UNESCO journalists’ safety activities in Palestine showcased at UN Seminar on Peace in the Middle East

UNESCO was invited to the UN International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East organized in Astana Kazakhstan on 26 and 27 May to present its activities being implemented in Palestine to promote the safety of journalists and media workers.

Some 300 participants registered to the event, which was opened by the UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information. Ms Christina Gallach, the Vice-Speaker of the Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Kazakhstan, Ms Dariga Nazarbayeva, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Mr Erlan Idrissov.

Ms Gallach delivered a message on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he declared that “the UN would spare no effort in supporting the quest for peace in the Middle East”. He stressed that a free, pluralistic media [was] essential in covering both the Israeli-Palestinian story and broader regional dynamics in a fast-paced digital world”.

Discussions focused on ongoing and emerging challenges of peace-making in the Middle East. Among the topics debated were the challenges facing the media in covering the Israeli-Palestinian story, the protection of media workers, the role of social media in reporting news, the role of media discourse in the midst of conflict, and the use of innovative media forms to achieve impact.

Representing UNESCO, Ms Saorla McCabe, from the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, presented the activities being carried out by the UNESCO Ramallah Office in support of journalists’ safety, which fit into the UN’s global approach to tackling this issue, as outlined in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. UNESCO’s activities in Palestine are centred on capacity building, supporting free legal advice for journalists and promoting the inclusion of a module on safety within the curricula of universities providing journalism education. Future plans include launching an open dialogue between Palestinian security forces and journalists.

“Beyond the obvious implications that attacks and threats of violence against journalists have on the journalists concerned, their families and their colleagues, the safety of journalists is also a wider human rights issue.”, said Ms McCabe. “It is linked to the right of every individual to seek, receive and impart information, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

Other panellists at the Seminar included an award-winning Palestinian photographer, a prominent Israeli TV reporter covering conflict zones, the Permanent Delegate of Palestine to the United Nations, a former Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, a senior editor from the WAFA news agency, a well-known columnist from the newspaper Haaretz, and Palestinian and Israeli bloggers.

For nearly 15 years, this annual Seminar has served as an important opportunity to enhance dialogue and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. In parallel, it has provided an opportunity to review and examine key media dynamics as they relate to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider, ever-evolving situation in the Middle East.