Egypt, and Turkey as well as further afield in the rural areas of Pakistan, DCMF has managed to provide key skills to journalists who find themselves in danger on a regular basis in the course of their work.
However, the program does not ignore the need to develop professional skills, which are essential for protecting media freedom and media workers in the long term. To this end, the center has also carried out training workshops in Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Palestine, and Qatar. But the reach of the center’s capacity building program extends beyond the borders of host countries, and often journalists from a particular country are transported elsewhere due to safety concerns (for instance, workshops in Jordan and Turkey were specifically for Syrian journalists and citizen journalists).
In total, DCMF has trained around eight hundred journalists since its relaunch in 2011, and there are already a number of training workshops planned for the coming months, some of which will focus on areas such as cybersecurity for citizen journalists, to help combat the increased online targeting of journalists by governments.
Emphasizing the role of MIL education in a region where journalism has taken various meanings and forms is one of the DCMF’s core strategies, as the center sees the discipline as a central tool in promoting quality journalism and guaranteeing access to impartial information. Educating citizens about the role of the media while teaching youth how to evaluate media content with critical thinking is key in shaping well-informed and well-equipped media consumers and producers.
Qatar’s recent surge in development and the rapid pace at which the country is growing mean that developing human capacity is absolutely essential. The nation’s increasingly significant role in the realm of global politics means that understanding what is being written about Qatar, its foreign policy, and its international involvement is similarly important. Combining these factors with the sharp increase in the prominence of social and online media, it is clear that developing citizens able to discern between fact and fiction, news and views, is no longer a theoretical, but a practical necessity.
(p.317) DCMF has been pioneering efforts to achieve this goal in Qatar, and has already begun to share its expertise in the field with other organizations in the region. While MIL in general is a relatively young concept, and teaching materials, research, and general information on the subject is somewhat lacking, it is becoming more widely recognized as a pressing concern with the realization that media will continue to play an integral part in the daily lives of future generations. DCMF will continue in its mission to develop culturally aware, media-literate critical thinkers who are able to effectively interpret the vast array of information with which they are presented, and remains strict in its belief that this is a media reform strategy which is essential to defending media freedom and promoting responsible, quality journalism across the globe.
However, it is not the only way of achieving this end and DCMF recognizes the importance of developing the capacities of those behind producing the news. Improving standards of professionalism and upholding journalistic ethics will contribute to the overall protection of media freedom as well as helping journalists themselves at a time when impunity abounds and media workers are targeted on an increasingly regular basis. Improving the professionalism of journalists will also assist consumers and make their jobs of being more media literate a less complicated task, thus contributing toward the defense of media freedom as a whole.
DCMF has always adopted a holistic approach to dealing with issues facing journalists and journalism in the Arab world, and one of the ways it has developed its long-term strategy is by identifying the importance of capacity building. In line with other international plans, such as the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, DCMF has identified the importance of adopting a multistakeholder approach and developing partnerships to achieve its aims. Working alongside organizations with similar aims and sharing expertise is the best way to implement effective and sustainable change.
Training journalists to produce responsible news and training their readers, listeners, and viewers to be able to identify this, has never been more important than it is now.
Abu Fadil, M. 2007. “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.” Research paper prepared for the UNESCO Regional Conferences in Support of Global Literacy.
General Secretariat for Development Planning (GSDP). 2008. Qatar National Vision 2030. www.gsdp.gov.qa/portal/page/portal/gsdp_en/qatar_national_vision/qnv_2030_document/QNV2030_English_v2.pdf.
Torrent, J. 2011. “Media Literacy, Congratulations! Now, the Next Step.” Journal of Media Literacy Education 3, no. 1: 23–24.
(p.318) Townson, P. 2012. DCMF Outlines Ali Hassan Al Jaber Safety Training for Journalists Programme. Doha Centre for Media Freedom. www.dc4mf.org/en/content/dcmf-outlines-ali-hassan-al-jaber-safety-training-journalists-programme.
———. 2013. DCMF Media and Information Literacy Meeting Adopts Doha Declaration. Doha Centre for Media Freedom. www.dc4mf.org/en/content/dcmf-media-and-information-literacy-meeting-adopts-doha-declaration.