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Ministry of Information: Determined to keep press freedom a top priority because it’s the basis and the end

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05 May 2017
Ministry of Information: Determined to keep press freedom a top priority because it’s the basis and the end
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Regional Office in Beirut (UNESCO Beirut) and Maharat Foundation, in cooperation with the United Nations Information Center in Beirut (UNIC Beirut), organized a roundtable discussion entitled, “Critical minds for critical times: Media’s role in Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies”.

The gathering, held under the auspices of Lebanese Minister of Information Melhem Riachi, began with a welcome statement by Programme Specialist of the Communication and Information sector at UNESCO, George Awad, in which he said that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that is the basis of all other civil rights. Awad emphasized the role of UNESCO in protecting and promoting freedom of expression, saying, "the UNESCO Charter calls on Member States to promote the exchange of knowledge and understanding among peoples through the free circulation of ideas through words or images.”

In a video message on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day that was screened at the event, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation.” He called for an end to all crackdowns against journalists – because a free press advances peace and justice for all.

Maharat Executive Director, Roula Mikhael - for her part – referred to the main challenges confronted by journalists at the national and regional levels. "The freedom of the press cannot be guaranteed as long as the economic crisis prevents the development of an independent media, journalists’ rights are violated while they are performing their duties, and wars in the Arab region expose the lives of journalists and activists to risk”. Makhail said that Maharat Foundation is deploying efforts “to consolidate the media sector in Lebanon by proposing a new media law” and is working with various and diverse partners in the region "to support the establishment of new independent media platforms that contribute to democracy-building and to the promotion of a human rights culture."

Representing Minister Riachi, Andre Qassas praised the efforts made by UNESCO to ensure and promote freedom of the press. Qassas said, “In these difficult and critical times marked by the rise of fanaticism and extremism, there is a need for critical minds, and for raising awareness on the dangers of wars and tragedies and their negative repercussions on stability, not only in our region but also around the world". Qassas added that the Ministry of Information is determined to keep the freedom of the press as a top priority because it is the basis and the end. He went on to say that Minister Riachi has expressed his intention to change the ministry to become the Ministry of Dialogue and Communication, because he believes that “only by dialogue and communication can the barriers among people be broken and the quarrels resolved. This ministry will become a platform that promotes dialogue and communication and builds bridges among people."

The first session of the roundtable focused on "The Role of Media as a Catalyst for Peace and Mutual Understanding", and included statements by the Dean of the Faculty of Information at the Lebanese University, George Sadaqa, and journalist Pierre Abi Saab.

The second session revolved around "Freedom of opinion and expression in the Arab world", with statements from the Director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights Khaled Ibrahim, and the representative of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in Egypt, Karim Abdel Radhi.

The event also witnessed the launch of a Report on Freedom of Opinion and Expression in 13 Arab countries, jointly prepared by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Gulf Center for Human Rights and Maharat Foundation.