Turkish guild hosts IFAJ Middle East Forum for ag. journalists

Thirty representatives from Middle East countries joined IFAJ leaders earlier this month for at historic three-day meeting in bustling Istanbul, Turkey, to create an IFAJ Middle East agricultural journalists’ network.

The Turkish Guild of Agricultural Journalists and the 6th Food Safety Congress hosted representatives from Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey.

Nestan Mermanishvili from Georgia makes a point during the IFAJ Middle East Forum in Istanbul, while her colleagues Demetre Ergemlidze and Rusudan Gigashvili, and IFAJ President Owen Roberts look on.

They were joined by myself as IFAJ president, and IFAJ global manager Hugh Maynard.

The first part of the gathering was an afternoon-long forum dedicated to discussing participants’ interest in forming an agricultural journalists’ network in the Middle East.

Adel Fakhir from Iraq, Farah Atyyat from Jordan, and IFAJ Global Manager Hugh Maynard, take their seats at the 6th Food Safety Congress which acted as the host event for the IFAJ Middle East Forum.

Participants talked about the role of agricultural journalists in mobilizing knowledge for farmers, governments and society, and about challenges and opportunities they face in their professional lives.

They agreed being part of a regional network of journalists would be a helpful resource. As they noted, food and agriculture transcends most national borders, and many agronomic matters and issues including climate change and farm management are common to farmers across the region.

Participants in the IFAJ Middle East Forum, hosted by the Turkey Guild of Agricultural Journalists and the Food Safety Congress at the Grand Cevahir Hotel in Istanbul on May 2, 2018.

Another common concern was the divide between agriculture and journalism. Participants said many of their colleagues had either a journalism background or an agriculture background, but few had both, which is a familiar situation across the federation globally, too.

Ultimately, they agreed IFAJ should consider creating an online agricultural journalism certificate – as envisioned, containing equal parts of agriculture education and journalism training — that could be accessed by any IFAJ member, including those in the Middle East.

On the second day – which was coincidentally World Press Freedom Day — I joined congress chair Samim Saner, Corporate Scientific Director, Chemistry and Molecular Biology at Mérieux NutriSciences, at the event’s opening press conference where I read the IFAJ statement on freedom of the press. You can see the entire text here.

Ismail Urugal, president of the Turkish Guild of Agricultural Journalists, looks on to the members of the panel on responsibilities of the press in accessing information regarding food safety. To his immediate right are participants from the IFAJ Middle East Forum: Adel Fakhir from Iraq, Farah Atyyat from Jordan, and Aliza Zezak from the Israel Association of Agricultural Journalists, along with IFAJ president Owen Roberts at the podium answering questions.

Afterwards, seven participants from the forum made presentations to the 300 or so congress delegates on the role of agricultural journalists in food safety.

A recurring theme in the presentation topics was the media’s role in communicating sound information about food safety to the public without political interference. One delegate, a nutritionist, expressed concern over the media giving a platform to food quacks, a problem that seems to have no boundaries. I urged delegates to point out bad information to journalists when they see it and make themselves known to journalists, so they know who to call on when they are trying to balance a story.

IFAJ owes a great debt of gratitude to Turkish guild president Ismail Uğural for his determination to host the Middle East forum event. He and other guild leaders worked with the congress organizers and sponsors to make the forum affordable and interesting for participants.

The federation also appreciates the support it received from the Montreal-based World Federation of Science Journalists, which cooperated by suggesting potential participants in Middle East countries that are not IFAJ members.

Over the coming weeks, watch for further news about the forum and statements from participants. The IFAJ Global Office will be following up to maintain communications with participants and support efforts to formalize the Middle East network

IFAJ president Owen Roberts, with Ahmad Kazemi from the Guild-Association of the Agricultural and Food Industry of Iran, during a dinner boat cruise on the Bosporus Strait after the IFAJ Middle East Forum.