From Newsroom Diversity to News Diversity

Dates: 17 – 21 November 2014

Country: Lebanon

Journalism_Students_in_Lebanon‘Why is the religion of George Clooney’s wife important to the media?’ ‘Why do the British media see all Muslims as terrorists?’ ‘Why is diversity so often a dividing instead of unifying factor?’ These were some of the questions posed by journalism students from five Lebanese universities who attended a ‘Reporting Religion’ workshop in Beirut conducted by MDI trainers.

The workshop attracted 40 students from different years and courses, as well as from different gender and religious backgrounds. Most of the discussions were around very practical issues such as what to do about hate speech used by public figures or what is the best way to source a story on sensitive religious issues.

But, some of the students demonstrated the need for practical work rather than debates and asked: ‘How can I balance the individuality of my hero with what she or he has in common with other people?’

The workshop is part of a two-year project called “Towards an Inclusive and Responsible Media in Lebanon”, run  by MDI and its Lebanese partner Maharat Foundation, an organisation working on building a more democratic society through freedom of expression. The overall objective of the project is to encourage responsible media coverage of diversity, reduce tensions and promote peace through an inclusive and responsible media in Lebanon.

As part of the visit, MDI trainer Veronique Mistiaen, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and MDI Executive Director, Milica Pesic, also met with a group of journalism professors from the same universities that the students at the workshop came from. They discussed a potential joint work which would give an opportunity to the students to do practical work as related to diversity coverage. The ideas were shared with the editors of some of the most prominent Lebanese media who expressed their frustration at getting journalism graduates with no practical knowledge, especially in relation to reporting diversity.

In addition, MDI representatives met with a group of journalists, most of whom have been covering some diversity issues, such as gender or LGBT issues. What they were particularly interested in were the ethical issues around reporting on religious diversity, understandably the most sensitive issue in Lebanon, country divided along sectarian lines for decades.

‘It is encouraging to know that there are Lebanese organisations which are crossing social, cultural and political lines in aim to give a voice to all the sides and to promote understanding and tolerance through the media. Our partner, Maharat Foundation, is among them. According to their findings, most of the newsrooms across the country are already diversified. Journalists from different ethnic and religious background are already working together. The challenge is how to make them reflect that diversity in the content their produce’, said Milica Pesic, the MDI Executive Director.