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Independent Palestinian Journalists Attend Common Ground Media Training In Washington, DC
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Independent Palestinian Journalists Attend Common Ground Media Training In Washington, DC

At the end of May, 2005 Search for Common Ground (SFCG) hosted a weeklong Common Ground Media training for 13 young journalists from Palestine. Their itinerary included meetings with experienced and respected American journalists. The overall objective of the training was to strengthen a free and independent Palestinian media, in support of a functioning democratic and civil society. This visit was possible because of the relationship that SFCG has built with Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza over the past decade.

Since 2002, SFCG's Middle East Media Program has helped to support the development of the Ma'an Network, which consists of 11 independent TV and radio stations and production studios located in major cities in the West Bank and Gaza. The Ma'an Network is dedicated to promoting democracy and freedom of thought in Palestine. SFCG has provided a series of Common Ground Media trainings to strengthen journalists' capacity to take civic responsibility for their reporting by communicating objectively and reducing inflammatory broadcasts.

The connections forged during the week had a major impact on the participants. The emotional high points were visits to ABC's studios for a meeting with Ted Koppel, and to WAMU FM to observe a broadcast followed by a conversation with popular radio host Diane Rehm. Both media celebrities spoke openly about their careers, the professional difficulties they've faced, the challenges of working in the American media system and the choices they make as journalists every day. The participants were touched by the humility and openness of Koppel, Rehm and the other American journalists they met at the Washington Post, National Public Radio and the National Press Club.

Afterwards Diane Rehm said, "I greatly enjoyed meeting these bright and inquisitive journalists. It is through their work that peace and understanding may one day flourish in the Middle East. Talking to them reinforced my belief in the positive power of good journalism and the important role that Common Ground plays in the search for cooperative solutions."

SFCG Middle East Media Project Director, Geoffrey Weichselbaum, who accompanied the journalists throughout the week, expressed his conviction that the visit had a powerful impact on the journalists.

The visit concluded with an invitation to attend a reception with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Washington to meet with President Bush.

As a result of the experience, Linda Bannourah, an anchor and journalist from Bethlehem TV, said she has a better sense of how to tell the Palestinian story. She is working on a very sensitive investigative report about honor killing1, which she has been planning to do for two years. Linda said that meeting with Ted Koppel and Diane Rehm helped give her the confidence to report on this difficult subject. She hopes that her report will help encourage people to start talking publicly about honor killings and to question the practice.

Bassam Nasser, Program Coordinator at the Gaza Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution, spoke about the importance of independent media for Palestinian society. He noted that Palestine is in a process of change and is facing many challenges, especially in exposing more sensitive cultural issues. He stressed that part of the mission as independent journalists is to help their society by talking about difficult topics. He believes that media can influence public opinion on certain issues, and can help with democratization and raising public awareness about the political, cultural and social development of the country and their society.

The participants formed close personal bonds that will encourage greater cooperation, despite the difficult geographic reality they face in working together. Before they returned home, the journalists spoke about their renewed sense of commitment to being catalysts for positive change in Palestine.

1Honor killing is the practice of males killing their female relatives or spouses when the female relative or spouse is considered to have damaged the family honor through unwarranted sexual activity. (Wikipedia, 2005)

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