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Discussion forum on media accountability in the Arab World

MediaAcT researchers and experts from Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt presented their observations on the status quo of media accountability in the Arab World in a public discussion forum in Toulouse, on January 12, 2013. The aim of the forum was to discuss challenges and potentials for media accountability in the region during a period of transition.

After the Arab Spring in 2011, debates about the political and societal future have been intensified in many Arab countries including the media’s role as a platform for and a mediator between a variety of opinions. Media accountability and media self-regulation have become important keywords in these debates. Yet, the presentations of the discussion forum revealed that chances and challenges for transferring such concepts into practice still differ widely across the region.

In the first panel on potentials of media accountability, Judith Pies from the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism in Dortmund presented MediaAcT survey results from Tunisia and Jordan. She concluded that in both countries journalists show a high awareness of accountability towards the public -- which offers a theoretical potential to counterbalance strong political accountability mechanisms. Strengthening audience-inclusive practices may become a promising strategy for media organizations to show accountability and survive economically at the same time. Yet, practical challenges are still apparent in all countries. This was underlined by Abeer Saady’s presentation on the current developments in Egypt. As vice-president of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, she has been involved in initiating a concept for an independent press council, which is still struggling for recognition in a strongly politicized environment. In her view, closing ranks within the profession is needed for establishing independent self-regulatory practices.

A second panel focused on contextual factors that might foster media accountability. The Lebanese and Moroccan examples again highlighted the importance of strong and representative journalists’ associations. Furthermore, they stressed the need for independent and up-to-date regulatory and legal frameworks. Magda Abu-Fadil, director of the Lebanese organization Media Unlimited, spoke about the challenges to receive support for a complete overhaul of existing media legislation against sectarian interests within and outside the profession. Compared to Lebanon, Morocco’s media legislation and regulation is still young due to a top-down opening of the broadcasting sector in Morocco during the early 2000s. Yet, the presentation by Mohammed Ibahrine, professor for communication at the American University of Sharjah, revealed that the existing framework still supports old patterns, e.g. journalists are still mainly held to account by the regime.

Boguslawa Dobek-Ostrowska, professor for politics and communication at Wroclaw University, concluded the discussion forum by looking back to the history of Eastern and Central Europe and pointing to the problems that might be ahead in transitional Arab countries. Her presentation highlighted actual problems in terms of media accountability as a result of persisting politicization and fastly increasing commercialization during the transitional periods.


Text: Judith Pies; Photo: MediaAcT

MediaAct News – February 05, 2013

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About MediaAcT

MediaAcT is a comparative research project on media accountability systems in EU member states as indicators for media pluralism in Europe.

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