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 training, 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. Other material are dedicated to gender balanced reporting and fact checking training to counter fake news and hate speech.
Whenever Maharat brings students together in these workshops, the students often represent different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Being aware that young people used to 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 in the face of growing sectarianism and racism.
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 training also include the watching of documentaries that display how controversial political events, such as the sectarian clashes of May 2008 and similar incidents in Northern Lebanon, 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, especially towards refugees and marginalized communities.
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 realized 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 highlighting hope, peacebuilding and success stories in local communities.
With the spread of fundamentalism and violence using religions as an excuse for hate, Maharat has organized several workshops and training sessions on how media outlets can help fight terrorism and positively counter violent extremism. 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 sensitive coverage of this global 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.
The United Nations Economic and Social Council granted it in September 2018 a consultant status.
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 the portrayal of refugees and social peace in mainstream media. It also monitors gender equality in media performances. And it publishes annual reports, alerts and studies on the status of freedom of expression in print and online media, in Lebanon and the Arab World, as well as the status of digital rights. Maharat News works on setting academic and practical tools to fight fake news without undermining the freedom of expression. It has become a credible media watchdog and trusted platform for publishing stories from Lebanon and Arab countries with a strong human interest and gender friendly perspective.
Maharat also provides legal assistance for journalists, bloggers and civil activists facing unjust juridical prosecutions, and is an active force in amending outdated media regulations in Lebanon. Its workshops always aim to support and empower new media startups.
To follow the October 17th, 2019 uprising, Maharat News launched an interactive open platform to document the citizens' demands and their tweets