Reporters from Tunis, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan met in Amman, on 12 and 13 November 2013, at a debate forum to exchange their experience and identify measures to improve their work during electoral processes. The forum is part of the Media and Elections Project, implemented by UNESCO’s Amman Office throughout 2013 and funded by the European Union.
"This is a unique event, as for the first time in Jordan reporters from diverse backgrounds and with variable media expertise openly discuss a very specific aspect of media coverage, which is related directly to elections,” commented Rut G. Sobrino, Project Manager at UNESCO’s Amman Office. “Coverage of elections has gained considerable weight recently in light of political reform scenarios that spread across the region for the past few years,” she added.
While the two-day forum marked the end of the Project, Ms Patricia Pennetier, from the European Union Delegation to Jordan, announced the EU continuous support to media through its partnership with UNESCO with a new project planned to kick off in 2014.
Although the landscapes presented at the forum were highly varied, all presenters emphasized the common challenges they face when covering elections in order to define overall measures to facilitate their work and to improve its quality. "There are violations in the electoral systems happening all over the world and it is the responsibility of the journalist to report on those," commented Mr Mohammed Hassan, part of the Thomson Reuters team, based in Ramallah.
The forum also served to present to the participants the Road Map Strategy, the recent research conducted in the framework of UNESCO’s Media and Elections Project that includes interviews and questionnaires shared with the Jordanian media community. The document, developed by Albany Associates, summarizes challenges faced by journalists while covering elections and proposes measures to improve this exercise. Mr Simon Haselock, Senior Associate at Albany, emphasized the relevance of professional and independent media in countries in transition. "Elections are a component of democratization processes, but not the only one; there is still lack of understanding of the concept of democracy and its implications as well as of the role of media," he said.
The forum was concluded by the presentation of Mr Achref Maktouf, President of the International Centre for Democracy and Election Monitoring in Tunis, who gave a clear overview of the media coverage of elections in his country, the first to experience the Arab Spring phenomenon. As in previous presentations, lack of independence of media covering elections was a major challenge underlined. "In Tunis, public media has been under the control of the Government, which made possible the imprisonment of journalists who were publishing critics related to politics," he commented.