This interview is part of IPI’s series profiling our 10 new Executive Board members

What are the greatest challenges to independent journalism in the Middle East? IPI talked recently with Walid Batrawi, a Palestine-based media and communication expert, with experience across television, radio, print and online media, to learn more. Batrawi was recently elected as a member of IPI’s Executive Board at the 2021 IPI World Congress in Vienna in September. 

Batrawi said that while freedom of expression is under threat everywhere, the risk in the Middle East is especially high, as the countries’ regimes don’t show much respect for it. “Though there were times when we had hope that things would improve in terms of democracy and freedom of expression, especially after the Arab Spring, unfortunately the situation is getting worse”, he said.

The media in Palestine face their own particular challenges. “In Palestine we have a triple burden: the pressure from the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the Israeli occupation”, Batrawi said. “Being a journalist—regardless of your citizenship—is difficult, because politicians put a lot of pressure on journalists when there’s any political slant to a piece.”

Other challenges Batrawi sees in the region are the universal ones of political and financial independence, and competition from “citizen journalists” who use social media and share information that is quite often disinformation or misinformation. He asks of the journalistic community: “Do we want to follow the pattern and move to social media or do we want to keep the independence and fact-checking methods that have characterized journalism for so long?”

IPI’s work has already been making a difference in the region, as Batrawi sees it, because even if they are unable to enforce free speech, IPI’s fact-finding missions are a reminder that there is someone watching. 

When asked what made him optimistic about the future of journalism in this bleak landscape, Batrawi replied: “Journalism itself. It has always been a very strong tool for accountability and communication among nations, which is why, despite all that is happening to journalism around the world, there are still very good models we have seen, most recently the Pandora Papers. This is the key tenet of journalism: accountability to make a better life for everyone around the globe.”

During his term on the IPI Executive Board, Batrawi hopes to help journalists around the world, especially in the region where he lives, voice their issues as they have been voicing those of others. He hopes to leverage his position to start a trauma healing centre, a place where journalists can walk in and get the kind of support they need in those countries where the situation is bad. A traumatized journalist cannot continue to do their work as they would like to.