Palestinian universities to pilot model course on safety of journalists

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Campus of Birzeit University
© UNESCO/S. McCabe
05 October 2016

Several Palestinian universities are set to pilot a new syllabus on journalists’ safety developed by UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) for the Arab region, following a national seminar organized by UNESCO in Ramallah last week.

During the event, hosted in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) of the Palestinian Authority and the IFJ, UNESCO presented to Palestinian universities the course that was developed through an extensive consultation process, which culminated in a regional conference in Beirut in February.

Students at An Najjah University. © UNESCO/S. McCabe

The heads of the media departments of six universities in Palestine, including An-Najah, Al-Quds, Bethlehem, Birzeit, Hebron, and Modern University College, attended the seminar in Ramallah, along with representatives of key press freedom NGOs and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate. An earlier consultation was organized with universities in Gaza in March, facilitated by Hala Tannous from the UNESCO Ramallah Office, and will be followed up by another meeting in October.

Iyad Abu Samra, representing the MOEHE, announced that the Ministry welcomes the course, which meets its main requirements.

Explaining the background of the project, Saorla McCabe, Programme Specialist at UNESCO, reminded participants that currently no university providing journalism education in Palestine teaches journalists’ safety as part of its regular curriculum.  “UNESCO has made the safety of journalists one of its priority areas, and this course is developed within the framework of the implementation of the UN Plan of Action which UNESCO has been mandated to lead”, she added.

Juman Quneis, Dean of the Media Section at Birzeit University. © UNESCO/S. McCabe

The introduction of this course fits within the wider curriculum revision process taking place in Palestine as part of the country’s National Media Strategy. The course will complement the new courses on Media Law, Media Ethics, and Media and Gender currently being developed.

The new syllabus was widely welcomed by the universities represented at the seminar. Juman Quneis, Dean of the Media Section at Birzeit University (BZU), expressed BZU’s readiness to integrate the course within its regular curriculum as of next semester. “BZU would like to be the first university in the Arab World to pilot the course and serve as an example for other universities in the region and beyond”, she said. “This course is very important for our students because they are working in a dangerous area and it will help limit the risks to which future journalists are exposed.”

Nasser Shiewkhy, Head of MUC.
© UNESCO/S. McCabe

Other universities, including Al-Quds, An-Najah National University and Modern University College (MUC), were equally eager to pilot the course in the near future. Nasser Shiewkhy, Head of MUC, stated: “The MUC is committed to applying this course in a very short time once the appropriate steps have been taken with the Ministry of Education”.

Among the key issues raised by participants during the seminar was the importance of ensuring that the teaching of the course combines both theory and practice.

Participants also called for the need to adapt the content to the Palestinian context, through the inclusion of local examples, case studies and reading material; and the need to provide training for those who will be in charge of delivering the course.   

Dina Hawah, graduate student at An-Najah University.
© UNESCO/S. McCabe

Dina Hawah, a graduate student from An-Najah University, gave her own perspective on the value of the course: "The safety of journalists is an especially important issue here in Palestine where we do not have the minimum standards of safety for journalists. We have seen many examples on Facebook and other social media platforms where journalists have been attacked. We need to ensure journalists’ safety and prepare the new graduates before they move to the field."

The seminar, co-facilitated by Michael Foley, one of the authors of the course, and Ghassan Nimer, former Dean of the Media Faculty at Al-Quds University, was implemented through the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the NET-MED Youth Project, which is funded by the European Union. Al-Quds Educational Television has produced a TV report on the event.

 
For more information on this event, please contact:
Saorla McCabe, Programme Specialist, UNESCO
 
For information on UNESCO’s activities in Palestine, please contact:
Majd Beltaji, Public Information Officer, UNESCO Ramallah Office
 
Information on UNESCO’s activities in Palestine is also available at: www.unesco.org/ramallah.