"No media freedom without quality journalism"

Wed, 15/06/2011

The Doha Centre for Media Freedom launches training workshops tailored to the needs of journalists from the Arabian peninsula. Petrus Schothorst, a training expert responsible for preparing the programmes, explains what the trainings are all about.

The Doha Centre is an organisation fostering media freedom, but what exactly is the link between media freedom and journalists training?

Media freedom is very much related to the quality of journalism. If journalism isn't good, professional journalism, then no reader and no government can trust it. And if journalism is only free, but without following any quality standards, then it may end up doing more harm than good. If we can help raising the standards of journalism in the Middle East, then journalists will be more appreciated, both by their readers and by governments.

Do you focus on a specific region?

Yes, for now we will focus on Qatar and the Arabian peninsula. It's admirable that Qatar has the foresight and vision to create a Centre like this, so we want to make sure Qatar's journalists also benefit from it. Plus, the Middle East is the region where we have our expertise and our network. We would like to develop the base first and will then include other regions in the future.

Who are the trainers?

All are Arabic native speakers and understand the problems from their own experience in the region. Other institutions often fly in Westerners to train Arab journalists, but a lot of the information that Westerners can offer is not relevant or simply not applicable for journalists here. And when the trainers come from outside, there's so much politeness. Nobody will say: Sorry, I have no clue what you're talking about!

And who's your target group?

It's mid-career journalists from all kinds of media outlets. If the participants are people who have already accumulated a lot of experience in their job, they will not only learn from the trainers, but also from each other.

What will the workshops be about?

There are six different training workshops coming up: ‘Searching Information on the Web’; ‘Benefits of social media for journalists’; ‘Access to information’; Legal Awareness and Protection’; Safety and Protection of journalists’ and ‘International Standards of Journalism’. The dates will be announced soon. For all those subjects, participants can expect a high emphasis on hands-on practical skills – no lectures! We also want to work in close cooperation with the media organisations themselves to make sure that we provide the kind of training they really need.

The first workshop starting on June 19th will be about “access to information”. How did you come up with the subject?

It came up in numerous conversations with journalists working in Qatar. Many said one of the big challenges they faced was getting access to information. Almost all over the Middle East, it's difficult when it comes to governmental sources of information. But there's much more information available than journalists actually use, so they need to know where to get it and how to make use of it.

And if a journalist gets into trouble, then this is where the workshop on legal awareness comes in?

Yes, it's also a subject that many journalists we talked to wanted to learn more about. Most countries in the world have signed international conventions that give journalists much more rights than they are aware of. At the same time, journalists also need to be aware of their own duties and responsibilities.

What duties do you mean?

Well, there are many cases of slander and defamation in Middle Eastern media. For example: When Egyptian newspapers write about corruption, they often say: This man has stolen 20 Million Dollars! They write this based on hear-say, without any sources. It can destroy people. So one journalistic duty is to bases reports on reliable sources of information. The workshop on International Standards of Information’ will deal with defamation and respect the privacy of individuals and the need to be aware of the consequences of what you're writing. In this workshop, we will also speak about everyday questions like: What is impartiality? Where does bribery start? If I'm invited to lunch in a five star hotel as a journalist, can I accept it or not?

There is also a workshop about safety for journalists, but only few journalists really work in war zones...

True, but safety is much more than just hostile environment training. The workshop will also be about how to protect yourself online, how to encrypt content and send e-mails without leaving traces. But of course, it will also be about staying safe in the field. When I was witnessing the revolution in Egypt, I saw a journalist loosing his eye simply because he didn't know how to protect himself. If journalists knew more about the precautions they can take, they could still cover the same stories – and just live happily ever after.

Given what's happening in the Middle East this sounds like very timely training...

There's indeed a tremendous interest in training for journalists these days. I live in Cairo and after the revolution, Egyptian journalists for the first time asked about what the readers want. Before, there was not much interest in the readers and no research about them. The attitude was more like: “Why should we change? The government is supporting us and we get our salary.” But now, there's a huge potential for change in Arab journalism.

Petrus Schothorst is based in Cairo and has been working as a trainer and training designer for journalists for more than 20 years. His work has led him to Yemen, Morocco, Sudan and many other places in the Middle East. 

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