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Laying a Foundation for Investigative Reporting in the Palestinian Printed Press

Since the Madrid Conference in 1992 and the Oslo Accords in 1993, new prospects have been set in motion in order to bring peace to the Holy Land and establish an independent Palestinian state based on democratic principles. However, despite accomplishments towards these objectives, serious obstacles have been encountered.

It is important to note that the major decisions and efforts regarding peace and statehood have thus far been based mainly at the level of official decision-makers. Yet for these objectives to be achieved, civil society must be included in the process. An active and cognizant civil society provides the strength and support required for change to succeed. Civil society is the key to providing information and increasing awareness regarding conditions necessitating change; monitoring the implementation of decisions made by the leadership; and contributing a voice that represents the people whose lives and futures are at stake. The contributions introduced by civil society form an intrinsic base of strength and support in securing viable change.

In relation to state building and the democratic process in Palestine, civil society - through a number of non-governmental organizations - has made significant efforts to identify weaknesses and concerns, provide inputs and recommendations, and increase awareness among the public and leadership on a wide range of issues involving democratic reforms focusing in particular on the three main authorities: Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

At the same time, the tremendous activity within civil society towards analyzing and assessing conditions, options and the performance of the leadership has not been reflected in the Palestinian press, a vital component of a working democracy. Referred to in democracies around the world as having the influence of a fourth estate, (protecting the rights of the common man and woman through questioning authorities and keeping the public informed), the press in Palestine has thus far fallen short.

Although the Palestinian press has a certain level of independence and freedom of opinion, it is limited to a large extent. There is a lack of involvement of the press in providing critical information, challenging and questioning authorities, and providing comprehensive coverage and a forum for debate. Palestinian journalists receive little training and lack professional support. In addition, there is presently no legal protection for journalists to freely investigate and report.

This project intends to work with the Palestinian media sector, in particular the printed press, through a high level of cooperation with umbrella institutions both official and from civil society. It targets journalists and editors working in the printed Palestinian press. It will present standards and guidelines for professional journalism, with a particular emphasis on investigative reporting, that need to be incorporated into their daily work. Designed to increase awareness of the press‘ role in state building and the promotion of democracy, this project also lays the foundations for advocacy and drafting legislation for a new press law that will support the freedom of journalists to exercise their right to investigate and deliver news and information to the public.
The project will depend on utilizing the experience of local, Arab and international experts in order to increase the knowledge and perceptions of the target groups and to establish necessary protection for press freedom. Specifically the project will present standards and principles, both legal and technical, necessary to convert the printed press to a real fourth estate that could impact comprehensive rule, reform and democratic development in Palestine.

Project objective:

Increase the capacity of the Palestinian press to provide reports to the public based on investigative journalism that can contribute to reform and democratic development in Palestine. The project outcomes include:

A study analyzing the technical and legal factors. The study involves drafting proper legislation, influencing the capacity of investigative journalism in the Palestinian press, and identifying, publishing and disseminating the areas requiring attention for follow-up.

Standards and guidelines for investigative reporting, according to internationally accepted principles in democratic societies, are discussed and developed by concerned parties through forum meetings, and disseminated to journalists at the targeted newspapers and news agencies.

A pilot program for the professional development of Palestinian print journalists and editors at target newspapers and agencies including the issuance of a manual to serve as a training tool.

Awareness of issues and concerns regarding investigative reporting in the Palestinian press is raised among representatives from relevant organizations involved with journalism, the general public and decision-makers through proper forums.

Issues and recommendations emanating from the study, forum meetings, the professional development program, the taskforce and the workshop are communicated to decision-makers, including legislators.

The project targets Palestinian journalists in the West Bank working in the following mass media institutions:
 
Print journalists and editors working for newspapers and magazines published in Palestine:
- Total number of newspapers, magazines and news agencies: 156
- Total number of working print journalists and editors: 320

Journalists and editors of target newspapers and agencies attending pilot professional development programs.

Total anticipated participants 45, consisting of:

Al-Quds: anticipated participants, 5. 
Al-Ayyam: anticipated participants, 5. 
Al-Hayyat Al-Jadida: anticipated participants, 5. 
Wafa: anticipated participants, 5. 
Jerusalem Times: anticipated participants, 5. 
Others: anticipated participants, 20. 
Representatives of official and civil society relevant institutions: 15.

Project outcomes in the year 2004:

Reports produced by the trainees were published in the main local newspapers.

Formation of a taskforce to follow up the implementation of the different stages of the project. The work of the taskforce included the preparation of questionnaires to survey the present standards of journalistic reports in the Palestinian press.  Respondents included heads and proprietors of Palestinian newspapers, journalists and citizens. The taskforce was made up of the following: 
 
- Jawdat Manna - former lecturer in Mass Media at Beir Zeit University
- Hasan Abdallah - writer and journalist
- Dhiab Khalid Bani Odeh - Al Hayat Al Jadida
- Abeer Barghouthi - Al Hayat Al Jadida
- Mohd Abu Khdeir - Al Quds
- Mohammad Suliman - Ministry of Information
- Nasir Nimer - Journalists‘ Union
- Nafez Bani Odeh - Journalists‘ Union
- Naim Toubassi - Journalists‘ Union

A meeting of pioneers of journalism in Palestine:

- Ahmed Suboh - Deputy Minister of Information
- Jack Khazmo - Editor in Chief at Baiader Journal
- Hafiz Bargouthi - Head Editor at Al Hayat Newspaper
- Hanna Sinniora - Chief Editor at the Jerusalem Post
- Abed Nasr Najjar - Secretary Editor at Al Ayyam Newspaper
- Marwan Abu Zuluf - Chief Editor at Al Quds newspaper
- Nabil Amr - former Minister of Information and one of the founders of Al Hayat Newspaper
- Naim Tubassi - head of the Journalists‘ Union

Producing a paper titled "Guidelines for Palestinian Investigative Reporting" which determined the principles of professional conduct, namely: independence, impartiality, honesty, accountability, service of the community, preciseness, objectivity and fairness.

Issuing a study titled "Investigative Reporting by the Palestinian Printed Press". The study included international standards for investigative reporting, characteristics of written Palestinian investigative reporting, impressions of public opinion, elements influencing the chances of development of news reports and their needs.
Holding a workshop to highlight the issue of producing news reports in Palestinian society, through the contribution and participation of the different concerned components of the community especially the Ministry of Information, the Journalists Union, the Palestinian Legislative Council, intellectuals and journalists.
 
Appointing trainers in the third stage of the project namely:

- Hisham Abdalla
- Nash t Aqtash
- Subhi Hamdan
- Nabhan Khrisha
- Nathir Mjali

Holding a training course (18/09/2004 to 30/10/2004) with the participation of thirty Palestinian journalists. The main components of the course were:

- Four intensive training days on the art and techniques of writing news reports

- Production of reports by the trainees within a period of one month and review of these reports by trainers during the periodic weekly sessions

- Presenting the first draft of the investigative reports prepared by the trainees at a workshop which included a committee of editors from local newspapers. The participants were: Mohammed Nubani, Abdel Naser Najjar, Hafiz Bargouthi, Nathir Mjali.
 
Reports produced by the trainees were published in the main local newspapers.

Issuing the "Palestinian Manual for Investigative Reporting". A workshop in Gaza on 29th December, 2004 on the subject of investigative reporting was held leading to several recommendations which highlighted the importance of news reports and the need to provide protection to journalists.


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