Meeting on Israel-Gaza war, needs assessment, and coordination efforts
A meeting of 80 GFMD members, partners and donors working in the MENA region took place on November 30 in connection with the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Annual Forum. The attendees were primarily on site in Amman, Jordan, with an additional 18 participants joining online.
Please note that the meeting was held under Chatham House rules and that the identities of speakers have therefore been withheld where relevant.
The meeting included:
- A discussion of the devastating effects of the Israel-Gaza war on journalists, media, and media support organisations, including a mapping of emergency needs and available crisis resources
- A round of the most recent needs assessments from the MENA region
- A consultation on Draft Principles for Relevant and Effective Support to Media and the Information Environment that are being developed by the OECD with support from GFMD and CIMA
- A discussion on how GFMD’s code of conduct and mechanisms for accountability could be improved
- A brief presentation on how to harness lessons learned from media support coordination efforts following the Beirut port blast for the current crisis in Gaza
Attendees exchanged information on the situation in Gaza and affected areas and shared the most urgent needs and issues journalists and media faced including:
- Unprecedented challenges and violations, including killings, arrests, and physical abuse of journalists with instances of targeted attacks
- Destruction of more than 30 media institution headquarters in Gaza
- Lack of essential resources for journalists including salaries, equipment and working space, making it impossible to cover the ongoing crisis
- Grave impact of the situation on mental health of journalists facing trauma
- Challenges in distributing and delivering humanitarian aid due to lengthy and tiring steps, including approval processes
- Participants voiced frustration over the perceived lack of international attention to the suffering in Gaza, the absence of clear identification and support for the victims, and the existence of double standards when addressing the situation in Gaza compared to other conflicts, such as Ukraine.
“Faith in the principles of journalism was profoundly shaken by the events in Gaza. Despite the support extended by various organisations, for which we are grateful, to journalists in general and Palestinians in particular, it is disheartening to observe that certain press entities, particularly those from northern countries and foreign organisations that arrived in the Arab world purportedly to teach us knowledge about freedom of the press and ethical practices, have betrayed and abandoned these values.”
– participant from the MENA region
Participants also expressed anger over the actions of social media companies that silence voices from Palestine through mechanisms like ‘shadow banning’, account closures, and the labelling of certain organisations as dangerous.
As a response to these identified needs, attendees suggested:
- Prioritising delivery of safety equipment, including vests, helmets, gas masks, trauma, and first aid kits
– Offering support for psychosocial well-being of journalists and addressing the shortage of Arab speaking mental health professionals
- Combating disinformation on the conflict by supporting local fact-checkers working to verify information
– Providing legal support and enhancing the legal framework and transparent actions to protect journalists
- Coordination of community efforts including exchange of information:
Upon the request of members and partners, GFMD initiated a mapping of needs on the ground.
– Local and international organisations have been sharing vital information about the needs of their local partners as well as the type of assistance that they are providing through a shared spreadsheet.
– Resources listed include emergency funding, assistance in vetting individual journalists, support for evacuation, establishment of safe houses outside of Gaza, physical and digital safety training, protective gear (PPE), and more.
- Information sharing needs to be conducted with special care to avoid exposing journalists to danger
“We have a network of relationships that enables us to safeguard the confidentiality of information about journalists in the field without subjecting them to accountability. We are ready to collaborate with you and extend this network.”
– representative of an international organisation attending the meeting
Needs assessments for the MENA region:
Participants discussed lessons learned from recent needs assessments in the MENA region, emphasising the critical need for improved coordination and support for media. The focus was on threats faced by specific institutions and journalists due to insufficient support from donor institutions, funding issues, and the absence of a media cooperatives model.
- Threats and Recognition: Independent institutions and journalists face threats due to inadequate support. Recognition for journalists in the region, particularly those exposing corruption, was considered insufficient
- Funding Challenges: Acknowledgment of consistent marginalisation of certain individuals due to exclusionary policies and a call for better support for diverse groups.
- Media Cooperatives Model: The absence of a media cooperatives model was identified as a gap, emphasising the need to strengthen and reinforce such structures for a resilient media landscape
Principles for effective media assistance and GFMD code of conduct:
Principles for effective media assistance
CIMA’s Nick Benequista gave a brief overview of the OECD DAC’s ongoing consultation on draft principles for relevant and effective support to media and the information environment. The principles aim to guide Overseas Development Aid in addressing challenges to public interest media and information environments. The consultation seeks input from various stakeholders, including member states, donors, multilaterals, philanthropic organisations, media houses, and expert organisations, with objectives such as gathering feedback, ensuring inclusivity, building consensus, and identifying concerns and opportunities associated with the proposed principles.
Benequista, who has been leading efforts to gather input from the media development community together with GFMD, gave a brief overview of the process and posed three key questions for consideration by the meeting participants: suggestions for improvement, concerns or red flags, and strategies for implementation.
- Trust and Public Interest: The commitment to partners on the ground was emphasised, as was the lack of trust due to international media not meeting objectivity standards in the eyes of many in the region. The interpretation of concepts like public interest and harm prevention varies, highlighting the need for clarity.
