Investigative journalism grows in Arab world despite the odds
29 Nov. 2017

Photo: ARIJ

Amman, Nov. 28 – The 10th Annual Forum for Arab investigative reporters opening at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Friday, 1 December has attracted more than 400 participants from the region and beyond. IMS to launch a new initiative at the conference in support of hard-pressed Yemeni journalists.

The event is a unique networking opportunity for investigative journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa to meet and share experiences, working in the world’s most dangerous region for journalists. The visa rules in Jordan also make it easier for journalists from across the region to join. The conference is by invitation only.

The theme of this years conference is “Investigative Journalism: Battling Fake News”, a cross-border issue of enormous prominence in what by some scholars has been termed the “post-truth era”.

Coinciding with the forum, International Media Support, co-founders of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) network organising the conference, will host a meeting session for Yemeni journalists, including those now living in exile, forced to flee the war to neighboring states, to discuss how best to support journalists in a country facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

“For us the ARIJ Forum is a perfect place to meet with important partners and colleagues,” said Henrik Grunnet, programme advisor from IMS, who is organising media support meetings with Yemeni and Palestinian media partners.

“It is totally impossible for us, as Westerners, for example, to enter Yemen. But because Yemeni editors, media trainers, and journalists have been allowed to travel to attend the ARIJ Forum, we have the perfect venue for making the start-up meeting for what will hopefully be a new era for Yemeni media using new tools to enable their stories to reach Yemenis inside the country as well as the broader international community,” he said. “This would not have been possible had it not been for ARIJ and its Forum that provides a venue for the journalists to gather.”

David Cay Johnston, a renowned investigative reporting journalist in the US and author of the bestselling book “The Making of Donald Trump” will deliver a keynote address at the first plenary session of the Forum.

Other sessions will feature lessons on innovative storytelling, digital investigations, digging out hidden facts online, cross-border investigations, cyber security, tracking dirty money, data journalism and investigating gender issues, miscarriage of justice, and human rights abuses.

The scope of the gathering, the only one of its kind in the Arab world, has prompted seven international media support groups seeking contact with Arab media practitioners, especially those from war-torn countries, to schedule their own media trainings at the venue to coincide with the event from 1 – 3 December.

ARIJ Executive Director Rana Sabbagh thanked the Jordanian government for facilitating the visa process and travel permits for participants coming from “restricted states”.

“Due to the integrity and commitment of brave independent Arab journalists, many trained and funded by ARIJ over the past 11 years, investigative journalism is growing in a region where growing restrictions have stifled free speech and independent media like never before in the last decade,” Sabbagh said.

“Worse, the war in Yemen, Libya and Syria, and instability in Egypt have polarized the media scene, a reflection of the region’s divided societies,” she said. “On top of that came the Gulf crisis with Qatar, turning powerful regional state-run satellite broadcasters into additional sources of fake news, propaganda and cheap lies and strangling whatever is left of independent media trying to give a third story.”

ARIJ is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, IMS and the Danish Arab Partnership Programme, the Foundation for Open Society and the Norwegian and Dutch embassies in Amman. Its 2017 conference partners include Facebook, the Norwegian Institute of Journalism, Ethical Journalism Network, Bellingcat, the International Center for Journalists, WANA-IFRA, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, DW network and the French and German embassies in Amman. Local sponsors are Orange Jordan, Royal Jordanian, and the Jordan-Kuwait Bank.