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Florence Hainaut (2nd from left) in a discussion panel at the conference. © FPS Foreign affairs
Our embassy in Amman, Jordan, actively participated in a conference that examined the future of traditional media in a region where media freedom is increasingly restricted. Notable attendees were Belgian journalists Florence Hainaut and Guylaine Germain.
Since 1998, the Jordanian NGO Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) has been campaigning for press freedom in Jordan and the Arabic-speaking region, where this is under pressure. CDFJ provides journalists with legal support and protection and advocates for a legal, political and cultural environment in which the media can freely thrive. The NGO also seeks to promote the quality of journalism with human rights and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in mind.
The journalistic landscape has also changed significantly. The rise of social media led to the growing power of influencers and the smoother spread of disinformation and hate speech, while traditional media saw their ad revenue and sales decline. New technologies such as artificial intelligence could also drastically change journalism.
Over 300 participants
This was why CDFJ organised a conference – Future of Media & Communications Forum – in Amman, Jordan, in September 2023 to examine the future of traditional media. The more than 300 participants came not only from the classical and social media (Al Jazeera, New York Times, Meta, etc.), but also from the civil society of the Arabic-speaking region. International organisations such as UNESCO, OECD and Human Rights Watch were also present.
Our embassy in Amman also endorsed this conference, with support from our FPS and Wallonie-Bruxelles International. After all, Belgium upholds human rights, freedom of speech and freedom for the role of the media. With that in mind, our embassy (co-)organised several side events and debates with a focus on female journalists.
Screening of the documentary #Salepute in the ambassador's residence. © FPS Foreign affairs
For instance, our embassy invited Belgian journalist and documentary film-maker Florence Hainaut to speak at a workshop on cyberbullying to about 30 other female journalists. After a presentation of trends – in Europe and in the region – the workshop focused on exchanges, within a safe space, on experiences, consequences, prevention tools and attitudes in light of that global phenomenon.
The screening at the residency of her documentary #SalePute (co-directed with Myriam Leroy) – about cyberbullying of women – led to a fascinating debate. The 80 or so guests included journalists and women's rights advocates from the region, in addition to representatives from other embassies and international organisations. Hadeel Abdel Aziz – a leading human rights activist in Jordan – moderated the discussion.
In her intervention at the conference itself, Hainaut talked about the pernicious tendency that classical media show for chasing hate discourse – which already has the wind in its sails on social media thanks to its algorithms and flawed moderation – in order to increase their readership. She also addressed the risks (female) journalists face when they expose themselves to social media.
Women and marginalised groups
Another Belgian participant was Guylaine Germain. She is the coordinator for the Equality/Diversity programme of the Association of Professional Journalists (AJP), the French-language counterpart to the Flemish Association of Journalists (VVJ). In 2021, she was the winner of the European Young Reporter Award. Germain spoke at the conference about the presence of women and marginalised groups in the media and how the media cover violence against women.
Finally, a round-table discussion was organised on the obstacles to and positive contributions from women in the media. Some 40 Jordanian journalists, women's rights activists and media executives participated. This made for an ideal opportunity for the AJP to present the study results and tools it has developed along with the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, and link these to regional trends.
The expertise of Florence Hainaut and Guylaine Germain resonated strongly with both organisers and participants. Their presence also created some useful and potentially lasting links with experts and activists from the region. The regional press – main target group for the conference – reported extensively on the event and the Belgian contribution.
Our embassy therefore looks back on the conference with satisfaction. After all, it provided an ideal opportunity to show our support for freedom of the media and expression – as well as the battle against gender-based violence – with the necessary visibility.