Interview with May Chidiac, founder and Director of the May Chidiac Foundation and Media Institute, UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2006 Laureate
Could you please present yourself and introduce how you become committed to promoting media freedom?
I am a Lebanese veteran TV anchor and political talk show host with a career spanning almost 30 years. I have always been a tenacious defender of media freedom, from when I began as a radio journalist to the day that I was almost assassinated in on September 25, 2005. I lost my left arm and leg as a result of the attack. My passion for freedom of speech, media, and liberty led me to overcome more than 40 surgeries and return to work as a broadcast journalist in 2006 till 2009. It was around that time that I also realized that the world was changing, with social media and technology transforming the entire media landscape, and spurring movements on the one hand while angering reactionary forces on the other. This reality led me to found an organization to address to uphold values of freedom and democracy, train aspiring journalists in one of the most indispensable professions in the world, and to monitor traditional and digital media freedom in the country and region. Even after becoming the Minister of State for Administrative Reform in the 2019 Lebanese cabinet, I continued to defend media freedom whenever an opportunity arose. In 2019, on behalf of the government of Lebanon, I signed the global pledge on media freedom in London, UK. I am also an adamant critic of any attack against a colleague, even if I don't agree with their politics. As Voltaire once said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
What is the mission of the organization you are working for?
The May Chidiac Foundation was established in 2009 as a non-profit organization dedicated to research, development, and education on issues of democracy, free speech and media, human rights, and social welfare. Through its affiliated media institute, MCF-MI has succeeded in bridging the gap between industry and academia, equipping thousands of media professionals with the necessary skills to adapt to the growing demands of the job market and the fourth industrial revolution.
In the past decade, the May Chidiac Foundation-Media Institute has had a tremendous track record in sharing ideas and harnessing best practices in media freedom and expression, not only through its training programs, but also through its annual conference "Free Connected Minds" and "Women on The Front Lines." Media practitioners and journalists, among professionals from other sectors, fly to Beirut to share their experiences and best practices with hundreds of attendees, further contributing to the country's development and growth.
What will you do with the grant awarded by the Global Media Defence Fund?
Our main objectives are to ensure that journalists can protect themselves, to address cases of impunity against journalists, and educating them on their rights to access legal assistance (through a) project entitled " Breaking Journalism Barriers and Strengthening Protection Information and Tools for Journalists against Impunity and cases of Alleged Unlawful Detention in Lebanon," with the overall goal (of bolstering the) fight against impunity and fostering an independent, free, and plural media ecosystem.
What will be the impact of this action?
The May Chidiac Foundation - Media Institute will strengthen the capacity of 18 journalists and other stakeholders on relevant national and international standards and legislation pertaining to the safety of journalists and freedom of expression, whistleblower protection law, and the benefit of legal risk assessments. MCF-MI will also produce, edit, and disseminate a legal handbook to journalists and media professionals, which contains practical information to help predict or respond to potential legal threats. It will particularly focus on how to ensure their legal safety when detained or at risk of being detained.
Any suggestions/recommendations you would like to make to UNESCO as administrator of this Fund and/or to its donors?
To support media practitioners in developing countries as much as possible. Technology and freedom of speech are reaching a tipping point, and we can see how some governments are increasingly suppressing the media and censoring any form of opposition to their policies and politics. We must make sure that we are not only condemning attacks against journalists and impunity, but also actively and consistently supporting endeavors to keep media free, open, and pluralistic.