From June 6-10, the Thomson Reuters Foundation partnered with the British Embassy in Beirut to train 12 journalists from leading print, online, radio and TV outlets in Lebanon to report on the UK General Election for a Lebanese audience.
Training focused on the role of media in democratic elections and the elements conducive to fair and free elections, including best practices on informing voters about the process, the credibility of election coverage, amplifying people’s voices, balanced coverage of candidates, planning a comprehensive coverage and safety in the field.
Participants experienced a mix of classroom time with reporting in London, interviewing voters, candidates and filing stories for their news outlets in Lebanon every day. Their coverage was acknowledged by a BBC article outlining how the rest of the world reacted to the UK election. One participant reflects on his experience below.
By Nazih Osseiran, Deputy Lebanon Desk Editor - The Daily Star, News Room Assistant - Financial Times
London has changed, or maybe I have in the five years since I left. Back then I was unlucky and was not able to have my student visa renewed; today I was fortunate enough to cover the UK’s general election from its capital, an experience that was enlightening to say the least.
The UK Embassy in Lebanon sponsored me along with 11 other reporters representing Lebanon’s mainstream media outlets. We were given valuable training and insight at the Thomson Reuters Foundation whose impeccable trainers guided us through the reporting process. Even though I have been in this industry for some two years now, it was good to get back to the basics.
Covering the elections themselves was a treat. It was the first time I have witnessed true democracy in action. Sure, the system is far from perfect and has its inherent flaws and is susceptible to manipulation for the interests of the few. But at least people got the chance to go and vote.
They voted based on policy issues that directly concerned them. Some even shifted their lifetime allegiances because they were dissatisfied with their representatives’ performance. Something that as a Lebanese citizen I never expected could happen.
If I am being honest, the sophistication of many British voters sparked more than a little envy in me.
As Lebanese I believe we can learn a thing or two from British voters. In my country the vast majority vote along sectarian lines, as we live in a system that caters to sectarian heads and their respective parties. The rest be damned.
Accountability is almost an absent notion as the electorate continues to vote in the same warlords, feudalists, crooked bankers, and Mafioso strongmen, reproducing the same sectarian political class that has been the single source of all of Lebanon’s woes.
An entire generation has been denied the chance to vote. We had our last elections in 2009 and Parliament has since extended its term twice, with a third extension well on the way.
No one under the age of 30 has ever cast a ballot.
Much as one would tailor a suit, our so-called leaders continue to attempt to tailor the electoral law to fit their narrow and exclusionary interests, thus causing political deadlock. We are on the verge of a constitutional crisis this year if no such agreement is reached, or sticks.
Covering the day to day workings for this system, in addition to reporting on the Syrian civil war, has left me drained.
Or at least I was prior to this trip. Although the hours were long and the deadlines were tight, I found myself excited about work for the first time in a long time.
I delved into the workings of the elections and found a renewed sense of invigoration. I think a lot of it had to do with being based out of Thomson Reuters’ UK Headquarters. The air of professionalism and knowledge seemed to seep into my own demeanor, banishing the frustration and depression that come along with covering Middle Eastern politics. London has changed. I have changed, perhaps to the better.