“In 2020, people in power in our region, tried more than ever to silence the messengers and block our access to information. They used the pandemic to silence Arab investigative journalists. But we knew that rainbows are never born without sunshine and rain. With the hard work of our team, the passion of our community and the real support of our donors and partners, we managed to organize the largest virtual forum for Arab investigative journalists. 1500+ from 60+ countries attended 50+ live bilingual sessions".

Rawan Damen - ARIJ Director General

Executive summary

The year of 2020 has been ravaged by a series of events that have changed the course of the entire world - the highlight being the deadly Coronavirus pandemic.

Since its start, the rising need for accountable, transparent and fact-checked journalism became very clear. The unprecedented situation has unmasked vast wrongdoings, impromptu decisions of governments and frail health systems worldwide.

With the increasing polarization of the political situation in the region amid COVID-19, the free flow of information has become a necessity more than ever. Authorities have been focusing on coronavirus-related reports, seizing the pandemic as an opportunity to silence journalists and censor content. The Arab countries were not an exception.

Coping with this year’s comprehensive restrictions across all borders, ARIJ continued its 15 years’ journey to raise the capacity of investigative journalists, editors, coaches, media students and professors, but with a digital twist, under the theme; “Connecting the World”. Hosting in ARIJ20 - the 13th annual forum (fully virtual) - 160+ speakers (trainers, coaches and well known investigative journalists) from 40+ different countries. This would have never been possible without the support of more than 50+ partners, many from the EU.

The virtual forum had a larger presence that allowed participants to engage, network, discuss and acquire new skills and knowledge with no visas, travel, economic or social restraints. ARIJ20 has marked ARIJ's largest gathering in its history - having over 3000+ journalists registrants from 60+ countries, with the majority coming from the MENA region. (ARIJ19 last forum had 650+ participants from 30+ countries).

The 1500+ attendees benefited from 50+ live events; from webinars and workshops, to one-on-one clinics, launch sessions, panels and plenary sessions among others. The full agenda can be checked here. The official opening (attended by around 300) took place on December 4, starting with a 7 minutes video on ARIJ2020 achievements. It hosted keynote speakers; Swedsih Ambassador in Jordan, Norwegian Ambassador in Jordan and British Ambassador in Jordan, in addition to Ben Smith - NY Times and Drew Sullivan from OCCRP. It also included music playing on the Qanun instrument. The Awards ceremony, held on December 6, was attended by almost 300 as well. It hosted ARIJ Best investigations awards, in addition to both CFI Health investigations Awards (Media Lab project) and 3oyoun Dutch Embassy Project in-depth reports awards. The keynote speakers were the Dutch Ambassador in Jordan, Kim Ghattas, author/analyst and ARIJ Board member in addition to Carlous Latuff, the Brazliian political cartoonist.

For the first time, ARIJ has also introduced a sign language interpreter for 19 of its sessions and workshops, this step comes in as a way to reach out to a wider audience of media professionals who face hearing difficulties.

Based on the survey following each day of the forum (that extended over four weeks), the cumulative numbers are very encouraging, where 92% of the participants said the forum benefited them a lot. The received testimonials were overwhelming, with very positive feedback, stating that the forum exceeded all expectations in terms of content, speakers, logistics and positive energy. In “ARIJ with You” closed facebook group, discussions continued till late at night throughout the Forum and present.

% Satisfaction rate


Live events

Participants worldwide

This year, ARIJ hosted 160+ renowned editors, investigative journalists and experts in the field from 40+ countries around the world, 79 Arabic speakers from 13 Arab countries, and 83 foreign speakers from 30 countries around the world. More than 1500 people around the world attended ARIJ Forum, and each session hosted more than 190 attendees.

