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Maharat Foundation (Arabic for "‘Skills" Foundation) is a specialized organization endeavouring to defend the freedom of opinion and expression. This is achieved by developing the media sector, advocating for legal reforms, building knowledge and awareness, disseminating information and building capacities of diverse social, media, culture and civic actors.
It is composed of a team of Lebanese journalists working to promote and defend free expression in order to build a democratic society in Lebanon. Maharat believes that a culture of peace can only be achieved through democracy, which has often been violated in times of both peace and war in Lebanon.
Journalism for peace
One of Maharat’s core programs is ‘peacebuilding journalism.’ The organisation sees a close link between freedom of expression and reconciliation between the parties at conflict in Lebanon and elsewhere. Part of their work also includes peace education, especially among Lebanese youth.
In order to promote peace, Maharat trains young journalists and students to build their practical skills through trainings, workshops and seminars. The organisation produces manuals for students on investigative and conflict journalism that promote methods of journalism which can increase transparency or acceptance of the other.
Whenever Maharat brings students together in these workshops, the students often represent different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Being aware that young people rarely mix in daily life and as such do not have a clear idea of other cultures, this program is additionally important in reducing prejudices. Through it, Maharat aims to build on the experience of cooperation and coordination between all components of Lebanese civil society, and in particular, of the media, in order to contribute to strengthening the culture of peace in the country.
Young students are provided with a forum that offers the possibility for dialogue, interaction and analysis, regardless of gender, confession, political affiliation or social status. Knowing that Palestinians in Lebanon are often seen as at the root of the past civil war, Maharat has decided to include them also in these workshops. Part of these trainings also include the watching of documentaries that display how controversial political events, such as the clashes of May 2007, are portrayed by different media outlets in Lebanon. Most media outlets, be they newspapers or TV stations in the country, are affiliated with and loyal to particular parties in Lebanon. Maharat also works to reduce the hate inciting speech in mainstream media.
After they watch the documentary, Maharat engages students in discussions that encourage less biased perspectives in their journalistic activities. In another workshop, Maharat brought young journalists together in a meeting with two leading politicians and two media representatives from different parties. The idea behind it was to establish a relationship between the young, upcoming journalists and the representatives to strengthen both sides’ understandings on what they expect from the media. One of the principle issues raised was the media focus on playing the political parties ‘blame game’, instead of providing people with comprehensive information on certain matters.
Maharat, having realised that universities primarily provide students with theoretical knowledge concerning journalism, contributes more of a practical capacity building programs that intend to contribute to a more democratic, and hence more peaceful, society in Lebanon. It cooperates with journalism faculties in local universities and organizes workshops and competitions.
Under this view, young media students are provided with necessary knowledge and tools to produce short films on positive reporting higlighting hope and success stories in local communities.
With the spread of fundemtalism and violence using religions as an excuse, Maharat has organized several workshops and training sessions on how media outlets can help fight terrorism. Journalists and activists from several Arab countries participated. With the growing impact of the refugee crisis in several countries, Maharat contributed in a guideline for a more sensitvie coverage of this humanitarian crisis.
Maharat's achievement made it a leading organization in this field in the Arab World. Journalists from several countries seek its expertise in training. They are encouraged to use free expression principles to follow up the democratization movements in the Arab World.
Maharat News is another Maharat Foundation's growing project. It monitors media and human rights violations and exposes the imprisonment of civil activists in Lebanon and the Arab World. And publishes annual reports, alerts and studies on the status of freedom of expression in print and online media. It has become a credible media watchdog and trusted platform for publishing stories from Lebanon and Arab countries with a strong human interest perspective.
Maharat also provides legal assistance for journalists facing unjust juridical prosecutions.
Last updated: August 2016