Coronavirus: Facebook launches $750,000 fund to support MENA news industry

The social networking giant is also initiating a programme focused on refugee reporting in the region

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Social media giant Facebook is setting up a $750,000 fund to support the Middle East and North Africa's news industry during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the company said on Wednesday.

Facebook Journalism Project - an initiative that collaborates with publishers around the world – will work with the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) to offer a combination of grants and mentorship to local publishers as they navigate the challenges associated with the virus.

“As people turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe, these journalists are affected especially in the current economic crisis,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager for Mena at Facebook.

“We are working with our partners and the industry to understand their needs, which includes support to help continue creative, innovative and impactful storytelling.”

This latest round of funding adds to the ongoing coronavirus-focused initiatives that Facebook has rolled-out across the region in the past few months.

Some of these include release of a third-party fact-checking service in Arabic and a dedicated live display dashboard in Arabic offering people real-time streams of positive Covid-19 posts to reinforce optimism.

The company is also launching a programme focused on refugee reporting, aimed at equipping journalists with the skills, resources and technical support needed to produce compelling reports from the region's refugee camps.

“We aim to equip journalists to produce quality and engaging stories that shine a light on life in refugee camps,” said Sharon Moshavi, senior vice president for new initiatives at ICFJ, a Washington-based non-profit organisation.

With this new grant from the FJP, “we can build on our work together helping newsrooms and publishers in the region at this difficult time”, said Ms Moshavi.

“Our aim is to ensure this vulnerable community (refugees) is not forgotten during this global crisis.”

FJP is also launching a Facebook group in Arabic to build a community of regional journalists who can connect, communicate and share their own tips and articles on how to beat the Covid-19 challenges.

“The aim of creating this group is to become an active forum for journalists to connect and collaborate … sharing information, sources and offering help and support to one another,” the statement said.

In Egypt, Facebook is collaborating with the Kamal Adham Centre for Television and Digital Journalism at the American University in Cairo to address some of the pressing issues and challenges facing journalism during the current pandemic.

FJP said it has already committed $300 million (Dh1.1 billion) to serve journalists around the world through diverse and inclusive news programmes and partnerships.

Since last year, ICFJ and FJP have trained more than 7,500 journalists from 37 countries in the region, to strengthen their reporting skills and build stronger connections with their communities.