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What media coverage for the international justice?

BEIRUT, by Louise Wernvik | iloubnan.info - January 22, 2013, 08h24

Winds of change are sweeping through the Arabic states. While there is an ongoing revolution, media is lacking objective reporting that can easily be understood by the audience. Several problems were brought to light on Friday, at an international conference in Beirut adressed the ”Media Coverage of International Justice”.

Journalists and NGOs from all over the world gathered to discuss how to improve reporting on what is going on in the tribunal court. Nabila Hamza, President of Foundation for the Future, said that some Arab citizen didn´t understand the Arab revolution, basically because of bad media reporting. But media itself is not entirely to blame. For instance, Lebanon lacks a law that would allow media to access information.

“This is why we have to shed a light on the purpose of this conference. It´s important to prepare the journalists reporting in this area, because they will play an important role in the changes of society,” Hamza said.

During the conference, different obstacles on reporting on international justice were discussed. A topic that was briefly touched upon was the general assumption among people that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is biased. Therefore, peope have little interest in the proceedings. Kelli Arena, Executive Director for Global Center for Journalism and Democracy, said that even if it was the case, reporting can still be objective and accurate. A journalist simply reports what happens inside the court and whatever protests are heard, must be put into the context.

“There are always politics and allegations of political pressure. It doesn't matter what country you live in. But the fact is that the tribunal exists and once things get underway it will eventually produce a verdict,” Arena told iloubnan.info.

Nerma Jelacic is the Head of Communications at the International Criminal Court for  former Yugoslavia and she has a lot of experience with how people tend to view international justice depending on the context of their society.

"I believe that in polarised or fragmented societies, international courts will always come under accusations of being political or biased. The public opinion with regards to international courts is mainly shaped by the media and politicians. This is why most such attacks come from national media that either push the agenda of a certain party to conflict, or due to lack of understanding of the set up and mandate of the court. This does not mean that international courts should be beyond scrutiny. This is very much needed and required in the system of checks and balances, and the media play an important role," Jelacic said.

Very few Lebanese people know how the international court works. The purpose of the conference was partly to help journalists improve their reporting and help the people understanding the concept of international justice. Although the audience's knowledge of the international court isn´t considered to be very high, there still seems to be a general understanding that its processes are slow and therefore seen as lacking. For example, the investigation led by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon into the assassination of Rafic Hariri, former Lebanon's Prime Minister, is still ongoing, eight years after his death.

Nadim Houry, from Human Rights Watch, said that it´s difficult to get the public to understand what is going on in a tribunal court, because the process of justice takes time which contradicts with the pace of media, always wanting to deliver fast news.

“Fast justice isn´t always good justice,” Houry said.

What journalists put in their writings shapes people´s minds. Beyond the political implication of the STL trial, the way media recounts the events and actions of the international justice, will affect how the court is viewed by the people. The long term effect media reporting will have on society is yet to come. The conference held in Beirut set to inspire on how to not report downwind.
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