BEIRUT: A report published last week highlighted wide-ranging weaknesses in Lebanese media, warning that the gaps are exacerbating tensions in the country.
The report, titled “Identifying Skills and Knowledge Gaps in Media Institutions in Lebanon,” was carried out as a follow-up to the 2013 Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon, which was undertaken by 32 media institutions across Lebanon.
But according to the report, major gaps in skills and knowledge are preventing Lebanese media outlets from fulfilling their role to strengthen civil peace.
Ten monitoring studies were carried out in themes covered by the pact, such as violence, racism, the representation of minorities and the discourse in religious media outlets.
In the latter study, it was observed that coverage in religiously-aligned media outlets “can lead to increasing tensions” in the country, “which poses a danger for civil peace and national unity.”
The report proposes various recommendations, such as the holding of workshops that can help media outlets more closely align to the 2013 pact.
The extensive media landscape in Lebanon, which, according to Reporters Without Borders, produces about half of the periodicals in the Middle East region, has a vital role to play in the country’s development, said Roula Mikhael, executive director at the Maharat Foundation.
Maharat conducted the research upon which the study was based in cooperation with the UNDP; the study was funded by Germany and implemented through the German Development Bank.
“We need [media] to play a role in social stability in Lebanon,” she said. “We need a media that really informs citizens,” Mikhael said.
She noted that high-quality reporting exists, particularly with regards to investigative reporting. However, a gap in certain skills has contributed to outlets uncritically presenting the viewpoint of a political patron or statements from state institutions, without properly reporting the issue.
“We need to work on the skills and knowledge of the journalist,” Mikhael said. “We need also to work on the media environment [holistically]. It’s the ownership, it’s the business model, it’s also the independence of the media.”
On the back of the report, the UNDP will work with Thomson Reuters Foundation to develop a toolkit for the media to be rolled out in March, said Joanna Nassar, project manager for the UNDP’s Peace Building in Lebanon program.
Nassar anticipated that there will be good engagement with the toolkit from media stakeholders, who she said had been consulted throughout the process of the report.
Ayman Mhanna, executive director of media monitor the Samir Kassir Foundation, praised the methodology used in researching the report.
However, he cautioned that some of its recommendations, including a number of workshops for practitioners, would not have an impact without significant changes to the industry.
“It’s not the lack of workshops [that is the problem] ... There are already so many trainings. It’s the fact that the owners ... do not have the incentive to get better because of the level of politicization,” he said.
Mhanna, whose organization worked on a recently-published media ownership monitor with Reporters Without Borders, said that new laws were needed to boost transparency in ownership structures across Lebanon’s media landscape.
Despite Mhanna’s criticisms, Nassar insisted the UNDP’s recommendations could be of value.
“There are always certain journalists or editors inside the media outlets who can be very good entry points, who believe in this change. If they adopt [the recommendations], they can have an impact on the big picture.”