Notable Speakers

See all speakers

Alexandra Rydmark

Swedish Ambassador in Jordan

Barbara Joziasse

Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Bridget Brind

British Ambassador to Jordan

Tone Elisabeth Bækkevold Allers

Norwegian Ambassador to Jordan

Ben Smith

Media Columnist at The New York Times

Carlos Latuff

Political Cartoonist

Drew Sullivan

Co-founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Program (OCCRP)

Kim Ghattas

Previous Board Member of ARIJ and ARIJ’s current Chairperson

Michael Hudson

Senior Editor at International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

Ahmad Obeida

Anchor, Editor and Producer at DW

Ghassan Shihaby

Journalist and Coach with ARIJ


ARIJ reflected the priorities of the Forum theme in sessions and workshops of different topics. In 2020, and in line with the theme “Connecting the World”, ARIJ focused on the impact, challenges and new perspectives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, gender and media, fundraising, mis/disinformation and fact-checking, investigative reporting tools, techniques and safety, among other topics relevant to challenges and sustainability in the media industry. A total of 50+ live bi-lingual events were conducted throughout the Forum with an average live attendance of 190 per session.

Provided below are the sessions with the highest number of attendees:

  • In this hands-on training led by Bridget Gallagher, Founder and Principal at Gallagher Group LLC, and Caroline Jarboe, Development Director at GIJN, participants learned how to navigate the funding landscape, from researching for prospective collaborators, to pitching an organization or a project. It offered practical tips on setting a fundraising mindset, identifying funders, contacting them, writing effective proposals, and best practices to increase the chances of fundraising success in the changing journalism landscape.

    “A strategic approach to major gifts requires thinking about it constantly, trying to advance your work constantly, thinking about what you can do every single day to advance a relationship with a major gift prospect .. to keep them learning about your organisation and work and to keep them invested in your work”

    Bridget Gallagher - Founder and Principal at Gallagher Group LLC

  • This 2-day training session, led by Bellingcat expert Nick Waters and Lighthouse report investigator Bashar Deeb, examined the use of open-sources to investigate and understand the world around us. It focused on real-world case-studies from the Bellingcat Investigative Team, teaching the participants how to use open-source techniques to monitor, verify and investigate events.

    “Open sources can be used in several fields of investigative reporting including conflict zone, environmental research, corruption and financial research, criminal or person-focus research, and historical research”

    Nick Waters, Bellingcat Expert

  • This open discussion session led by the Senior Manager of the Knowledge and Research at Women in News, Dr. Mona Magdy, tackled the status of gender balance in the Arab newsrooms and media content, highlighted major obstacles and looked for possibilities to improve.

    “We won’t reach gender balance unless both men and women fight for it. We have to look at it as a social issue and not a women’s issue.”

    Dr. Mona Magdy, Senior Manager of the Knowledge and Research at WIN

  • This session, led by Madonna Khafaja, MENA lead and media consultant at ICFJ/DWA, targeted the integration of human centered design in journalism as an industry. Journalists explored this mindset that equipped them in how to be creative in finding solutions for the most complicated of problems.

    "Design thinking is a mindset and a mode of thinking, which is not something that you can simply define."

    Madonna Khafaja, MENA lead and media consultant at ICFJ/DWA

  • This session, led by Jerri Eddings, Director of ICFJ Knight Fellowships, and Amr Eleraqi, ICFJ Knight Fellow, present the ARIJ Data Journalism Diploma which took place remotely for 4-months, during which, trainees learned all the skills required for journalists to deal with data, find a data-driven story, and the needed skills for visualizing data. The outcome of these 4-months were presented by ARIJ data journalists, who displayed their successful stories produced under the supervision of ARIJ. The session announced the launch of the second edition of the Data Journalism Diploma.

    "These data stories and the participants' understanding of the data journalism is the reason why ICFJ works with organizations like ARIJ to promote data-driven journalism and other forms of journalism to enhance the credibility of journalistic stories... These stories are really phenomenal."

    Jerri Eddings, Director of ICFJ Knight Fellowships

  • In this session, led by Naji Tamimi, Investigative Producer at Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, who talked about intellectual property rights related to journalism, specifically investigation and documentary production in light of the multi-platform and social media era. It covered an overview of intellectual property rights, the use of archives in documentary production, the use of materials from the Internet and communication platforms, and how to avoid legal issues.

