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Journalists convene to tackle global challenges through investigative reporting

By Rana Husseini - Nov 23,2019 - Last updated at Nov 23,2019

AMMAN — Over 500 media experts and specialists gathered in Amman over the weekend to tackle the challenges posed by the "wrong" use of social media to spread radicalised ideologies and fabricated news.

Some 580 media experts took part in the forum of the 12th annual Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), which was held under the theme "Media in a Radicalised World" and constituted the “largest ever” regional gathering of Arab investigative journalists, according to organisers.

"This year's meeting comes during a global challenge of enormous importance amidst an explosion of digital tools and wide-spread internet trolling," said ARIJ Co-Founder and Executive Director Rana Sabbagh.

The ARIJ network, Sabbagh added, has played a "pivotal role" in the region by supporting free journalism and paving the way for Arab journalists to conduct credible and bold investigative reports "that have forced their governments to adopt transparent and corruption-free measures and policies".

She stressed, however, that some governments still manage to restrict reporters' freedom through threats and imprisonment by "fabricating” offences. 

Sabbagh charged that "some influential, elite and rich individuals attempted to buy the conscience of independent journalists, who are also being subjected to threats by fighting militias… in other words, our societies have become large, open prisons".

That is why, Sabbagh added, "we are proud to announce today that ARIJ has supervised over 600 investigative reports in 16 countries that helped change policies and laws of some countries, which eventually changed the lives of many people".

She also thanked the government of Jordan for providing all needed permissions for convening the Forum.

Sabbagh, who established the network in 2005, then announced that she is stepping down from her post to move to Sarajevo to assume a new position.

"ARIJ will always be in my heart, my home and my mission in life, but it is time to give a chance to someone else to continue the path that I started," Sabbagh told the gathering. 

Chairwoman of ARIJ’s Board of Directors Yasmine Dabous announced that the board has chosen journalist Rawan Damen to take over as ARIJ's executive director.

"I look forward to assuming this new post by introducing new and serious ideas that will include anyone who is interested in providing hard and true work for investigative reporting in the Arab world," Damen told the gathering.

The forum was held “amidst difficult times for journalists worldwide”, and particularly for Arab media practitioners operating in the globe’s "riskiest area for press freedom and independent media", according to a press statment released by ARIJ.

It allowed journalists to share experiences, learn from expert speakers and trainers and network and find new partners for their next investigations into issues of concern to the public for the benefit of accountability, according to the press release.

Delegates benefitted from more than 40 training sessions and workshops on data journalism, open source investigations, audio storytelling, fact checking, physical and digital safety, online investigative tools, mobile journalism and bullet proofing investigations from a legal perspective. 

Other sessions featured the use of Google tools for research and news verification, combining high-tech and traditional reporting and mastering investigative interview techniqnes, the press release said.

Several Arab reporters shared the difficulties and challenges they are facing as a result of social media and from certain groups and government measures that are "controlling their work".

 Meanwhile, veteran journalist Riad Kobaissi, who heads the investigative reports unit at Al Jadeed TV and also worked with ARIJ on a number of investigative reports in 2012, spoke about a difficult experience that affected him and his family.

"My Facebook page was hacked, some people spread my Whatsapp photo, which included my children, with my number and I started receiving thousands of unwanted and threatening messages that I had to block on a regular basis," Kobaissi said.

"My colleagues are also facing systematic digital defamation and misleading campaigns in an effort to thwart their efforts in raising public awareness," the journalist added.

Social Media Specialist Amine Abou Yehya said that "the digital media forums came as a saviour for extremist groups, who use it to instigate hate speech".

Abou Yehya added that there are also many digital forums that target youth and school children by introducing violent ideologies, with many of these young people expressing their admiration for what they see online. 

"We surely need to introduce media education to high schools, to alert the new generations of the dangers of social media," Abou Yehya warned.

Conversely, Director of Media Partnerships for Facebook and Instagram in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey Fares Akkad focused on the importance of "his social media outlets in dealing closely with media establishments and journalists who are working in the field in order to develop mechanisms that help them avoid mistakes and secure their personal safety and security". 

Rasha Qandeel, a presenter at the BBC, stressed that "citizens' journalism has overcome hurdles by exposing the truth of the authorities' media machines that used to control traditional media".

That is why, Qandeel added, "wherever you find your battle, take it instead of running away from it".

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