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WORKSHOP IN LEBANON LAUNCHES REGIONAL MEDIA FREEDOM SUPPORT NETWORK

Journalists and human rights activists working with the Samir Kassir Cultural Foundation in Lebanon launched the SKEyes Centre for Freedom of the Media at a workshop in Beirut last week.

On 16 and 17 June, about 70 journalists, cultural personalities and rights activists attended the event on "Media and Cultural Liberties in the Arab Mashreq." SKEyes has begun to research and monitor media freedom violations in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. The conference also covered issues affecting the region such as the impact of blogs, alternative media and satellite broadcasting, and freedom of cultural and artistic creation.

IFEX members the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Maharat Foundation participated, as well as representatives of the IFEX Clearing House.

Gamal Eid, Executive Director of ANHRI, noted an Internet explosion in the Arab world, with 38 million users, producing opportunities to highlight human rights violations typically censored in the region's mainstream media . He said there are now up to 120,000 blogs in the region, more than ten times the number in 2004. Yet this access also leads to more violations of free expression, with bloggers and Facebook users being jailed in Egypt and elsewhere.

Several participants have been the subject of violations themselves. Mohammad Alabdallah, whose father Ali Al-Abdallah remains jailed in Syria, left Syria after a six-month jail term in 2006. He said the Syrian authorities have more control over the Internet now and have increased monitoring, so that more people are being jailed for what they post. Organiser Mohamad Ali Atassi, also a Syrian activist, said the SKEyes centre plans to help journalists who have been jailed by providing legal assistance and campaigning for their release.

The conference closed with comments on the media's responsibility to remain neutral and objective in the face of conflict, something the Lebanese media struggled with during the violence in May.

SKEyes has begun research into the four target countries, and is developing a library and database, which it plans to launch online. SKEyes is hosted in the offices of the Samir Kassir Cultural Foundation, set up by friends and family of Samir Kassir, a journalist, writer and media freedom activist who was murdered in 2005.

For more information, contact SKEyes at tel: + tel/fax: +961 1 397334 or Email: samirkassirmedia (@) googlemail.com

Visit these links:
- Samir Kassir website: http://samirkassir.net
- "Daily Star" on the conference: http://tinyurl.com/3jmvqn
- "An-Nahar" (article in Arabic): http://tinyurl.com/4j68l2
(24 June 2008)

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