By Reine Zahreddine
In a country largely dominated by politicized and centralized traditional media outlets, independent and truthful media is more important than ever to hold those in power accountable. This is especially true in Lebanon, which, since 2019, has experienced the steepest social and political decline of its history. It is grappling with the most significant economic crisis in its modern history that has led to an outstanding inflation rate of approximately 500%, soaring unemployment, and corruption charges against Lebanese authorities that have left the country in a political deadlock with no end in sight. Furthermore, the country continues to reel from a deadly blast at the city’s port on August 4, 2020, which resulted in 218 reported deaths, over 7,500 injured, and US $15 billion in property damage.
On the bright side, in response to the devastating political and economic failure of the country’s elite, several new alternative media outlets have emerged both online and offline, trying to challenge the traditional, partisan-controlled media discourse, to give back to ethical and professional journalism what PR and politics took from it, and to raise the voices of marginalized regions and communities. Their mission is to counter the existing narratives and introduce new unbiased and reliable sources of information. These alternative media outlets have gained increasing popularity with young audiences in Lebanon who have grown tired of traditional media platforms and narratives and are increasingly turning to alternative media outlets for more trustworthy and accurate information that represents the reality and the views of the public.
But, to date, most of them did so on their own, in isolation from their peers with a similar mission.
On August 31, 2022, Internews, in cooperation with Democracy Reporting International, convened ten of these alternative outlets and three media development actors to discuss how grassroots and more established media outlets can complement each other to amplify marginalized voices across Lebanon. Held at the offices of Daraj Media in Mar Mikhail, attendees explored potential areas for collaboration following the “Collaborative Journalism Methodology” developed by the Centre for Cooperative Media.
Several of the attendees expressed their surprise that this was the first time such a comprehensive group of independent Lebanese media actors met to collaborate. “I wonder why this never happened before,” said one of the attendees. “It was great to get to meet all these new faces and outlets and learn about their work and objectives,” said another. One participant compared the media outlets to different magnets scattered all over Lebanon that needed “a certain degree of physical proximity” to connect to build the foundation for collaboration, and Internews was happy to play the connector’s role.
Participating media outlets were Ana hon, Naked Politics, Spot Cast, Megaphone, Raseef 22, Al Rawiya, Executive Magazine, Bel Moubashar, Daraj Media, Sharika wa Laken, DW Academy, and, as co-connector, Democracy Reporting International.
As a result of the meeting, the media outlets agreed to continue the conversation and build on the expressed intentions and interest to produce co-created content to broaden and deepen the conversations around three topics in Lebanon: refugees, the “death boats” of Tripoli (migrant vessels departing from the Northern Cost of Lebanon), and the problem of impunity related to the killing of women.
Internews is currently implementing the “Advancing Diverse Voices in Lebanon” (ADVIL) project to strengthen Lebanese media in their role to protect and promote democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms with the support of the Dutch Embassy in Lebanon.