Middle East Media Conference: Towards Peace

15-17 July 1994, Umut Foundation Headquarters, Ankara

Sponsored by the Umut Foundation / Ankara; Ibn-Khaldoun Center / Cairo; Search for Common Ground / Washington, D.C.; Tami Steinmetz Center / Tel Aviv; and World Media / Paris, this working meeting brought together key Middle Eastern journalists to discuss the shifting parameters and assumptions that define and shape coverage of their region as it moves toward peace. Present were 32 participants, including Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Palestinian and Turkish reporters, along with international experts.

Initially, there was widespread skepticism about formal cooperation and joint ventures, but all present seemed to endorse increasing professional interaction and improving understanding across national boundaries. Said a Turkish participant, "We need to concentrate on those aspects that make the others into human beings."

The fact that electronic media have penetrated almost everywhere today and have, therefore, enabled Middle Eastern journalists to be more independent and freer of censorship than ever, led the participants to be optimistic about the future. However, at the same time, it was indicated that commercial presuure is replacing governmental constraints as a threat to independent journalism. Such pressure ranges from owners limiting coverage of certain subjects to increased trivilization and sensationalization of the news in order to increase ratings and to sell newspapers.

In view of the above, there was a consensus within the group that the following steps should be taken :

1. Middle Eastern newspapers should publish regular columns and articles from other countries. When publication is not possible or desired, dey articles should be translated and distributed among participants.

2. The sponsors should convene additional, more specialized meetings. Target groups would include Middle Eastern publishers, executive editorsi and electronic media executives.

3. The sponsors should create a directory of the regional media professionals.

4. The sponsors should organize a committee of regional journalists to oversee the process started at this meeting.