Beirut, November 26, 2021 – The government of the Netherlands and UNESCO today signed a media funding agreement for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon, as part of UNESCO’s flagship initiative Li Beirut. Hans Wesseling, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to UNESCO and Tawfik Jelassi, UNESCO ADG for Communication and Information, signed the agreement at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
Responding to the call for support for the Li Beirut initiative, the Netherlands will provide essential support to the Lebanese media, to ensure access to reliable information by Lebanese voters in the most objective, impartial and accurate manner, for legislative elections currently scheduled for March 2022. Building on UNESCO’s two decades of experience in building the capacity of media sectors during elections, this project will support free, plural and fair elections in Lebanon , in times of political tension, economic and health crisis and disinformation by promoting freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and public access to information.
The funds will be allocated by UNESCO over the coming months to build the capacities and knowledge of key actors involved in the elections in line with international standards and best practices through a series of activities. These will include capacity building of security forces on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, training for journalists to tackle disinformation, hate speech, conflict-sensitive reporting and security, with particular emphasis on the challenges faced by women journalists. In addition, the project will enable the development of databases of experts to help journalists access more diverse and inclusive sources. Particular attention will also be paid to building the capacities of voters, mainly young people, on the subject of media and information education.
“This commitment means a lot to the Netherlands,” said Ambassador Hans Wesseling. “Supporting freedom of expression is essential, but it is important to translate it into support for the media and the safety of journalists, as well as the safety of women journalists. It’s nice to work with an organization like UNESCO that shows you how to walk rather than talk, ”he added, welcoming the work done on the ground by the UNESCO Office in Beirut,“ in very difficult circumstances ”.
For his part, Tawfik Jelassi said: “I am extremely delighted to sign the agreements today, in particular for the benefit of the Li Beirut initiative, to support journalists in the preparation of the elections. The Netherlands has strongly supported the CI sector at UNESCO, which is a pillar of democracy and access to information. We share your values and value the leading role you play. We appreciate your trust and support.
Speaking from Lebanon, Costanza Farina, Director of the UNESCO Beirut Office, thanked the Netherlands for their contribution. “This support is extremely important and strategic for us,” she said. This will allow UNESCO to be at the table of a very important dialogue and debate currently taking place in Beirut with regard to the elections, to ensure that the media will provide access to reliable information and to provide skilled journalists, especially young people using social media. tools in the electoral process ”.
The explosions in Beirut on August 4, 2020 dramatically deepened the political polarization of the city and Lebanon as a whole, as hate speech and disinformation are on the rise. In addition, human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the tactics of the security forces to quell protests, raising concerns about a wider silence of dissent and limiting freedom of expression. The next elections will take place in a context in which many pre-existing issues such as corruption, lack of editorial independence and media polarization still prevail. As UNESCO Beirut has already started monitoring media coverage of the elections and training journalists in fact-checking, balanced coverage and gender-sensitive reporting, the skills and abilities that journalists have acquired through the Netherlands contribution will also have a positive impact beyond the electoral cycle. . The media will be able to apply this new knowledge to other national priorities and continue to investigate and report on the many challenges of Beirut’s reconstruction.
Li Beirut is a flagship international initiative launched from Beirut by the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, in the aftermath of the explosions, on August 27, 2020, to support the rehabilitation of schools, historic heritage buildings, museums, galleries and the creative industry, all of which suffered significant damage in the deadly explosions.