The idea of a free press has been well established for Western journalists. Ethics, writing style and developing the right sources are almost formulaic in the way American and other Western countries present the information written by the media.
However, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions this concept is brand new to the media who are now finding more freedom after the Arab Spring. That is one of many reasons the SHSU Global Center for Journalism and Democracy co-hosted the Media Coverage of International Justice conference in Beirut, Lebanon, according to the GCJD executive director Kelli Arena.
“When you look at the whole concept of international justice, you see that it is a very new concept, especially in this region,” Arena said. “What happened in Libya, in Egypt, in Syria…it is very likely that some, we hope, will have to go before an international court.”
Ayman Mhanna, director of the Samir Kassir Foundation and conference co-host, said the conference was important, especially due to the upcoming Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
“It’s important to have a cache of journalists from all over the Arab world who have the skills, the right terminology and the right approach to convey to the general public what is happening in these courts,” Mhanna said. “The line up of speakers and trainers were impressive. These journalists were able to speak to other journalists covering the International Criminal Court (ICC) and experts about this subject.”
The tribunal will investigate the assassinations of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other 22 others.
The conference offered three panels of international justice experts, including court spokespersons, lawyers and seasoned reporters on day one. The panels were followed by six workshops on the next two days.
Journalists from more than 15 countries speaking just as many languages attended the conference. More than 125 people attended the public opening session of the conference while 60 participated in the two day training.
SHSU professors Mitchel Roth, Ph.D., from the criminal justice department and Robin Johnson, Ph.D., from the mass communication department were two of the seven trainers flown in.
Other trainers included CNN photojournalist Khalil Abdallah, international defense attorney Abby Joules, and Marlise Simons, a writer for the New York Times Paris Bureau since 1989 who has covered the ICC trials.
“I was impressed with the attention paid by members of the audience and the questions they asked,” Simons said. “I felt very gratified that members of the audience asked relevant questions on how to access this and how to approach that. The more that is known about international justice, especially in relevant countries, I’m sure that it helped.”
“I think that if people walk away from this conference,” Simons said, “that if journalists learn they just report the facts of the trial…that they don’t have to take sides…if they understand we are there to tell the story of the trial. If they walk away with that knowledge, if they know they are there not to be the prosecutor, not to be the defense, not to be the judge. If that is clear to them, that is the single most valuable contribution from this conference.”
The GCJD is currently planning another conference involving reporting on oil and gas sectors. The Samir Kassir Foundation will soon be announcing their Samir Kassir Award through the United Nations for various journalistic works.