Arab Newspapers Struggling Under Restrictive Governments

Arab newspapers struggle under some of the world’s most restrictive governments, yet many of them provide high quality editorial content and enjoy commercial viability. How they go about it is the subject of the 3rd Arab Free Press Forum, to be held in Beirut, Lebanon, on 12 and 13 December next.

The Forum, organised by the World Association of Newspapers and the Lebanese An-Nahar daily, will provide an overview of the latest press developments in the Arab world, from obstructive government policies to case studies of newspapers that are succeeding in difficult environments.

The conference, which annually draws hundreds of publishers and editors from across the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region, will also include a session dedicated to Gebran Tueni, the long-standing WAN Board Member and press freedom advocate who was killed by a car bomb in December 2005. WAN and An-Nahar will present the 3rd Gebran Tueni Award to an Arab newspaper executive who embodies the qualities he represented – attachment to freedom of the press, courage, leadership, ambition and high managerial and professional standards.

Previous winners were Michel Hajji Georgiou, a senior political analyst at the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour in Lebanon, and Nadia al-Saqqaf, Editor-in-chief of the Yemen Times.

The award carries a 10,000 Euro scholarship for advance newspaper leadership training. The 3rd Arab Free Press Forum takes the theme, “Opposing Forces: The Independent Arab Press Defies Restrictive Governments”. The sessions include:

“The Business of Newspaper Publishing in the Arab World,” which will focus on challenges facing newspaper publishers in fast changing and rapidly growing Arab media markets. The session will examine new strategies for growth in national newspaper markets, how to become economically viable while upholding editorial independence, and how to increase advertising revenues. The session will feature Hisham Kassem, former CEO of Al-Masry Al-Youm, in Egypt, who is soon to launch a new newspaper, Omar Belhouchet, Publisher of El Watan in Algeria, and other speakers to be announced.

“The Changing Face of Arab Blogging,” which will examine the role of Arab news and political blogs as a politically relevant phenomenon that allows citizens to inform themselves and engage in debates, dialogues and interactions. The session will discuss how blogging is introducing new voices and news ways that news is distributed and issues debated. Speakers include Kizzie Shawkat, a blogger for I Have No Tribe, I’m Sudanese, Sami Ben Gharbia, a blogger for Fikra and Director of Global Voices Advocacy in Tunisia, and Mohammad Al-Abdallah, blogger for I’m Leaving and I’m Not Coming Back, Syria.

“Oblique Government Tactics that Impede a Free Arab Press”, which will focus on the insidious, indirect ways that governments seek to control information. Speakers include Abdel Karim Al-Khaiwani, former Editor-in-Chief of Al-Shoura in Yemen, Mazen Darwich, President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, Ibrahim Issa, Editor-in-Chief of Egypt’s Al-Dostour, and Said Essoulami, Executive Director for the Center for Media Freedom MENA, in Morocco.

“The Appeal and Influence of Pan-Arab News Media,“ which will address the role of prominent pan-Arab newspapers, satellite television channels and their website and how these outlets affect politics, public opinion and the daily lives of people in the region.

The conference’s keynote speech will be made by Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of information and expression. Mr La Rue, who was recently appointed, will speak about the balance between press freedom and respect for culture and religion.

Gavin O’Reilly, Chief Operating Officer of Independent News & Media and President of the World Association of Newspapers, will make the conference’s closing speech.

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