Among the eleven selected projects, lets first of all highlight two of them directly linked with the dramatic conflicts that are ravaging Syria and Palestine, namely New Syrian Voices and VisualizingX.
New Syrian Voices
Media repression imposed in the authoritarian Syrian context and the protracted conflict have led to the development of citizen journalism in the country, the only possibility for producing independent information about the besieged cities and villages. In this situation, New Syrian Voices, the project presented by i2mind, DKB Productions and a group of independent Syrian citizen, aims at capturing Syrian reality through quality reporting – at present disappeared in the information and ideological chaos generated by the Bassar El Assad regime – combining accuracy and innovation in order to also attract the attention of International media. Oussama Chourbaji, founding member of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, and Caroline Donati, French journalist and Middle East expert, have decided to develop a digital tool and web platform to support emerging citizen journalists. Syrie. Journaux Intimes de la Révolution (Syria. Intimate Revolution Journals, available on the Arte Web TV channel syria.arte.tv/accueil/fra), produced with the support of DKB Production, is a web documentary collecting short videos recorded by three young men living in different areas, displayed in chronological order. The project has the ambition to create a replicable model for online information production. The team also proposes the creation of a distance-learning tool, based on Facebook and Skype, to follow up the production by the three protagonists. Oussama Chourbaji acts as link between them and the technical team, in order for the recorded material to cross the borders of Syria. The platform born out of this collaboration is at the same time an area of free expression and a tool for professional growth.
Another project aiming at going beyond distorted information that makes understanding the real situation, particularly in conflict stricken areas, very complicated, is VisualizingX proposed by the NGO Visualizing Impact (www.visualisingimpact.org/), a collective of graphic designers, media experts and web engineers. The group develops creative info-graphics based on concrete and verifiable data to highlight the injustices that so many communities and populations in the Middle East are suffering from. Moving from its existing Visualizing Palestine (www.visualizingpalestine.org) project, the organization’s ambition is to popularize this model at regional and global level, building a network of journalists that will be able to bring complex issues to the attention of the public through impact full info-graphics that can be shared easily over the web, harnessing the potential of social media for positive change. Conceived as a laboratory for innovation at the crossroads between information technology (search engine and database), design and journalism, the tools produced by VisualizingX will be provided in particular to citizen journalists, in order to strengthen the quality of their information production. A partnership with the Egyptian online magazine Mada Masr will also ensure further dissemination of the info-graphics produced.
Mada Masr Super Desk
Mada Masr (www.madamasr.com), celebrating its first birthday, is an online media looking for strategies to consolidate its structure, in particular through synergies with other initiatives, such as VisualizingX. Founded in 2013, when Egypt experienced a dramatic restriction of the recently acquired media freedom, Mada Masr combines three paramount elements to ensure independent information: quality of content, innovative audience building strategies and financial sustainability. The Mada Masr Super Desk project aims at expanding this model and transforming it into a best practice that can be adopted also by other Middle Eastern online media in similar environments.
Direct descendant of a similarly successful initiative, the economic online magazine Maghreb Emergent (www.maghrebemergent.info) founded in 2010, the Radio M project presented by the Interface Media company is aimed at filling the gap of independent information in Algeria. In fact, until 2013, broadcasting media were still a state monopoly. In 2014 a new law has allowed for the establishment of private radio and TV channels, but its application is still lacking behind and the FM frequency is not yet accessible. Meanwhile, Interface Media launched the first Algerian free web radio: Radio M. Four programs are already available: a daily economic feature, a radio talk show on politics directed by journalists, a press review and the weather forecast (in Arabic). Radio M is produced by the same editorial team of the online magazine Maghreb Emergent, and is available through podcast. The Radio M project aims at generating a full daily flow of information and entertainment, while TV broadcasting is planned to begin in 2015.
Creativity is the distinguished feature of two additional projects benefitting from the support of Ebticar: Inkifada and Mashalla News.
The “ink revolution” in Arabic, Inkifada is an online magazine produced by a collective of graphic designers, journalists and web developers. It is a true offspring of the recent Tunisian revolution, having been founded by one of the pillars of Nawaat, one of the few independent information websites that anticipated and backed the uprising of Tunisian civil society in recent years. Despite the more positive outcomes of this movement compared to those in other Northern African countries, the acquisitions in terms of media freedom remain fragile. As the project states, “Freedom in the media environment has surely increased, but the press suffers from a lack of credibility among citizen, and this condition affects also online media”. And moreover, “The need to provide free information and the pervasive scoop and click hunting favour gossip and generate confusion”. Through the support of Ebticar, Inkifada will produce high quality multimedia reports mixing inquiries and analysis, texts, photographs and videos in order to offer a highly interactive navigation experience, including the possibility to comment the articles while reading, and not only at the end.
