Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The Levant sub-region in the Arab World (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) suffers from weak democratic processes, government accountability, and an absent forum for national dialogue.
Stemming from the government’s lack of accountability, social issues such as human rights abuses and gender inequalities are prevalent in the Levant. This is illustrated in the UNDP’s Human Development Report, which places the Levant’s women as far less literate, educated, politically represented, and supported than their male counterparts. With a limited access to education and health services, women face gender-based violence and discrimination. In Palestine for example, laws that protect women from domestic violence are not in place. A 2006 Palestine Bureau of Statistics survey on domestic violence states that 60% of women had been psychologically abused by their husbands, 23% had been beaten, and 11% had experienced sexual violence. As the majority of media outlets in the Levant is partisan, state-controlled, or self-censoring, they rarely broach these issues of government accountability, human rights abuses, and gender inequalities.
For example, in Palestine official broadcasting is run by the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), which operates Voice of Palestine radio and Palestine TV. These outlets came under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian president in early 2006. The majority of available media sources are state controlled, such as the Voice of Palestine, Palestine Television, and semi-governmental newspapers such as Al Hayat, al-Jadidah, and the Palestine News Agency or WAFA. Additionally, Palestinian media lacks national reach and general public interest as local media networks are not connected to one another and have limited reach beyond audiences only within their towns. As a result, they must rely on featuring biased national media sources for news outside of their specific reporting areas.
Palestine’s neighboring countries, Lebanon and Jordan experience the same problem of strong state control over media outlets. For example, the two main stations in Lebanon are overwhelmingly supported by politically controlling institutions or government factions. Future TV is owned by the family of the former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and LBC-Sat is owned by Saudi Arabian Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. In Jordan, The state also remains to be a major shareholder of the major newspapers such as the al-Ra’i, Jordan Times and al-Dustour. Though independent print media exists in Jordan, they are required to obtain licenses and, according to the U.S. State Department, the Jordanian government influences the appointment of editors-in-chief at some major publications. Often even independent journalists in the Levant are subject to intimidation, detention, and physical threats by the governments- thus making self-censorship ever more prevalent.
Confronted with a clear need for an independent credible regional news network, Raed is implementing institutional safeguards through his Ma’an Network to ensure that the Network can and will honestly and transparently inform the public on the government’s activities. By keeping its roots grounded in society, through creating an independent board of directors, and filing as a NGO (non-government organization), the network eschews all influence and funding from governments, political parties, and powerful individual investors. Ma’an has already spawned smaller-scale imitators such as Jordanian news agency Al-Amoun.
The use of media as a tool for peace-building and democratic consolidation is well established by such international media players as UNESCO, BBC World Service Trust, and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. However, the development actions of international organizations have tended to focus on the prevention of conflict, and media frameworks that support the basic characteristics of a free media environment: independence, pluralism and journalists’ safety. Raed’s idea will instead use targeted media strategies to reach concrete social goals, particularly improving government accountability to the people, exposing gender inequalities, and human rights abuses.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Raed Othman is creating an independent news media space in the Levant that builds public awareness regarding social, political, and economic issues, including gender equality, human rights, and good governance. Raed is developing an inclusive and credible platform for open dialogue between the government because his news network is built on a foundation of transparency, credibility, and non-biased reporting.
Recognizing that media is central to a public dialogue, Raed is creating a regional network of news organizations that pools together resources and supports each other in skills-building, collaboration, and independent news coverage. This network uses a number of mediums in order to access all members of society, from paper and web news, to television and radio programing.
Raed founded Ma’an Network in 2004 to enable the people of the Levant to have access to full information citizenship. Through the Ma’an Network, Raed has begun to realize his vision of a robustly independent, world-class Palestinian media source, which is centered on democracy, good governance, gender equality, and human rights.
Ma’an Agency, which is the largest media program in Raed’s Ma’an Network, consists of a tri-lingual online independent news agency, 12 local radio stations, eight local television stations, an in-house Research Unit, and a partnership with international satellite channels to broadcast across the Arab world. Through this media network, Raed has successfully become a market leader, creating a new benchmark for independent news reporting in Palestine. According to the Ma’an Network’s 2010 annual survey on media and governance in Palestine, 75% of Palestine’s population ranks the Agency’s website as their main news source.