The two-year project is supported by the United Nations Development Programme. Each workshop is designed to help journalists cover Lebanon’s progress in improving human development. This latest edition focused on environmental issues, particularly marine pollution.
Participants were divided into three groups for field trips along the Mediterranean coast. One group went to Ouzai, a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and the other two went to the Christian towns of Jiye and Zouk, respectively 30km south and 13km northeast of the capital.
Jiye was the victim of an ecological disaster in 2006, when 15 000 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea after Israeli aircraft bombed an electric power plant.
In Jiye and Ouzai, journalists interviewed fishermen whose livelihood is threatened by pollution from the dumping of untreated sewage and solid waste into the sea They also interviewed municipal officials and a diver who has studied the deterioration of the seabed.
The group that went to Zouk, went twice and interviewed the residents about emissions from a power plant running on oil and an aluminum plant. Both facilities are being studied as part of European projects on environmental issues in Lebanon.
One interviewee, Elie Mubarak, who runs a repair shop for mobile phones, said it was ironic that the inhabitants of Zouk, who breathe air polluted by the power plant, must also endure power outages. “We should have electricity 26 hours a day.”
The public is also concerned over plans to build a cement factory in the area. Mayor Cherbel Mereb said he wanted a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikrati for several months without success.
“Our newspapers say things are not going well in Dahy“, said another resident, referring to a district in Beirut, reputed to be headquarters of the Hezbollah Shiite movement. “But it’s the same here.”
The next step for the “Media for Development” program will be a return trip for the journalists to Jiye, Ouzai, and Zouk in the early months of 2012 to talk with people about their work.
In a workshop conducted this past spring, the teams combined members from different media and different backgrounds. The workshop brought together reporters, editors, and cameramen from newspapers, radio, and television representing different religious and political communitites. They were accompanied by four trainers from AFP and its partner Canal France International.
In late November, the local representative of the UNDP organized a one day seminar so participants could meet with environmentalists and other experts to prepare the December workshop.
This project was carried out with financial support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Fondation Chirac.