    “We have to respect intellectual property rights for the credibility of our work and investigation, in documentaries especially investigative work credibility is the core element. When credibility is doubted, [your work] will fall like a domino.”

    Naji Tamimi, Investigative Producer at Al Jazeera Investigative Unit,

  • In this session, leading funders of international journalism including IWMF Program Manager, Jin Ding, Senior Program Officer at National Geographic Society, Dustin Renwick, and Director at Alexia Foundation Micheal Davis, discussed candidly what they value the most in proposals, what common mistakes journalists make in their applications, and what funders are looking out for in 2021. They also covered the basics on budgeting, requirements, publishing plans, among others.

    “It starts with the story. We want you to propose an excellent story ... Why does this story matter? Why now? What is its timeliness? … Show us why you are the best person to tackle this story”

    Dustin Renwick, Senior Program Officer at National Geographic Society

  • In this open discussion session, experts from far east in Japan to the far west in the United States shared their experiences and stressed on the significance and strength of cross-border collaborations. The session was led by Mark Hunter, Co-founder of Story-Based Inquiry Associates, Andrew Lehren, Senior Editor at NBC News, Fabiola Torres, Director of Salud Con Lupa, and Yasuomi Sawa, Professor at the Department of Journalism, Senshu University. Speakers shed light on the significance of cross-border collaboration and its imperative role to expand the outreach and impact of available leaks and datasets. They talked about their contributions in the Wikileaks, Panama Papers, FinCEN Files and COVID-19 corruption scandals among many others.

    "All the challenges we are witnessing today go far beyond local sight and local resources. There is no end for the stories and subjects that can be tackled by reporters across borders. Our adversaries are working across borders, so we need multinational coalitions to understand them and there is room for this collaboration."

    Mark Lee Hunter, Co-founder of Story-Based Inquiry Associates

  • CFI’s Chairman of the Management Board, Thierry Vallat, CFI Regional Director, David Hivet, Advisor for Regional Affairs at French Development Agency, Paul Fargues, Journalist at Liberation, Journalist at Female Chimeras, Hala Kodmani, Tala Al Sharif and Head of QARIB Project, Yousef Ahmed joined together to launch the new QARIB regional project. The project, funded by the French Development Agency, seeks to boost social cohesion, promote the integration of communities and women in particular, and encourage public debate in four target countries; Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine.

    “We at AFD strongly believe that media are essential to a healthy and strong civil society,a civil society that can promote and embody change, especially in the MENA region where demands for accountability and transparency from public authorities are very high.”


    Paul Fargues, Advisor for Regional Affairs at French Development Agency

  • This session, led by IMS’ Media Advisor, Henrik Grunnet, the Editor-in-Chief at Danwatch, Jesper Petersen, and ARIJ English Editor, Lara Dihmis, covered possible ways of how Arab journalists can connect with Western media to co-produce investigations and publish stories outside of the region. They introduced Mediabridge platform as the Arab journalists’ access for international media through creating partnerships with western media and co-produce investigations. They also explained how Mediabridge can be a way for Arab Media to create income and get stories with international interest published outside the region.

    “MediaBridge is a digital distribution platform that brings content creators, local media outlets and International media outlets together to cover global issues, it helps local journalists and media outlets get their stories out to an international audience”

    Henrik Grunnet- Media Advisor at IMS

  • This session was led by Catherine Gicheru, ICFJ Knight Fellow, Boyoung Lim, Senior Editor at Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Ides Debruyne, Managing Director at Journalismfund.eu and Ahmed Abdeen, Regional pandemic mentor at Internews. It covered how COVID-10 pandemic challenged journalism in new and complex ways, engaging with stories from Africa, Latin America, Europe and East Asia.

    “It is important to have more collaboration between scientists and journalists and to encourage more scientists to become journalists in order to report on scientific topics to the general public“.

    Ides Debruyne, Managing Director at Journalismfund.eu


The opening ceremony, held on December 4, began with a welcome from the ARIJ Director General, Rawan Damen, and an introduction of Ahmad Abida from Berlin, presenter at DW based who congratulated ARIJ on its achievements amid a challenging year.

