Can journalistic dialogue improve relations between states? Roundtable held at DOC Vienna

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The 43rd Round Table was held at the Vienna office of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC RI) on 12 February 2017. The special guest was Barbara Trionfi, executive director of the International Press Institute (IPI), who spoke about the mass media, press freedom and the importance of dialogue, as well as IPI’s work in press freedom and how journalistic dialogue can improve relations between states.

Among the participants were the Secretary General of FOREF Europe, Peter Zöhrer, the DOC RI Founder Walter Schwimmer, Gustav Kafka, deputy secretary general of OTIF, Helga Paschinger, of Words of Peace Global, as well as students from the University of Vienna and Sciences Po, France.

The first part of the presentation was dedicated to introducing the IPI and its role in promoting freedom of the press. Founded in 1950, the Institute is an association of media professionals representing leading digital, print and broadcast news outlets in more than 120 countries. Its membership provides the clearest evidence possible of the universality of media freedom and the basic values of journalism.

An example of IPI’s work is its World Congress, the biggest annual event, which provides the opportunity for media professionals from around the world to exchange ideas, experiences and declare joint values and principles. According to Trionfi, this is of high importance, particularly for journalists operating in countries of conflict.

Journalists from such areas are one of the Institute’s major priorities, said the IPI’s executive director. Specifically, cultivating and nurturing dialogue between journalists who come from countries with political tensions/conflict has been part of their efforts for a long time. For example, a round table between Israeli and Palestinian journalists, while surely not solving the crisis, still produced fruitful results in bringing journalists together who may be divided by politics but united in their desire to produce ‘good journalism’.

A glossary of the meaning of certain terms commonly used in journalism and how each one is understood in Palestine and in Israel, respectively, followed from these talks. “Such efforts of dialogue,” Trionfi said, “are necessary and vital for fostering a code of practice among journalists around the world.”

Another one of the IPI’s efforts in the field of global media is generating and consolidating solidarity between but also with journalists. Trionfi shared a story about Turkish journalist Nedim Şener, who spent more than a year in custody on charges that he supported an alleged coup plot. In an open letter, Şener thanked the IPI for acknowledging his journalistic efforts and providing him with a sense of community; a support, which he describes as being his “greatest power” during his time behind bars.

A notable example is the Iranian journalist, Ahmed Zeidabadi – one of the most prominent figures in the pro-Khatami reformist movement. After being arrested, he wrote that through the International Press Institute’s support and honouring, he was saved from suicide. Not being forgotten was what kept him alive.