Beirut, November 26th, 2021 – The Dutch government and UNESCO today signed a funding agreement to support the media for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon as part of the UNESCO flagship initiative Li Beirut. Hans Wesseling, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to UNESCO, and Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO ADG for Communication and Information, signed the agreement at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris.
In response to the call to support Li Beirut’s initiative, the Netherlands will provide substantial assistance to the Lebanese media to ensure the most objective, impartial and accurate access to reliable information to Lebanese voters in preparation for the current parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 2022 Building on UNESCO’s two decades of experience in developing the capacities of the media sectors in elections, this project will promote free, plural and fair elections in Lebanon in times of political tension, economic and health crises and disinformation by promoting freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and Public access to information.
The funds will be provided by UNESCO over the next few months to strengthen the capacities and knowledge of the key actors involved in elections based on international standards and best practices through a range of activities. This includes building capacity for security forces in the areas of freedom of expression and journalist security, training journalists on how to deal with disinformation, hate speech, conflict-sensitive reporting and security, with a special focus on the challenges faced by women journalists. In addition, the project will enable the development of expert databases to make it easier for journalists to access more diverse and inclusive sources. Particular attention will also be paid to capacity building of voters, mainly youth, on media and information literacy.
âThis commitment means a lot to the Netherlands,â said Ambassador Hans Wesseling. âSupporting freedom of expression is vital, but it is important to translate it to support the media and the safety of journalists, as well as the safety of women journalists. It’s nice to work with an organization like UNESCO that shows you how to walk instead of talking, âhe added, paying tribute to the work that the UNESCO office in Beirut has doneâ under very difficult circumstances â .
On his part, Tawfik Jelassi confirmed: âI am delighted to be able to sign the agreements today, especially in favor of the Li Beirut initiative to help journalists prepare for the elections. The Netherlands is a strong pillar of the CI sector at UNESCO, which is a pillar of democracy and access to information. We share your values ââand appreciate your leading role. We appreciate your trust and your support. “
Costanza Farina, Director of the UNESCO office in Beirut, spoke from Lebanon and thanked the Netherlands for their contribution. “This support is extremely important and strategic for us,” she emphasized. It will allow UNESCO to participate in a very important dialogue and debate that is currently taking place in Beirut regarding the elections, ensure that the media have access to reliable information, and empower journalists, especially young people, to social media use instruments in the electoral process â.
The explosions in Beirut on August 4, 2020 have dramatically exacerbated the political polarization of both the city and Lebanon as a whole, as hate speech and disinformation increase. In addition, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the security forces’ tactics in suppressing demonstrations and raised concerns about widening the silence of dissenting opinions and restricting freedom of expression. The upcoming elections will take place in a context where many pre-existing problems such as corruption, lack of editorial independence and media polarization still prevail. As UNESCO Beirut has already started monitoring media coverage for the elections and training journalists in fact-checking, balanced reporting and gender-sensitive reporting, the skills and capacities journalists have acquired through the contribution of the Netherlands will continue to be positive beyond the electoral cycle Have an impact. The media will be able to apply this new knowledge to other national priorities and to further examine and report on the many challenges facing the reconstruction of Beirut.
Li Beirut is an international flagship initiative led by the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, after the explosions at 27 creative industries, all of which sustained considerable damage in the deadly explosions.