UNESCO Beirut organizes a regional webinar on the safety of journalists in the field during COVID-19

One of the main missions of independent journalism is to cover the news professionally and inform the public effectively, in particular during wars, crises, natural disasters and pandemics. The public’s right to know is an important value and principle; yet, it is intertwined with the rights of journalists to work and carry out their missions under safe conditions without fear, threats, self-censorship, impunity, insecurity or risk of contamination during pandemics.

Against this backdrop, UNESCO Beirut organized on 9 July 2020 a regional webinar on “The Triangle of Safety: Protecting Journalists in the Field during COVID-19”. The webinar, which was attended by 30 journalists from the Arab region, aimed to discuss the challenges of reporting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The webinar started with introductory remarks by UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Communication and Information, Mr George Awad, who highlighted that: “We live today in an unprecedented time, where journalists and media workers face important challenges ranging from safety to freedom of expression. The COVID-19 outbreak represented a new challenge as it required media workers and journalists to perform their job by using new strategies and action plans, while risking their lives”. Awad added: “For these reasons, UNESCO Beirut is organizing this seminar to reflect on the new challenges of reporting during COVID-19”, noting that “UNESCO is committed to ensuring the safety of journalists, promoting press freedom, and ensuring free access to information”.

The webinar was facilitated by Ms Rouba El Helou, media lecturer and coordinator of the Gender, Communications and Global Mobility studies at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon. Ms El Helou offered an overview of the challenges and risks that media workers and journalists encounter in the field, from physical attacks, to attacks based on their gender, to self-censorship, and safety challenges. The webinar was based on the concept of the ‘triangle of safety’ related to health, occupation and gender. The overarching link connecting professional safety, protection from pandemics and safety measures related to gender online is the concept of digital safety. All of these interlinked debates reflect on news content; and on strengthening the humanitarian factor during times of transition.

The webinar was also based on UNESCO’s “Model course on safety of journalists”.

The interactive webinar allowed journalists from the Arab region to share experiences, best practices, and concerns, and reflect on the ways to ensure their safety during the coverage of pandemics like the COVID-19 pandemic.

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