- Needs Assessment: Gaps in needs assessments were identified, and inclusiveness in these assessments was emphasised as foundational. The relationship between donors and civil society institutions needs reformulation, advocating against conditional financing.
- Commitment and Positioning: Participants stressed that current actions by donors and media development will determine the credibility of these principles, urging a change in positioning and consideration of the lives invested in projects.
– Both during and outside of the meeting, several participants expressed dismay at the withdrawal of funds after the October 7 attack:
“We received a great email from one of our donors that basically in three lines ended the partnership that was supposed to be a long term partnership. Saying that they have been disappointed by [name withheld]’s coverage of the war in Gaza. And that the word settlement and settlers have been used indiscriminately.”
– Participant who works for a media organisation in the region
GFMD code of conduct
Maha Taki presented GFMD’s efforts to enhance collaboration among members, focusing on their global charter and the principles to work towards. Discussions included donor accountability, transparency, support for whistle-blowers, and conflict resolution policies.
- Donor Accountability: Lack of accountability mechanisms for donors and international media development staff was highlighted. Participants emphasised the need for mechanisms ensuring fairness, transparency, and support for whistle-blowers.
- Diversity and Inclusivity: Suggestions included inviting and funding small, local organisations to big conferences to ensure a diversity of voices, and ensuring that evaluations of donor-recipient relations are given as much priority as project evaluations.
- Coordination: Better coordination among media development organisations was stressed to avoid duplication, with GFMD urged to facilitate coordination and cooperation.
- Concerns were raised regarding exclusivity within consortia, as it may lead to the exclusion of non-consortia members with essential roles from participating in major projects.
Lessons learned from media support to Beirut port explosion for emergency crisis support for Gaza
Drawing on lessons from the Beirut port explosion response, recommendations for donors and implementing agencies were provided. Suggestions included complementarity of projects, lowering administrative burdens, promoting partnerships, and transparent fund usage.
- Coordination in Crisis: The importance of coordination was highlighted, focusing on what needs to be done rather than who is doing it
- Recommendations for Donors: Ensure complementarity, minimise overlap, and adopt a holistic approach. Flexibility in funding mechanisms was stressed.
- Recommendations for Implementing Agencies: Form partnerships based on skills and mutual respect, share information, and promote multi-stakeholder coalitions
- Local Insight and Flexibility: Local organisations were recognized for being attuned to ground needs, and there was a call for transparent and flexible funding mechanisms.
These discussions underscored the need for collaboration, transparency, and a focus on local needs to enhance media development and crisis response efforts in the MENA region.
GFMD’s regional MENA meeting resulted in a number of significant outcomes:
Funding and emergency resources for journalists in Gaza:
- ARIJ and the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) attended an online meeting of the Journalists in Distress network to brief international actors on the situation and how organisations in the region are responding to the emergency. The Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) has also been introduced to the JiD network so that MADA can assist in referring and verifying cases.
- ARIJ launched a crowdfunding campaign to provide direct emergency assistance to individual Palestinian journalists. The campaign’s objectives span equipment replacement (cameras, laptops, phones, microphones, power banks), ensuring basic necessities like food, winter clothing, tents, mattresses, and covers, and furnishing journalists’ workspaces with essentials, including solar-powered chargers. The target is to secure 100K USD. The campaign page is accessible here. By the end of December 2023, ARIJ managed to help around 100 Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip.
- GFMD also introduced Avaaz – the global campaigning organisation – to ARIJ so that ARIJ could brief them on the situation in Palestine and what aid/funds are at disposal. ARIJ is also now positioned to benefit from the crowdfunding campaign that Avaaz has launched.
Mapping funding and crisis resources
- The MENA region exhibits a diverse landscape of funding resources and needs for media and media development. Each country, from Bahrain to Yemen, tailors its approach to address specific challenges and priorities. Funding initiatives range from short-term programmatic support, such as awards and training programs, to long-term projects funded by international entities like the European Union. The focus varies, encompassing areas like investigative journalism, gender balance, digital transformation, and peacebuilding through media. Collaborations with local partners and organisations are evident, reflecting a commitment to integrated efforts. Despite variations in funding priorities, the overarching goal across the region is to develop a robust and inclusive media environment that addresses local needs and challenges.
- In light of the current crisis, the media development community has created a comprehensive mapping sheet detailing emergency funding and crisis resources for journalists caught in the Israel/Gaza war. This mapping tool, piloted by GFMD in response to the war in Ukraine, can aid journalism support efforts in efficiently directing resources where they are most needed, preventing duplication and wasted resources.
Improved regional communication and verification of social media accounts
- GFMD used dedicated email lists – for the MENA region and for Palestine – to facilitate information sharing and joint action, including collating a spreadsheet of social media accounts of trustworthy independent news organisations in Palestine and neighbouring countries.
- This list was shared with META’s policy team to be added to their “Cross Check” scheme and with TikTok