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Workshop sheds light on e-participation, media role in countering misinformation

By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa - May 29,2023 - Last updated at May 29,2023

Speakers are seen during a workshop on the Role of Media in Promoting and Strengthening Electronic Participation on Sunday (Photo courtesy of ICNL)

 

AMMAN — A unified digital government platform to foster community-based electronic participation in government-related processes is set to be launched in the near future, said head of the E-Participation Unit at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, Maram Al Saidi. 

Saidi’s spoke about the coming platform during a workshop on the Role of Media in Promoting and Strengthening Electronic Participation on Sunday organised by USAID’s Strengthening Civil Society and Media System (Sawt) Activity. 

The Sawt project is funded by USAID and implemented by Internews, Mercy Corps and International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). 

The workshop opened with a presentation by Haneen Al Bitar, a legal adviser at the ICNL, who provided an overview on the international legal framework of public participation. 

 

Gov’t e-platform 

 

During a panel discussion on the government e-platform and its implementation, Saidi noted that community participation is an integral part of sustainable development. 

She added that the e-platform aims to enable citizens’ participation in legislative and decision-making processes in addition to fostering transparency and building confidence through facilitating access to information. 

“Each government entity will have a profile on this platform, through which it will share draft laws and proposed projects, allowing citizens, private-sector institutions and civil society organisations to voice their opinions and recommendations,” she said. 

There will also be private consultations available on the platform for private-sector and civil society organisations in order to gain expert input on certain matters, Saidi added. 

To build trust and transparency, a report on the outcomes of any consultation process conducted via the platform will be published, she continued. 

The government is currently working on a regulatory framework for the e-participation process prior to the platform’s launch, which involves a code of conduct and guidelines for both citizens and public institutions, according to Saidi.

The government will also conduct awareness-raising campaigns and capacity-building sessions on community participation directed towards citizens and employees in government departments, she said. 

Executive Director of the Jordan Open-Source Association (JOSA) Issa Mahasneh noted that the principles of the e-participation policy align with international standards. 

Building citizens’ confidence in the government is an “essential step” in ensuring that the e-platform will effectively foster community dialogue and involve the public in decision-making processes, Mahasneh said.

“Technology is not a solution, but a tool that can only beneficial if used correctly,” Mahasneh added. 

He also pointed out that it’s essential to address the prevalence of digital illiteracy among certain segments of society and in certain marginalised communities. 

“Digital illiteracy goes beyond Internet penetration; some people might have access to the Internet, but they might not have sufficient legal or technical knowledge to use the platform effectively,” he explained. 

Moreover, content moderation is needed to prevent using the platform to spread hate speech and false information, Mahasneh added. 

“We will be partnering with civil society organisations to help us reach marginalised communities who might not have access to the platform due to the lack of Internet connection and technological change tools, or due to digital illiteracy,” Saidi noted. 

The e-participation policy involves principles related to inclusivity as well as preventing hate speech and sexism, all of which will be reflected on the way the e-platform operates, Saidi added. 

 

The role of the media 

 

Experts also overviewed the role of media in promoting public participation and raising awareness of the new government platform. 

Editor-in-Chief at The Jordan Times Mohammad Ghazal noted that media outlets carry a responsibility to promote meaningful community engagement and active citizenship. 

The media can play a “pivotal” role in shaping public opinion through the way it reports on and “frames” any social, economic and political developments taking place around citizens, Ghazal explained. 

He also stressed the importance of understanding the “public mood” towards governmental policies and decisions in order to promote effective community participation. 

Tools that can be used by media outlets to understand their audience and their attitudes towards any given cause include social listening technology that monitors social media channels, AI technology that can be used to counter misinformation and disinformation, and fact checking tools, Ghazal said. 

Moreover, he pointed out that new challenges related to the spread of malinformation, misinformation and disinformation have emerged as social media platforms came of age as a primary source of information. 

He referenced a December 2022 study published by the Jordan Media Institute (JMI) which showed that social media platforms, specifically Facebook, are the number one source of news for Jordanians. However, they remain the least trusted and credible source for reliable news. 

A study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism indicates that trust in news is declining, Ghazal added. The study showed that people are actively avoiding reading the news because they find it too negative or untrustworthy, biased and marked by underrepresentation, he explained. 

He also stressed the importance of accurate and balanced reporting to build trust as well as credibility, also noting the need to activate the media’s role as a vehicle for cultural, political and economic participation. 

Founder of the Media and Digital Runaway for Arab Journalists (MADRAJ) organisation, Rawan Jayousi, further addressed the importance of countering misleading content.

Misinformation, malinformation and disinformation all impact citizens’ understanding of the social, political and economic realities in their surrounding environment, eroding their trust in public institutions and leaving no room for effective dialogue, Jayousi said. 

Awareness-raising and capacity-building are both essential in countering “information disorder”, a phenomenon that appeared with the widespread use of social media outlets, she added. 

To combat this social issue, the public must be educated on how to distinguish reliable news from less trustworthy sources. To avoid “information disorder”, individuals must ensure that their chosen news source adheres to journalistic values related to humanity, fairness and impartiality, as well as truth and accuracy, she said. 

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