“Without you, our supporters who believe in accountability, freedom of speech and the crucial role of investigative journalism, without the daring ARIJeans, without your efforts at this difficult time, the times of the coronavirus, we could not have made it this far. We are here to connect the world.”
Rawan Damen, Director General of ARIJ

"We need your work and your voices [...] Without investigative journalism, a number of important and uncomfortable truths will never be known. Your work is a reminder to decision makers that they are accountable for their actions"
Tone Allers, the Norwegian Ambassador to Jordan

“The courage that [...] many of you show is really day-to-day incredible, and I think a lot of the work that journalists at ARIJ do is really an inspiration to those of us who like to complain but fundamentally work in much easier environments.”
Bridget Brind, the British Ambassador to Jordan

"In the Arab world, the challenges for the media are great and varied. including safety and security of journalists, government restrictions and the economic climate. All of this of course makes the work of ARIJ all the more important."
Ben Smith, Media Columnist at The New York Times

"Global collaboration is really the key to global problems. We'll look back at this and call it the age of autocracy. To fight this kind of network, we really need to have a network. And that's what ARIJ is part of."
Drew Sullivan, Co-founder of OCCRP

The official opening ceremony, attended by around 300 participants, hosted distinguished keynote speakers; Alexandra Rydmark, the Swedsih Ambassador in Jordan, Tone Allers, the Norwegian Ambassador in Jordan and Bridget Brind, the British Ambassador in Jordan, in addition to Ben Smith from NY Times and Drew Sullivan from OCCRP. They highlighted the significance of freedom of expression and its necessity in democratic societies, the importance of diverse media and the exchange of new ideas and innovation to enhance the work of journalism, and the prominent role investigative journalism plays in strengthening accountability and transparency and in combating corruption, human rights violations and abuse of power.

The ceremony also included music playing on the Qanun instrument. It concluded with Rawan Damen presenting ARIJ’s planned activities for 2021, announcing the launch of the Arab Fact-Checkers Network (AFCN), ARIJ Aleph; the Arabic database platform in partnership with OCCRP, ARIJ’s Fellowship programs with NED and ICIJ, and the second edition of the Data Journalism Diploma.

  • Cross-Border is a Necessity | 1st Plenary Session

    Following the opening ceremony, the ARIJean Lebanese investigative journalist and data journalism trainer Saja Mortada moderated the Forum’s first plenary, introducing great contributors and supporters of cross-border investigations; Andrew Lehren, Senior Editor at the NBC News investigative team, Mark Hunter, Co-founder of Story-Based Inquiry Associates, Yasoumi Sawa, Professor at Department of Journalism in Senshu University and Fabiola Torres, Director of Salud con lupa.

    The plenary addressed the significance of cross-border investigations, relating to big collaborative projects of great global impact including the Wikileaks, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Logs, the Diplomatic Cables, Snowden Files, Paradise papers, Implant Files, China Files and to the most recent cross-collaborative work; the FinCEN Files.

    Speakers shared their experiences in working on collaborative cross-border projects. From Andrew’s first experience with Wikileaks all through the most recent FinCEN Files who also had Yasuomi as a great contributor to it, to the COVID-19 corruption scandals by Fabiola.

    Andrew highlighted that the amount of investigative work invested wouldn’t have been possible without reporters from all over the world working together. Meanwhile, Mark advised journalists working on cross-border stories not to limit themselves if they’re not part of an organisation, but to take a step, have a clear idea of the story, create a team of trusted people and have “very specific rules.” He focused on the importance of having exclusive stories in sectors that have not been overcrowded. Lastly, he iterated on having an organized work through designating a project manager, a tech director and an editorial director to coordinate the working process. Yasoumi added to the discussion that local reporters are the best at contributing with the nitty gritties and language barriers of their societies that foreign reporters might find difficulty in.

