Truly innovative. This definition applies to all projects that participated in the first call for proposals launched by the Ebticar programme and addressed to online media in the Arab world. From web radios to micro blogging, they all aim to reach out to the most marginalized social actors.
But as usual, the final selection meets with some disappointment. Therefore, we hope that those that have not made it this time, will try it again in January 2015, when the second call for proposals will be issued by Ebticar. In this short report we offer a panorama of the impressive participants.
The Radio Café Tram (www.radiotram.com), based in Alexandria (Egypt) is a clear expression of the new cultural movements that made their appearance in the region in the last decade. Rooted in the wave of optimism linked to the first Egyptian revolution, Radio Café Tram was able to capitalize on both, a quest for information spreading in urban areas, and the richness of the independent Egyptian cultural scene, pre-existing the revolution. This project, offering a free voice to a city frustrated by the overwhelming role played by the capital, Cairo, both at political and civil level, is a small diamond shining for freedom of expression in the increasingly dark Egyptian information scenario.
Radio is one of the most cost-effective and easy to manage media, in particular as a web radio, allowing for eventually bypass censorship and reach out also to the Arabic diaspora. In Morocco, the commercial Hit Radio (www.hitradio.com), the first information channel in the Kingdom, considers airing on the web among its top priorities. According to data by Marocmétrie quoted in the project submitted to Ebticar, 50 per cent of Moroccan citizen listen to foreign satellite channels instead of national media, signalling a growing need for a young and independent local voice. The same considerations apply for another project concerning a web radio, presented by AJJ, Association marocaine des jeunes pour les jeunes (Moroccan Association by Youth for Youth, www.ajjmaroc.com), proposing satirical programs on the web. According to the organization, while the country is experiencing new social dynamics, represented in particular by the 20 February Movement and, in the digital arena, by the explosion of Facebook subscribers, accounting to 4 millions in 2011, and the increasing use of social media for political and civic purposes, the local citizen media have not yet embraced this innovation trend.
Data journalism, crowd sourcing
The good health of digital media in Jordan can be summed up in one word: 7iber (www.7iber.org). A website, but also a truly innovative meeting point, bot at physical and digital level, 7iber can be considered as one of the pioneers in data journalism. The founding group of young artists-engineers develops beautiful info-graphics in Arabic and proposes news reports on issues forgotten by actual news. They have also been able to bring together two worlds that usually are perceived as disconnected: real and virtual communities. The opening of the Café 7iber in the city centre of Amman is an interesting model of self-sustainability and a bridge between the virtual and the real communities born around the media.
Giving visibility to issues neglected by mainstream media in the various Middle Eastern countries, including freedom of expression and minority rights, is also the scope of the project presented by Middle East Youth (www.mideastyouth.com), a popular blog-aggregator. This is an important reference for bloggers, activists, and simple citizen who want to contribute to social change in their respective countries.
War stricken Palestine was represented by a series of projects mainly focusing on media training for young journalists and the need to build a broader and less biased media coverage. Filastiniyat (www.filastiniyat.org) proposed the combination of its own website with its radio addressed at young “filistiniyat” and the women’s news agency Nawa (www.nawa.ps), in order to produce a different kind of information. Press House (www.parbas.org) proposed a cycle of media trainings for journalism students to build a network of non-partisan young reporters to improve media coverage of Palestinian issues. The project presented by MADA, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (www.madacenter.org/index.php?lang=1), based in Ramallah, insisted on the very limited media freedom in Palestine recorded by the last Reporters Without Borders report, where the country is ranked 138th on a global index, confirming the results of MADA’s own researches: for the last year MADA has in fact registered 229 violations of the right to information, 151 by Israeli forces and 78 by various Palestinian political actors.
Another war stricken country, experiencing a dramatic load of human suffering and terrible disinformation campaigns, namely Syria, was represented by two totally different projects, both revealing a widespread need for independent and diverse information about what is going on in the country. On one side, the SMART news agency (www.medialibre.fr), launched in August 2013, aims to replace SANA, the official news agency of the Bachar Al Assad regime, including a newsfeed, a media monitoring and the coverage of actual facts not directly related to war. On the other side, Syrian Dreams (www.ashar3.org) proposed to explore the subconscious of Syrian people during this challenging times. Following May Soyafan’s work on dreams, this impressive project aims at collecting in a website the documentation about dreams and nightmares by Syrians, at the same time teaching children how to “dream with open eyes”.
In Lebanon, projects focused more on transparency in news research and journalistic work. Business News (www.businessnews.com.lb), a website launched in 2011 by InfoPro (www.infopro.com.lb) aims at improving the quality of economic information, a topic that is usually confined in the last pages by mainstream media, while a lack in transparency makes research for economic reporting very difficult.
Maharat, the Lebanese organization for the promotion of freedom of expression, is a pioneering champion in the struggle for a reform of the right to information. In fact, the legal framework in Lebanon does not correspond to the free tone that certain media can have in the region. On Maharat’s website (www.maharatfoundation.org) one can follow up on the different media regulatory laws and read alerts concerning freedom of expression, which are also disseminated in French, English and Arabic by IFEX, the global network defending and promoting free expression.
Naharnet, (www.aharnet.com), the first pure player independent web media in Lebanon, offers real time news in both, English and Arabic, on the Middle East and the rest of the world, privileging information that distinguishes itself from the sectarian logics that often poison the quality of reporting by local media.
Micro-blogging and marginalized groups
The Media 2.0 School is a project aiming at raising the voice of the most marginalized groups in Egyptian society, who face great difficulties in participating in the political and cultural on-going debates, while Interact Egypt (www.interactegypt.me) proposed a quite innovative application, Shoof Cairo, allowing citizen to take and share short videos, in order to progressively populate the web with self-told stories about life in the city. While the Arab Spring put the capital city under the global media spotlight, Shoof Cairo aims at offering an opportunity to people living in the various neighbourhoods to become protagonists, choosing, filming and narrating their own stories.
Among the organizations focusing on the most marginalized social groups, there is also the Alexandria based artists collective Gudran (www.gudran.com/cmcalex), who since many years does an extraordinary cultural work combining art and social support to restore the quality of urban life. Gudran proposed the creation of an online magazine, accompanied by a paper version for those who do not have access to Internet, as a platform for discussing the future development of the city: with 9 millions of inhabitants, Alexandria suffers today of a systematic destruction of its cultural heritage, mainly due to property speculation. The project aims at promoting dialogue among citizen and at the same time increasing their knowledge about the urban treasures that risk disappearing.
Finally, the participatory web platform Zoopolis (www.zoopolis.tv) proposed an original space dedicated to culture in Tunisia, with articles and videos presenting artists and events animating cultural life in the country, a complete and multidisciplinary agenda to culturally update web surfers. Through this project, Zoopolis aims at creating a model of cultural information tailored on Tunisian youth.
Mainly disregarded by politicians, the young generations represent a shared feature of all countries along the Southern shore of the Mediterranean. As this selection by Ebticar clearly shows, they are preparing to get their voices and aspirations heard again, thanks to innovative media managed with growing talent.