Maharat Foundation (Arabic for ‘Skills Foundation’) is composed of a team of Lebanese journalists working to promote and defend free expression in order to build a democratic society in Lebanon. Maharat believes that a culture of peace can only be achieved through democracy – which they argue has often been violated in times of both peace and war in Lebanon.
Journalism for peace
One of Maharat’s core programs is ‘peacebuilding journalism.’ The organisation sees a close link between freedom of expression and reconciliation between the parties at conflict in Lebanon. Part of their work also includes peace education, especially among Lebanese youth.
In order to promote peace, Maharat trains young journalists and students to build their practical skills through trainings, workshops and seminars. The organisation produces manuals for students on investigative and conflict journalism that promote methods of journalism which can increase transparency or ‘acceptance of the other.’
Whenever Maharat brings students together in these workshops, the students often represent different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Being aware that young people rarely mix in daily life and as such do not have a clear idea of other cultures, this program is additionally important in reducing prejudices.
Through this program, Maharat aims to build on the experience of cooperation and coordination between all components of Lebanese civil society, and in particular, of the media, in order to contribute to strengthening the culture of peace in the country. Young students are provided with a forum that offers the possibility for dialogue, interaction and analysis, regardless of gender, confession, political affiliation or social status.
Knowing that Palestinians in Lebanon are often seen as at the root of the conflict, Maharat has decided to include them also in these workshops.
Part of these trainings also include the watching of documentaries that display how controversial political events, such as the clashes of May 2007, are portrayed by different media outlets in Lebanon. Most media outlets, be it newspapers or TV stations in the country, are affiliated and loyal to particular parties in Lebanon. After they watch the documentary, Maharat engages students in discussions that encourage less biased perspectives in their journalistic activities.
In another past training, Maharat brought young journalists together in a meeting with two leading politicians and two media representatives from different parties. The idea behind it was to establish a relationship between the young, upcoming journalists and the representatives to strengthen both sides’ understandings on what they expect from the media. One of the principle issues raised was the media focus on playing the political parties ‘blame game’, instead of providing the people with comprehensive information on certain matters.
Maharat, having realised that universities primarily provide students with theoretical knowledge concerning journalism, contributes more of a practical capacity building programmethat intends to contribute to a more democratic, and hence more peaceful, society in Lebanon. No matter the programme launched by Maharat, as many stakeholders as possible are included from an early stage in order to achieve broader programme acceptance by all people involved.