The potential of the media in contributing towards dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation was discussed at the Unesco ‘World Press Freedom Day’ yesterday with officials from across the world coming together to debate the impact and the desired role of the media in today’s society.
The event was opened by the chairman of the board for the Doha Center for Media Freedom, HE Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani, who said he was delighted that the conference was being held in Qatar, and also referred to the intentions of the Qatari government to adopt a new press law in the near future.
He was followed by the president of the 34th session of the Unesco general conference, George Anastassopoulos, who gave an address on the theme of the forum, stating: “The thoughts and ideas to be shared over the next two days will be of crucial importance to anyone attempting to work for inter-cultural dialogue.”
“Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are two important tools in the fight against ignorance,” he said, adding “public society requires us to defend journalists.”
Assistant director–general for communication and information for Unesco Abdul Waheed Khan then said: “Media in all its forms is essential to fostering dialogue and creating a peaceful environment.”
“This event will show how we can work through the media to share ideas and contribute towards a better world based on peace,” he added.
The keynote speaker for the opening day was the South African journalist Allistair Sparks who expressed his gratitude at the opportunity to speak in a region at “the epicentre of most of the dangerous conflicts affecting the world,” saying that he wants to “show what our profession can do to lessen these conflicts.”
He claimed that journalists currently find it “all to easy to print what suits their best interests,” and said that international media have to adopt a less biased stance when discussing certain conflicts, such as in Lebanon and Israel, where the Western media often demonise Hezbollah and Hamas without presenting both sides of the story.
“This kind of one-eyed journalism must stop.” Speaking to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the event, ex-Guantanamo detainee and head of the Al Jazeera bureau of human rights, Sami al-Haj said that Qatar had changed for the better in terms of freedom of the press.
“I can definitely see a change – this festival being held here, the opening of the Doha Center for Media Freedom and the fact that a new press law is going to be introduced all indicate that things are getting better here,” he argued.
“The one thing I would like to see introduced is an international law to protect journalists all over the world when they are doing their job,” he said, adding “there are too many journalists around the world being killed for their work.”
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