In Palestine, there is a gap between civil society and media, so the international NGO, Internews, partnered with Palestinian technology startup, Souktel, to create Palestine’s first open digital media platform in 2017. The program called, Supporting Civic Engagement and National Dialogue through Independent Palestinian Media has a two-pronged plan to catalyze political engagement of local CSOs, journalists, and citizens to protect the rights of women, the disabled, and children. By combining a series of journalistic and technical workshops that teach the skills needed to create higher quality reports with an open digital media platform to reach a wider audience, CSO’s and journalists can start a dialogue between citizens and the government to promote civic engagement and government accountability.
The initiative focuses on five topics: labor rights abuse, violating the rights of the disabled, spoiled food, violations of the rights of children in kindergarten, and drugs abuse among Palestinian youth. There are active laws in place to minimize the issues listed, but the government has not been enforcing these laws nor protecting its at risk citizens. This program seeks to give journalists and civil society organizations the tools needed to create practical change in issues that affect every day people. By offering an open digital platform to share information and journalistic training for independent reporters, journalists will be better equipped to advocate for at risk citizens and to promote accountability in the Palestinian government.
- The key to maximizing participation is minimizing the number of required workshops.
- Finding issues that affect Palestinians on the local level.
- Reaching out to journalists in their local areas to minimize barriers to entry
- Teach tangible journalistic and technological skills in workshops to maximize immediate civic impact
Free flow of information is a crucial part of democratic promotion. If citizens are not informed, then they cannot advocate for political change and government accountability to protect its citizens. Raja Tutunji, the project director of Supporting Civic Engagement and National Dialogue through Independent Palestinian Media in Ramallah, wrote, “there is a big gap between the civil society sector and media due to different reasons such as lack of coordination, lack of trust, and conflict at certain areas.” This lack of communication has led to a vacuum of information that is necessary for civil society organizations and journalists to properly advocate for government officials to enforce the laws set in place to protect people, and in particular, women, the people with disabilities, and children. In recent years, Palestinian government has not enforced several of its laws designed to help the most vulnerable in its society. Internews’ program focuses on five key issues of government oversight:
Under the Palestinian Labor Law No. 7 of 2000, a minimum wage of 1450 NIS was set for all workers, yet this standard is not enforced, especially for female workers. According to Aisha Homodda, the director of Women’s Department at the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, nearly 64,000 female workers do not receive minimum wage. The problem is that there are not enough Ministry of Labor inspectors to enforce the law and many women have been exploited by business owners who refuse to pay them minimum wage.
Disabled workers have been mistreated and excluded from the workplace. Palestinian law requires businesses and organizations to hire disabled workers at a rate of 5% of their workforce. However, this metric has not been met and nearly 76% of those with disabilities are unemployed. Those with disabilities that do have jobs only make up 1% of the Palestinian Nation Authority’s Institutions workforce. Even with programs in place to help disabled workers receive relevant education to prepare them to enter the labor market, the government has not made the effort to enforce businesses to follow labor laws and hire qualified disabled workers.
In the West Bank, drug production and trafficking has increased and become a far more prominent public health issue especially among Palestinian youth because not only are more drugs being produced, more dangerous drugs like heroin are gaining popularity. Even with stricter drug laws, the severity of the drug epidemic has been compounded by the lack of dialogue about the dangers of drug use and options for drug users to seek rehabilitation.
Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the quality of life for Palestinian children has declined. Malnutrition, poverty, and subpar preschool education has afflicted thousands of Palestinian kindergarteners. According to the Association for Childhood Education International, “the quality of kindergartens is inadequate, as most teachers are untrained and unqualified.” The schools lack sufficient funds for qualified teachers, equipment, and safety standards to maintain an environment for children to safely learn in.
The Palestinian government has had major issues enforcing basic food quality standards because they aren’t able to prevent local store owners from selling spoiled food. The Consumer Protection Department, with only 70 agents, does not have enough manpower to monitor the food supply chain and ensure local foods meet the standards of the Consumer Protection Act No. 21 of 2005. The department has lacked accountability and hence failed to fulfill many of its duties that protect consumers such as responding to consumer complaints and promoting campaigns to warn consumers about buying spoiled food.
