The Importance of Investigative Journalism and Independent Media in Lebanon
Written by Christy-Belle Geha, Intern at the Issam Fares Institute’s communications office
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), in partnership with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and in collaboration with Daraj Media
, organized a virtual panel discussion (Webinar) titled “The Importance of Investigative Journalism and Independent Media in Lebanon” on Friday, January 29, 2021.
Twelve young journalists participated in the training, launched on December 11, 2020, where ten media experts from Lebanon and the MENA region covered different aspects of investigative journalism, ranging from the basics and ethics of investigative journalism to fact-checking, open-source, and cross-border journalism. The training courses focused on the role of media in the aftermath of the August 4th Beirut’s port blast and the fight against corruption and injustice that was ignited by the October 17 uprising.
The webinar hosted Munir El-Khatib, managing editor of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), Roula Mikhael, founder and executive director of the Beirut-based Maharat Foundation, and Nizar Saghieh, Executive Director of The Legal Agenda.
Diana Moukalled, Co-founder of Daraj Media, moderated the talk that started with introductory remarks by Joseph Bahout, PhD, IFI’s director, and ended with the closing remarks of OECD’s Charlotte Denis-Adam.
Joseph Bahout, expressed IFI’s gratitude for the partnership from which the investigative journalism training was born. Bahout emphasized the importance of such a training in these times, for multiple reasons, including the impediments to good governance and public policy due to the lack of access to information and freedoms’ suppression, in addition to the role of investigative journalism in reviving the general Lebanese scene, and the frightening spread of fake news worldwide. He also stressed the crucial role of democracy, by bringing up The Washington Post’s motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
“The role of investigative journalism mainly revolves on debunking hoaxes and contributing to the citizenry’s awareness,” he added.
A video collecting testimonials from the training’s participants followed Bahout’s introductory remarks.
Diana Moukalled later thanked IFI and OECD for the partnership that built towards enshrining the culture of investigative journalism, especially that the status of local media is questionable and controversial according to her. Moukalled elaborated on the latter idea by citing two recent failed examples of local media coverage: first, covering the latest manifestations in Tripoli, and second, covering the Swiss judiciary’s money-laundering investigation with Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salemeh as main suspect.
“Lebanon will not rise up unless the corrupt political class is held accountable,” she continued. “The country hence needs serious journalism, because political funding negatively affects covering social issues.”
Nizar Saghieh spoke afterwards about breaking the state's hegemony that Lebanon has been witnessing gradually since the October 17 uprising. That hegemony is based, according to Saghieh, on obscuring and obliterating facts starting from not revealing the truth regarding the victims of the Lebanese Civil War when the general amnesty was approved, until the adherence to banking secrecy law today, in order to conceal the corruption of the ruling class.
Saghieh said that one of the most amazing pain institutionalization experiences was the creation of the Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared after the Civil War, because it overcame divisions and post-war leaderships through noble resistance that was stronger than politicization. The Legal Agenda was established with the aim of making citizens the focus of public discourse, not political leaders.
"The stereotypical relationship between the media and the judiciary is never sound in Lebanon, because one of them often attacks the other when the other takes a correct path that threatens the hegemony of those in power,” he added. “Therefore, integration between the media and the judiciary enables accountability tools."
He also pointed out the need to distinguish between international organizations funding for alternative local media, versus foreign governments' financing of other parties, with purely subversive political goals.
Furthermore, Roula Mikhael tackled the differences between the journalism of the past and present-day journalism, as “ journalism that we were doing before was of very little impact because the political system wasn’t supportive, while today, the alternative media seeks to build a solid ground for investigative journalism.”
Mikhael insisted on the fact that the Maharat Foundation is currently focusing on allowing young journalists a space for free expression and legal acculturation, in order to initiate solid and independent journalism.
Regarding the proposed new media draft law, she said: "The Media Law (1994) does not only concern media institutions and journalists, but the repercussions of its implementation also affects citizens. Therefore, citizens' monitoring of parliament's work comes as a cornerstone to protect the media from oppression by the government."
As for Munir El-Khatib, he first drew attention to the ARIJ network’s goal of supporting and enhancing investigative journalism in the Arab world by providing investigative journalists with technical, human, legal, informational and psychological support.
"We at ARIJ consider corruption to be a monster, but the biggest beast is the mess of applicable laws," he noted.
El-Khatib stated that the absence of real scientific journalism in the Arab world is pushing the ARIJ network to urge journalists to specialize in specific fields.
"Investigative journalism is accused of elitism, and for this reason, ARIJ seeks to make the narrative more accessible and the language used in investigative reports simpler in order for the information to reach everyone alike," he ended.
Charlotte Denise-Adam concluded the discussion by expressing OECD’s gratitude for the commitment of IFI and Daraj during this training and added that young journalists can be the pillars of a regional dialogue to pioneer for change.
“We at OECD, look forward to continuing these efforts so that the Lebanese youth hold the corrupt establishment accountable,” she ended.
Read the Arabic version of the summary, here.
Watch the video of the participants, here.
(Re)Watch the webinar, here.