Asfari collaboration for promoting regional social cohesion through journalism

​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa, <ss152@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications


The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at AUB partnered with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to hold the first regional workshop on “Journalistic Reporting at Times of Conflicts and Social Polarization in the Arab Countries.” The workshop was organized as part of UNDP’s project for “Promoting Social Cohesion in the Arab Region” and the Asfari Institute’s leading role in fostering civic values, improving professional standards for young Arabs, and strengthening the media profession in the Arab world.

In 2017, UNDP commissioned the Thomson Reuters Foundation to develop a training handbook that can offer journalists across the Arab world guidance on how to report on issues in a manner that might contribute to social cohesion across the region. The aim of the handbook is to initiate a discussion and contribute to develop training material that can be used by various parties to advance the role journalists can play in developing stronger bonds between all members of the community, marginalized or otherwise.

“In the recent years, we have been witnessing rising conflict and societal polarization where 12 out of 22 Arab countries are either in conflict, affected by conflict, or passing through a period of societal polarization,” said Farah Choucair, manager of the Social Cohesion Regional Project at UNDP. “With increased internet access, the role of media and journalism is becoming ever more important and challenging. We are interested in exploring how it can contribute to enhancing the role of journalists in promoting social cohesion, especially at a time where the distrust towards media is rising.”

The workshop built on this interest and trained 20 Arab journalists between the ages of 21 and 32, out of 325 who applied from around the world. Three trainers from Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt led the workshop: Lina Ejeilat, Bissane El Cheikh, and Lina Attalah. Sessions were held and case studies analyzed around the subjects of breaking gender stereotypes; violence, extremism, and hate speech; refugees; and religious intolerance.

Over three days, the workshop tackled the best practices in covering and critiquing coverage of sensitive social and cultural issues. Addressing the fact that 60% of people from the Arab states region do not trust traditional media outlets, according to a recent study by the World Value Survey quoted by Choucair, the workshop offered a platform for the discussion of alternative, creative, and professional ways to cover and evaluate news stories in a systematic and scientific approach that emphasizes ethical practice, accuracy, diversity, fairness, and balance. The participants were also given the opportunity to pitch, cover, and publish an informative story that meets international standards of journalism, demonstrating an understanding of how media coverage impacts social cohesion and contributes to polarizing societies.

“This workshop aims to empower young journalists and give them the skills they need to create important work around sensitive social and cultural issues such as sectarianism, minorities, violence, racism, women’s rights, refugees, and classism,” said Dr. Dina El Khawaga, director of the Asfari Institute. “It includes an in-depth training on using analytical tools to break stereotypes and add nuance to stories that are currently being addressed or ignored by the media, as well as methodologies for critiquing press and media content.” 

Three sessions were offered. On the first day, Bissane El Cheikh, who worked with AlHayat newspaper and is a consultant from Lebanon, addressed the topic of journalistic reporting and writing on discrimination and intolerance. The second day was dedicated to reporting and writing on gender and women’s issues, with a full-day training by Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of the Mada Misr media organization in Egypt. The third day tackled equality and socio-economic justice in writing and reporting, led by Lina Ejeilat, co-founder and executive editor of 7iber.com, Jordan.

One of the Asfari Institute’s missions is to partner with international organizations to strengthen activities that advocate social change in the region while building a regional dimension of all their activities which promote civic values in the region.

“We have partnered with the Asfari Institute because it has established an influential reputation of giving academic substance to issues that are controversial within a citizenship framework,” said Choucair. “The teaming between UNDP – being present in 18 Arab countries – and Asfari offers a unique opportunity to develop methodologies and tools to enhance the skills of journalists and other communities of influence.”

“The Asfari Institute is particularly proud of this collaboration that would enhance its mission among Arab media professionals and affirm AUB’s leading role in fostering civic values such as acceptance, tolerance, and social cohesion in the Arab region,” said El Khawaga.​