    10 Years after the Arab Spring: IJ Challenges | 2nd Plenary Session

    On day two of the Forum, the 2nd plenary session, moderated by Gisele Khoury, the President of Samir Kassir Foundation, hosted professionals of the journalism field Diana Moukalled, journalist & documentary producer/director, Ali Ibrahim, Managing Editor & Co Founder, Lyas Hallas, Executive Director of Twala, and Malek Khadhraoui, Executive Director of Inkyfada.

    The plenary session discussed the core challenges investigative journalism faced 10 years on from the Arab spring, after marking its 10th anniversary, in addition to the transformations and turmoil that the region witnessed.

    From Lebanon, Syrican, Tunis and Algeria, speakers shared their experiences and opinions on how the increased governance and judiciary corruption added more restrictions and obstacles to freedom of expression.

    Diana highlighted the evolution and crystallization of investigative journalism throughout the 10 years yet the accountability system is absent due to corrupt governments, referring to the August 8 explosion in Lebanon. As for Syria, Ali explained how his investigative journalism unit explored new ways of working through cross-collaboration despite the different controlling powers within its borders who united on silencing freedom of speech. From Tunis, Malek said there have been a lot of investigative journalism initiatives across the region, but their number one challenge lies in extending the outreach to the mass public and having the capacity to influence, raise awareness and enhance accountability. Meanwhile, Lyas described freedom of expression as deteriorating and the conditions of investigative journalism as terrible in Algeria, especially after the censorship and block of his online platform Twala.

    Open Mic: Your Stories | 3rd Plenary Session

    The third plenary session had a different approach this year. It was dedicated to ARIJean investigative journalists to share their experiences from working on their investigations and reflect on lessons learnt. The interactive session was moderated by journalists; Munsef Mansouri from Libya and Farah Adnan Iraq and hosted journalists of different nationalities from the region to join and share memorable experiences with each other.

    The session displayed a mixture of feelings, from fear and frustration to gratitude and contentment, where one journalist shared the challenging experience of being chased and shot at while another expressed the sense of achievement while working on a cross-border investigation that won an award in ARIJ Forum in 2016.

  • ARIJ20 concluded its first official day with showcasing the work of two highly significant and challenging ARIJ-BBC investigative pieces by two courageous ARIJean reporters. The first is by Egyptian journalist Gehad Abbas, who uncovers how the deal done by the Egyptian government to lend the ancient Egyptian artefacts to a commercial events company may have breached laws designed to protect priceless ancient treasures. The second, by Sudanese journalist Fatih Al Rahman Al Hamdani, sheds light on the violations that children are subjected to in Quran memorization centers, known in Sudan as “the Khalwa,” that are managed by sheikhs and are widely spread all over the country. The night was featured by BBC Presenter and Journalist, Rasha Qandeel, who took the audience on a rigorous journey, unveiling the detailed process of both investigations.


The Awards ceremony, held on December 6, marked ARIJ’s 11th Annual Award. It honored courageous Arab journalists on their bravery in pursuing their investigative journey despite the risks, threats and challenges. The awards acknowledged the integrity, dedication and professionalism of these journalists who took a step to fight corruption and injustice in their societies. They are nonpartisan and independent of any external influences beyond the investigative reports themselves.

This was the first year in which all ARIJ awards categories were not restricted to ARIJeans –– those who have produced investigations in cooperation with ARIJ. The awards honored investigative journalists from all over the region. This year had a different approach in awards categorization, and had one dedicated award tailored to reporting on the unprecedented health crises. Finalists in the 5 categories had their honorary plaques shipped to their countries and handed to them in a surprise mode live at the virtual ceremony in front of journalists, media professionals, distinguished leaders in the field, free media supporters and representatives of regional and international organisations.

The ceremony hosted renowned speakers and supporters of media including Barbara Joziasse, the Dutch Ambassador in Jordan, Kim Ghattas, author/analyst and ARIJ Board member then, chairperson in 2021, in addition to Carlous Latuff, the Brazliian political cartoonist.

The ceremony commenced with ARIJ’s Best investigations awards, in addition to partner awards including CFI Health investigations Awards (Media Lab project) and 3oyoun Dutch Embassy Project in-depth reports awards.

