Lebanon

The Netherlands joins UNESCO’s Li Beirut initiative to support the media in upcoming Lebanese elections

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Beirut, 26 November 2021 – The Government of Netherlands and UNESCO signed today a funding agreement in support of the media for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon, under UNESCO’s flagship initiative Li Beirut. Hans Wesseling, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to UNESCO and Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO ADG for Communication and Information, signed the agreement at UNESCO’s HQ in Paris.

Responding to the call for support of the Li Beirut initiative, The Netherlands will provide an essential support to the Lebanese media, to ensure access to reliable information by Lebanese voters in the most objective, impartial and accurate way, in preparation for the legislative elections currently scheduled in March 2022. Building on UNESCO’s two decades of experience in developing the capacities of media sectors during elections, this project will support free, plural and fair elections in Lebanon, in times of political tension, economic and health crisis, and disinformation through fostering freedom of expression, including press freedom and public access to information.

The funds will be allocated by UNESCO over the next few months to reinforce the capacities and knowledge of key actors involved in elections according to international standards and best practices through a series of activities. These will include capacity development for security forces on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, trainings for journalists to tackle disinformation, hate speech, conflict sensitive reporting and safety, with a special focus on challenges faced by female journalists. Additionally, the project will allow the development of databases of experts to help journalists access more diverse and inclusive sources. A particular attention will also be given for capacity building of voters, mainly youth, on the theme of media and information literacy.

“This commitment means a lot to The Netherlands”, said Ambassador Hans Wesseling. “Supporting freedom of speech is critical but it’s important to translate it to support for the media and the safety of journalists, as well as the safety of women journalists. It is lovely to work with an organization like UNESCO that shows you how to walk the walk rather than talk”, he added, saluting the work that has been accomplished on the field by the UNESCO Office in Beirut, “in very difficult circumstances”.

From his side, Tawfik Jelassi affirmed: “I am extremely delighted to sign the agreements today, especially for the benefit of the Li Beirut initiative, to support journalists in preparation for the elections. The Netherlands has been a strong support of the CI sector at UNESCO, which is a pillar for democracy and access to information. We share your values and esteem the leading role you play. We value your trust and support.”

Speaking from Lebanon, Costanza Farina, Director of UNESCO Office in Beirut, thankedTthe Netherlands for its contribution. “This support is extremely important and strategic for us, she highlighted. It will allow UNESCO to be at the table of a very important dialogue and debate happening right now in Beirut in regards to the elections, to ensure media will provide access to reliable information, and to equip journalists with skills, notably the youth using social media tools in the electoral process”.

The Beirut explosions on 4 August, 2020, have dramatically worsened the political polarization of both the city and Lebanon as a whole, as hate speech and disinformation are on the rise. Additionally, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the security force tactics to suppress demonstrations, raising concerns of a broader silencing of dissent and limiting freedom of expression. The upcoming elections will take place in a context within which many pre-existing issues such as corruption, lack of editorial independence and media polarization still prevail. As UNESCO Beirut has already started monitoring the media coverage for the elections and training journalists on fact checking, balanced coverage and gender sensitive reporting, the skills and capacities acquired by journalists through the contribution of The Netherlands will also have a positive impact beyond the electoral cycle. Media will be able to apply this new knowledge to other national priorities, and to continue investigating and reporting on the many challenges to the reconstruction of Beirut.

Li Beirut is an international flagship initiative launched from Beirut by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in the aftermath of the explosions, on August 27, 2020, to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industry, all of which suffered significant damage in the deadly explosions.