A multimedia restyling of its content and an increase in interactivity are also the main features of the project presented by Mashalla News (www.mashallanews.com), a Lebanon based online cultural magazine covering the Middle East. Thanks to the passion and resistance of the editorial team, Mashalla News was able to grow with very little financial resources, surfing through the rapidly changing urban environments in both, Maghreb and Mashreq, and offering unusual and vivid stories that revealed a talented group of authors. Thanks to the project, Mashalla News will start collaborating with Knooz Room (www.knoozroom.com) for a multimedia updating of 450 reports published on its website over the last four years. New interactive navigation maps will increase access to these contents, enriched with videos, photographic reportages and audio documentaries, while the organization of a series of live events will facilitate the dialogue with the community growing around the magazine.
Collective Photo Documentary
From photography to video, in particular participatory video, through the active involvement of citizen. This is the trajectory designed by the Collective Photo Documentary, aproject proposed by Frame (www.framebeirut.org) and meant to give visibility to the city of Beirut as perceived and lived by its citizen, amidst growing political instability and mounting restrictions to freedom of expression, which make documenting real life in the country more and more difficult. The Collective Photo Documentary project aims at supporting the expansion of citizen journalism through a web platform that Beirut inhabitants can use to share their pictures and short videos of urban life in the various neighbourhoods, discuss changes under way, stimulate reflection and raise awareness in order to mobilize for collective action, which is still a challenge in a city that remains highly fragmented according to its religious communities.
Tunisie Bondy Blog and Speak Out Tunisia
The strong relationship with the territory where they are rooted is the strongpoint of both, Tunisie Bondy Blog, an offspring of Bondy Blog(1), and Speak Out Tunisia, who have joint forces to participate in the Ebticar call for proposals. With two years of experience each in promoting citizen journalism, they have contributed to build the capacities of more then 100 youth, in particular in the marginalized mining departments and in the region of Kabili, nurturing a generation of dynamic bloggers. The project aims at further recruiting and training young citizen journalists, in order to offer in depth information allowing the Tunisian public to gain a better understanding of the realities of the country. By 2015, a group of 30 additional reporters will be trained, contributing to multiplying the sources of independent quality information in Tunisia.
Information technologies have seen a rapid development in the Arab digital world. It is therefore not surprising that so many organizations have participated in this first call, and that two of the projects selected address the new frontiers of the Internet scenario, open and big data.
ARIJ's Research and Data Desk
Data produced by public bodies, economic institutions, companies, statistics institutes and other legal entities should be available to the public in order to allow for a better understanding of the public sphere that conditions everybody's life. But these are still quite difficult to be collected, given also the lack of clear norms regulating their access. Open data, the data already available, are at the centre of the project proposed by ARIJ, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (www.arij.net), the journalists' network that since 8 years works to promote investigative journalism in the Arab countries. Through the ARIJ's Research and Data Desk, the organization will give birth to a web platform where open data from public registers, cadastres, chambers of commerce, tribunals and other institutions in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region states will be collected, digitalized, and edited in order to make them easy to understand for the general public. Moreover, the project will provide citizen journalists and other media practitioners with technical support to use these data.
Innova Tunisia, an organization specialized in big data referred to the digital media environment, launched a partnership with the Huffington Post Maghreb, namely the Webticar platform. It proposes a series of tools to support investigative journalism online, including data visualization, fact checking, social media monitoring. The kit will be available in the whole Maghreb region, including Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt. Innova Tunisia's web platform will be based on data aggregation technologies and semantic/visual content analysis. The search engine will allow to aggregate content from the plethora of websites, online magazines, blogs and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube...) that populate the digital environment in the Arab countries. It has to be noted that a similar tool in Arabic does not exist so far, despite the fact that Internet access is growing at a fast pace in the region: Tunisia accounts for 4,5 million web users (39,1 % of the population), just behind Morocco (51%), and Facebook registers one of its most rapid growth rates at global level.
In this bubbling and rapidly expanding Internet scenario, the blogosphere is not at rest. Ebticar welcomes therefore Arablog, a project presented by France Médias Monde, the only European organization participating in the Ebticar program, as its main scope is to support local organizations in Arab countries. The initiative is based on a simple assessment: traditional media do not any longer correspond to the information needs of the public in the Arab world, who instead massively accesses social media, which in turn still lack structures and professional capacities to satisfy the quest for quality information. Bloggers, in fact, often lack the very basic knowledge about journalism ethics, including fundamental rules such as fact checking. Arablog will build a network of 150 Arab speaking bloggers, and provide them with online media training in order to improve the quality of their reporting.
The emphasis on professional training and citizen journalisms confirms the strong engagement that all the selected projects share. Babelmed will publish a series of in-depth reports on each of them in the coming weeks.
- Bondy Blog Café was founded in the aftermaths of the uprising in the banlieues (peripheral neighbourhoods) of the Île de France region in 2005, namely in Bondy. It was a pioneer among participatory media in France.
Nathalie Galesne and Cristiana Scoppa
Translation by Cristiana Scoppa