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 for Lebanon. Maharat considers that a culture of peace can only be achieved through democracy – which they argue was often violated in Lebanon during times of peace as well as during times of war.
Journalism for peace
One of Maharat’s core programs is ‘peacebuilding journalism.’ The organisation sees a close link between freedom and expression and reconciliation between the parties at conflict in Lebanon. Part of their work also includes peace education, especially among the young people in Lebanon.
In order to promote peace in the country, Maharat trains young journalists and students and provides them with practical skills. Trainings, workshops and seminars are conducted to build capacities of young journalists and journalism students. They produce manuals for students related to investigative and conflict journalism that promote ways in which journalism can lead to increased transparency or “acceptance of the other.”
Whenever Maharat brings students together in workshops where these manuals are introduced, it is understood that the students will largely come from different religious or confessional backgrounds. Being aware of that young people rarely mix in daily life, and as such do not have a clear idea of other cultures, this program is therefore very important to 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 particularr, of the media, in order to contribute to strengthening the culture of peace in the country. Through this, 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 the root of the conflict in Lebanon, Maharat recently 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. It is important to mention here that most media outlets, be it newspapers or TV stations in the country, are affiliated and loyal to particular parties in Lebanon. Having watched the documentary, Maharat engages the student in discussions on the matter in order to encourage unbiased 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 give both sides an understanding on what they expect from the media. One of the principle issues raised was discussions centering around the media’s focus on playing the political parties “blame game” rather than providing the people with comprehensive information on certain matters.
Maharat, having realised that universities primarily provide students with theoretical knowledge concerning journalism, works to contribute to practical capacity building which is intended to contribute to a more democratic, and hence more peaceful, society in Lebanon through the tool of professional and morally correct journalism. No matter the programme launched by Maharat they include as many stakeholders as possible from an early stage, in order to get the programme broadly accepted by the people involved.