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Investigative journalists gather to debate spread of fake news

By Mina Mohit - Dec 02,2017 - Last updated at Dec 02,2017

Hazem El Amin from Lebanon, Lina Attalah from Egypt and Lina Ejeilat from Jordan share the stage for the panel ‘Survival of Independent Media in the Era of Post-Truth Politics and Fake News’ at the Dead Sea on Saturday (Photo by Mina Mohit)

DEAD SEA — Over 475 participants from the Arab world gathered at the Dead Sea on Friday for the opening of the 10th Annual Forum for Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ). 

The conference brought together several international speakers, media support groups and investigative journalists under the theme: “Investigative Journalism: Battling Fake News”.

The ceremony was opened by ARIJ’s Executive Director Rana Sabbagh, who started her speech by asking the audience for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives for unveiling the truth and “fighting corruption in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, among others”. 

In her remarks, Sabbagh also thanked the Jordanian government for facilitating visas and travel permits for those participants coming from “restricted states”, and especially welcomed the 60 journalists from Yemen, who had gone through extensive travel time and various checkpoints to get to the Kingdom. 

The three-day forum held in Jordan by Amman-based ARIJ, hosting over 45 training sessions and workshops, provides a central and strategic location for Western journalists to meet and network with those working in the Middle East and North Africa. 

“ARIJ has done a tremendous job in promoting investigative journalism in the Arab world, be it by mentoring journalists, working alongside them, or giving them access to great trainers around the world,” said Lina Ejeilat, co-founder and executive director of 7iber.com, an online magazine that publishes in-depth multimedia content and critical analysis on issues from Jordan and the surrounding region. 

The event’s speakers, hailing from various parts of the world, had a common theme in their lectures and workshops: their perseverance for truth, accuracy and transparency. 

Maria Teresa Ronderos, a renowned Columbian investigative journalist, called for professionals of different fields to work together and encouraged “cross-border investigative journalism” since many bribes or corruption cases can be traced “beyond one country”. 

This was a sentiment shared by Lina Attalah, the publisher of Egyptian news website MadaMasr who said “cooperation is indispensable in light of the political landscape we are suffering from” during a panel titled: “Survival of Independent Media in the Era of Post-Truth Politics and Fake News”.

The panel, which invited five editors of small and independent media outlets that work on producing in-depth reportage, discussed the challenges the Arab world faces regarding access to information, the control over data, business models, and ways of staying independent while sustaining funding for investigative projects.

“Unfortunately, we see a lot of journalists who’re dependent on tips here and there, rather than solid information,” Ejeilat told The Jordan Times while explaining the scope of access to information in Jordan. 

She continued: “Jordan boasts the fact that it was the first Arab country to have an access to information law, but the devil is in the details. The law says that every citizen is allowed access to information for legitimate purposes, and this clause is extremely problematic because what it essentially means is that it’s very easy to dismiss, on the grounds that u don’t have a legitimate reason.” 

However, the 7iber.com editor said many groups are pushing to allow more freedom of information, as it is essential to investigative work, which is “needed now more than ever in a trending media landscape of faster, shorter, bite-sized content that is shareable, and tweetable”, concluding with: “we need to goback to the basics, try to do more investigative stories and hold those in power accountable”.

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