Supporting Civic Engagement and National Dialogue through Independent Palestinian Media was created by the international NGO, Internews and was funded by the Middle East Partnership. Internews partnered with the Palestinian technology company, Souktel, create an open digital platform. The leading local organizations that partnered with Internews and Souktel include: the NGO, the Civic Forum Institute, Taghyeer, the Palestinian nonviolent moment, and the Palestinian Media Policy and Resource Center. Together, these organizations brought together 100 civil society organizations and 60 journalists to participate in a series of workshops. These journalists and CSOs then worked with local radio stations, television stations, and media outlets.
Internews received its grant for the Supporting Civic Engagement and National Dialogue through Independent Palestinian Media in May of 2014 from the Middle East Partnership. Internews’ two-pronged approach focused on teaching journalists and CSOs the skills needed to create higher quality, fact-based reports while also creating a platform for journalists to get important information to the Palestinian people.
In February 2017, Internews and Souktel officially launched Palestine’s first open digital media hub. The hub allows journalists to post blogs that advocate for government intervene in the five key issues and to alert citizens of their rights. Internews project director in Ramallah, Ruba Aburoqtti, wrote the release of the hub was delayed due to several issues such as, “technical problems, layout, friendly usage, server hosting, and testing of the platform.” Now that the hub is live, it offers journalists the ability to post and share information that promotes citizen awareness and government accountability.
The most intensive aspect of the program was operating the workshops for CSOs and journalists. By focusing on promoting advocate for local issues that affect women, people with disabilities, and children, Internews convinced 60 journalists from different media outlets and 100 CSOs to participate in workshops twice a month for two-years. The training sessions focused on providing journalists modern skills needed to reach a wider audience. These sessions taught journalist about media verification, community journalism, social media, digital security, and technical skills. The workshops were broken into 30 focus group meetings and training sessions. The group selected the three main topics: women, youth, and children. They also created five sub-topics to focus on. Specifically, labor rights violations, employment opportunities for those with disabilities, rights and safety violations of kindergartners, and youth drug abuse. Project director Raja Tutunji wrote in an email that these issues were selected because they were, “basic issues touching directly the citizens lives and due to fact that there are valid governmental laws under each of these sub-topics.”
In August of 2017, the program evolved, and Internews implemented seven sub-grants to the CSOs and journalists to catalyze law activation. These groups are coordinating daily through Facebook groups, emails, and meetings to implement the initiatives. The groups used, “awareness workshops, site visits, radio/TV episodes, written media reports, radio spots, short videos, signing petitions, and printed material,” to reach political decision makers and inform citizens of their rights.
The main challenge faced during this project was how to get journalists and CSOs to participate in a two-year long series of workshops and training sessions. Media employers had to be convinced that the skills and knowledge learned in the workshops would be more beneficial than the costs of them miss work days. This problem was solved by not requiring journalists to travel far to get to the workshops. The logistical challenge of creating groups that fit the CSOs’ mandates, the sub-topic, the location of the journalists to best reach and influence the targeted group of citizens was difficult but, when done right, made the program far more effective. Another major challenge was vetting CSOs and journalists to make sure they had proper clearance to participate in the project.
Throughout the initiative, project managers learned was to minimize the barriers to entry for journalists and CSOs by streamlining as much as they could to reduce the number of workshops that had to be attended and thus lowered the cost of participating. Another key was to focus the topics on issues that affected local Palestinians on a daily basis. Finally, to maximize the utility of the workshops, project leaders made sure to teach journalists skills that could be used every day to create higher quality reports and reach a wider audience.
Internews’ Supporting Civic Engagement and National Dialogue through Independent Palestinian Media set out to give CSOs and journalists the skills and platform to foster productive civic engagement to hold the Palestinian government accountable and to protect its most vulnerable citizens. The workshops taught journalists skills necessary to create higher quality, fact-based articles that inform citizens of their rights and to raise public awareness. Although, some of the data is still be collected on the effectiveness of this program, Raja Tutunji wrote, “all the initiatives succeeded in reaching the decision makers and key players under each sub-topic to introduce their work and also succeeded in raising the awareness of direct targeted beneficiaries about their rights.” The creation of the digital media hub combined with a wide range of media outreach initiatives successfully informed citizens of their rights and also alerted government officials that they will be held accountable. In addition to reaching all intended parties, the journalism training workshops helped journalists create better content. Monthly media monitoring conducted by Internews revealed that more than 50% of journalists integrated the skills they learned in the workshops into their reports. Overall, the program succeeded in raising journalists’ quality of work and raising civic engagement to promote government accountability.