by Samar Kadi
Women in News held a three-day training on the coverage of general elections as part of its coaching efforts to help young journalists navigate through one of Lebanon’s most controversial and divisive polls.
The multi-faceted sessions conducted on April 19, 20 and 21 at Saint George University in Beirut covered the complex electoral law, challenges that journalists might face and what subjects to focus on including violations, equitable campaign spending, secrecy of ballots, candidates’ background, political agendas and personal protection in case of violence.
Some 14 journalists, who will be covering the upcoming elections on May 15, participated in the training led by veteran journalist and lead trainer Magda Abu-Fadil.
Among the speakers, local TV journalist Jean Nakhoul explained the electoral law; Zeina Khodor of al Jazeera English talked about field challenges in covering elections and Dayana el-Baba from LADE (Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections) presented the work of the local NGO monitoring the polls.
“It will be my first experience in covering general elections,” said participant Rania Obeid, 24, a journalist with Lebanon’s leading “Voice of Lebanon” radio station. “The training gave me a deeper knowledge about matters which I knew superficially. I have a clearer understanding of the electoral law and learned tips on how to deal with challenges on the field. “
“I know that I should be more determined and persistent to get the right information, and to relay the exact facts without fear or intimidation. …I feel we came out with a good luggage,” Obeid added.
Fouad Bou Ghader, a second year university student in journalism and volunteer with LADE, said he appreciated the role play and hand-on exercises given after the morning sessions.
“It made things much clearer, especially the electoral law. The exercise on what to look for in a press conference was specifically useful. It made us think in a critical way and more deeply about the right questions to be asked.”
“The training had an added value and was worth the trip,” said the 19-year-old who had to travel for hours daily from his remote village in the Shouf mountains.
In a country where the media is politicized and elections will be held in the midst of a total economic collapse, journalists should be able to think out of the box and prevent politicians from directing their narratives, according to Khodr.
“They lack the ability to think of stories on their own and miss the bigger picture while they get bogged down in minor details. But I could see that they were interested and engaged. Their faces showed that they were hearing something new,” Khodr said.
On his part, Nakhoul said he enjoyed giving the session on the electoral law.
“I believe it is not surprising that journalists were confused about such a complicated law. But it is important that they understand it and explain it well to the public,” he said.
Lead trainer Abou Fadil underlined that the participants seemed eager to learn and participate in future workshops on a multitude of topics.
“I found that they are in dire need of training in the basics of journalism: sources, quotes, media ethics, fact-checking, news judgment and priorities. The majority need to grasp the notion of working under the pressure of deadlines and being extra careful with sources, notably information they get on social media,” Abou Fadil said.
“Nonetheless, we planted a seed that should germinate with their coverage of the elections, and we should build on that for future workshops,” she added.