From a total of 143 applications to compete for ARIJ investigative awards, the top 47 stories were shortlisted and endorsed by the Jury committee. After thorough assessment, the jurors shortlisted 10 investigations based on their content, creativity and impact to compete under ARIJ20 four-Awards categories; Gold Award, Silver Award, Bronze Award, and Covid-19 Award.

Jury Members

  • Mustafa Khalili - Digital Documentaries Editor at BBC
  • Ghassan Shihabi - Journalist and Professor at Bahrain University
  • Munir Al Khatib - Editor-in-Chief at ARIJ
  • Hoda Osman - Executive Editor at ARIJ
  • Bissane El-Cheikh - Executive Editor at ARIJ

Finalists and Winners

Gold Award

Best Arab Investigation

“Egypt's Coronavirus Gamble” by ARIJean journalist Ahmad Al Shami was published on BBC Arabic on August 13. The investigation reveals how Egypt has been misusing a coronavirus antibody test to screen air passengers and medical staff for the virus.

Silver Award

Best Arab Investigation

“The Weapon’s Power” (EN) by ARIJean journalist Mahmoud El Wakea was published on DW on September 28. The investigation uncovers the route of Emirates and Turkish weapons into Libya in violation of UN resolutions

Bronze Award I

Best Arab Investigation

“Eternal Hostages” (EN) by ARIJean journalist Wael Sharha was published on March 9 on The New Arab. The report documents how the divergence of legal courts violates the rights of inmates

Bronze Award II

Best Arab Investigation

“Death License” (EN) by ARIJean journalist Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq was published on Al Jazeera on August 13. The investigation uncovers how Mauritian citizens set out on dangerous and often deadly missions to explore and mine for gold

Best Arab Investigation on COVID-19

“Quarantine in Yemen: The Great Escape” (EN) by Mohammed Al Hasani was published on Khoyout, Raseef22 and Al Mushahed on September 26 documents the inhumane conditions and fear of catching the virus

Special Mention for Investigation

“International Ban” by journalist Mohammad Ramadan was published on Masrawy. The investigation documented how the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation was eliminated by the Independent Member Federation Sanctions Panel

ARIJ Partners

Way forward

Despite the unusual situation, ARIJ has latched on to continue its 13th year legacy - the largest and only investigative journalism annual Forum in the region. ARIJ did a real adventure to execute a fully virtual forum over a month; with 50 sessions, all live not recorded, with the infrastructure in the Arab world (electricity and internet), and all ARIJ team working remotely with lock down in Jordan and almost all countries in the world, and despite all challenges that some of them are impossible to fix, the participants made all the effort to be there live and engage very highly.

ARIJ also had a separate platform for networking, virtual exhibition booths and allowing one-to-one virtual talks, via myOnvent platform, that gave a different flavour. The picture in this report - above - is for the hall of this platform, from one side Beirut, Lebanon (Al Roshe rock) and from the other side Habib Bourkaibah Street in Tunis, where the Arab Spring started 10 years ago.

Although the physical factor was missing, and actual networking is not like virtual, the forum has allowed participants from around the Arab region to learn, connect and network in unprecedented ways. For instance, ARIJ20 have seen high participation from Yemen and Palestine, which couldn’t have been possible without the virtual world due to security constraints in travelling from Yemen and Gaza, Palestine for example; being a war zone country, or having security clearance permitted by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior to this large number of Yemeni participants or Palestinians from Gaza. This also extends to journalists from Iraq, Algeria and others.

With all the barriers 2020 has laid upon the world, ARIJ has put its utmost power to culminate its 13th annual event, its largest yet first of its kind in the region, and support a network of journalists, partners, media supporters and professionals it has spent 15 years growing and building. As the health crisis situation remains ambiguous, ARIJ has foreseen the golden opportunity to make the best of both worlds; actual and virtual, and conduct a hybrid Annual Forum for 2021, with a contingency plan to shift to fully virtual if needed.

If you need any information on ARIJ Annual Forum and/or how to support, please reach out to us at info@arij.net