Representatives from across Lebanon’s media landscape were brought together by SAT-7’s Beirut team for three days of workshops and training as part of Lebanon: Our Story, a project funded by the Danish Government that aims to drive social cohesion among young people from different communities in the country.
Hopes for positive change were high among the local media professionals who attended the sessions on issues of social fragility, resilience, and conducting sensitive journalism from 4-6 October.
“Lebanon’s strength lies in its diversity. Because initiatives such as this are happening in Lebanon, there can be a way for members of society and humanity to accept one another,” said Shirine Sakr, a presenter from MTV Lebanon, a major news and entertainment channel, who took part in the training.
Only a week later, a five-hour sectarian gun battle in Beirut, reminiscent of Lebanon’s civil war, showed how important the initiative is. Political and religious divisions in Lebanon still run deep, 31 years after the civil war that has left many scars.
The training sessions, led by experts from Lebanese media, academia, and peacebuilding organisations, opened up a discussion space and encouraged thinking to produce media that contributes to unity, not sectarianism, in Lebanese society.
“My hope from the training is that experts in image and story can help in reconstituting tools that will contribute to reconciliation and peacebuilding in Lebanon,” said Dr Martin Accad, Founder and Director of Action Research Associates and co-leader of one of the sessions.
Along with Dr Tim Byrs, Researcher at Action Research Associates, Dr Accad led a workshop on skills for social cohesion and civic engagement. During this training, participants discussed recent history and the existing narratives carried by Lebanese people since the civil war, which lead to judging of the other. The session stressed the importance of history and memory, and how people’s recollections tend to be discriminative. “People are often not critical of their own story, but of others’. What is important is that we be critical about our story,” said Dr Byrs.
“No one has the full truth about history,” adds Dr Nayla Tabbara, Co-founder and President of Adyan Foundation, a Lebanese NGO promoting citizenship, social responsibility, and Freedom of Religion or Belief. Nayla led a discussion on tackling sensitivities when covering issues related to religion, diversity, and social cohesion. Dr Tabbara, who also ran a session on the Do No Harm principle, said that her hope is that the training helped participants understand how this concept can help society deal with diversity in a healthy manner.
The training also included practical sessions. Journalist and psychologist Milad Hadchiti, the host of several TV series for SAT-7, ran a workshop about sensitive journalism and advocacy to enable participants to develop tools and methods that lead to change. In addition, Marwan Najjar, a scriptwriter, copywriter, and producer, showed participants how concepts of unity and accepting others can be integrated in storytelling and media production to enhance social cohesion in diverse societies.
Other sessions focused on trauma healing and discovering meaning and purpose in order to build resilience and the ability to handle hardships.
The training was part of the media arm of Lebanon: Our Story, a three-year SAT-7 partner project funded by the Danish Government and run with partners, the Danish and Lebanese Bible Societies and the Center for Church-Based Development (CKU). Alongside media activities, the project centres on storytelling clubs and activities that bring together young people from various religious and social backgrounds to create a new narrative of social cohesion and hope for change in Lebanon.