Some 400 journalists and media professionals gathered last week in Istanbul for the first International Palestinian Conference for Media and Communications, an unparalleled opportunity for networking, discussion and strategizing.
Organised by the Palestine Media Club, Middle East Monitor, and SETA, delegates came from countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, the U.S and the UK, for two full days of panel sessions, workshops, training, and an exhibition space for media outlets and companies.
The conference provided an opportunity for media professionals working on Palestine to plan new ways of co-operation, and speakers stressed the importance of learning how to engage with a variety of institutions and forums, in order to reach new audiences.
While the harmful role of the pro-Israel lobby in shaping media coverage of Palestine was acknowledged and analysed, speakers – including Britain's Victoria Brittain, formerly of The Guardian – noted how Palestinians and other activists have successfully mobilised to hold mainstream media outlets accountable, and have disseminated alternative narratives and reporting through new websites and social media.
Other speakers included Daud Abdullah, director of Middle East Monitor, Alain Gresh, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, and Clayton Swisher, manager of Investigative Journalism for the Al-Jazeera Media Network. Also appearing over the two days was AKP Deputy Leader and Chair of External Relations, Yasin Aktay.
Significant voices from the Arab world were also present, such as Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Rai al-Youm, Mohammad Misfer, professor of Political Science at the University of Qatar, and Fahmi Huwaidi, Egyptian writer and analyst.
Huwaidi, writing after the event, described the gathering as "one of the rare occasions that Palestine was the topic of a conference rather than a marginal or traditional issue added to a broader conference agenda. The organisers clearly did not intend simply to tick a box, get peace of mind or seek political relevance; believe it or not, participants spent two entire days talking about the Palestinian cause".
According to the organisers, the conference was held to address the growing need to find a framework for joint communication, coordination and interaction between media outlets in order to better serve the Palestinian cause. It was felt that such an initiative was timely, due to attempts to exclude Palestine from the media spotlight, as well as its marginalisation in some quarters due to regional events.
At the end of the conference, the organisers issued a concluding statement which, as well as highlighting the injustices and violations committed against Palestinian journalists by the Israeli authorities, announced the launch of the International Palestine Media Award to encourage excellent media coverage and creative artistic production that serves the Palestinian cause, as well as the establishment of the Palestinian Film Centre, to document, promote and distribute Palestinian films, and a new fund to support youth media initiatives.
The closing statement also included a call for media organisations to support Palestinian media organisations and journalists in the development of their skills and abilities in order to improve the role that they play, and stressed the importance of activating and participating in the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People and dedicating this day to promoting the rights of Palestinians in the international media.
The organisers expressed their hope that the Istanbul gathering would be the first of many such events, and called for the creation of channels of communication which serve the rights of the Palestinians in various languages.