By Van Meguerditchian
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
BEIRUT: The Lebanese may be unable to avoid slipping back into sectarian strife, which will be fuelled by the country’s volatile nature and the ability of its people to easily move from “peace” to “war,” a group of activists warned Monday.
At a panel discussion organized by International Training and Conflict Resolution Center (ITCR), journalists were criticized for further infuriating the situation, with the organization calling on them to distance themselves from political bickering and assume the role of “mediators for peace instead of instigators of violence between rivals.”
ITCR president Rouwaida Mroue further emphasized the need to establish a deterrent force formed of journalists and activists to defend children’s and reporters’ rights in conflict zones around the world.
“Training correspondents to become effective in pinpointing violations of human rights is one of the major goals of this year’s work plan,” said Mroue.
Despite the existence of several movements and human rights watch groups in the Arab world, many are being barred from performing their duties, she said.
The case of an independent Palestinian organization, Sharek Youth Forum, which works to contribute to the development of youth development initiatives but has found its offices and youth centers across the strip forcibly shut by government forces, is just one example of this unjustified repression, she added.
According to activists in Gaza, the decision to ban the youth work was ordered on November 30 by the city’s Attorney General Mohammad Abed without any legal justification.
The conference was also utilized to convey Arab anger at Spanish media, widely accused o
f bias in its coverage of the Moroccan Laayoun incident which broke out between the state police and protestors in November and spread through the West Saharan city, causing some 70 deaths.
Mroue condemned the Spanish media’s unethical behavior of showing photos of dead Palestinian children pretending to be shot during the Laayoun incidents. The bloody clashes broke out after Moroccan forces raided a camp housing hundreds of refugees, suspected of collaborating with the banned Polisario Front Movement, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara along with Spanish pro-separatist organizations.
The difficulty of reporting in the region was also discussed at the event by a host of TV journalists.
“The role to portray images of mass killing to the media or to help the victims around you is a really challenging decision,” said discussion panelist and Future TV Gaza correspondent, Hiba Shehade, who spoke of the unfortunate dilemma a journalist faces in an active battle zone.
“But, the true role of a journalist is to photograph and report the facts on the ground regardless of what is going on around you,” said Ziad Mansour, Future TV North Lebanon correspondent.
Mansour also explained that journalists face serious difficulties in Lebanon, especially in times of domestic conflicts, such as the 2007 fighting at Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and the May 2008 events which saw armed clashes overwhelm Beirut. Journalists are constantly being subjected to political pressure while reporting from the scenes of the conflict, he added.
The possibility of reaching region-wide peace, however, was further negated by other speakers, skeptical that the situation would improve in the near future.
“How can we reach peace in the Middle East while there are thousands of displaced refugees for 63 years?” asked civil society activist Bassam Hobeich.
Mroue, who is also the executive director of ITCR, additionally spoke about the problem of child casualties, noting that children are disproportionally affected during conflicts and are being forcibly recruited to join armies and militias across the world.