On the first day of the Fifth Annual Al Jazeera Forum, Wadah Khanfar, Director General of the Network, announced The Al Jazeera Initiative for Internet Freedom. The announcement, which was delivered during a seminar titled “Unplugged – Real Time Media: the Power of Now”, outlined four plans that Al Jazeera will implement to provide information to the widest possible audience while promoting high standards in online journalism.

The Al Jazeera Initiative for Internet Freedom is broken down into four key areas:

1. Free Content
Al Jazeera will provide its content free of charge across a range of digital platforms to allow people around the world access to Al Jazeera content.

“Al Jazeera is proud to announce that we will bring our groundbreaking coverage to the widest audience possible, free of charge,” said Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera Network. “Access to information creates an environment where people are better informed and thereby better able to make decisions that affect their lives.”

Content will be available on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, which are aimed at giving more people access to the Network’s Arabic and English news and programming. Additionally, Al Jazeera is launching an application on the iPad and expanding its presence in mobile communications on the iPhone, Blackberry, Android, and Symbian platforms.

2. Protection of Online Journalists
As part of the The Al Jazeera Initiative for Internet Freedom, Mr. Khanfar also announced a program aimed at supporting the rights of online journalists, bloggers, and other individuals who write and report online.

“There are too many cases of bloggers being persecuted for telling the truth or for voicing their opinions,” said Mr. Khanfar. “As part of The Al Jazeera Initiative for Internet Freedom, we will provide the necessary outlet to assist those who face online censorship and other forms of media oppression. It must be the cause of journalists around the world to defend other journalists and bloggers.”

The program will be part of the Network’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk and will allow individuals who have faced difficulties to bring their case to the attention of Al Jazeera. The Network will run the stories as part of Al Jazeera’s television broadcast.

3. Supporting Marginalized Communities
Also, in line with the Network’s mandate of providing a voice for the voiceless, Al Jazeera announced they will begin a project that will equip people in marginalized communities and remote parts of the world with resources to make themselves heard. This includes providing communications tools to allow people to document their own stories.

“Media tools are often only accessible by those who have the resources and the skills to access new technology,” said Mr. Khanfar. “By providing these tools to cover news, Al Jazeera will be engaging a new generation of journalists and will allow the world to hear from the voices that have traditionally been marginalized in the media.”

4. Training Online Journalists
To support this, the Al Jazeera Training and Development Center will be launching a program to equip people with the necessary skills to cover news and to report from their own communities.
The training program will teach people in marginalized communities how to use new technology and also how to produce high quality reports.

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The “Unplugged” seminar at al Al Jazeera Forum featured a variety of speakers discussing the state of the media industry and the role that new media and online information will play in the future of industry. Speakers included MJ Rosenberg of Media Matters, Joi Ito of Creative Commons, Robin Sloan of Twitter, William May from the U.S. State Department and Juliana Rotich of Ushahidi on topics ranging from “Harnessing The Power of The Real-Time Web” to “Getting Heard Online”.

The Fifth Annual Al Jazeera Forum “The Arab and Muslim World: Alternative Visions” officially begins Sunday 23 May and continue through Monday 24 May in Doha. Speakers include Iyad Allawi, Former Iraqi Prime Minister, Thabo Mbeki, Former President of South Africa, and Robert Fisk, author and correspondent for The Independent newspaper.