Arab media have made progress but some still need work to overcome issues of journalistic professionalism and ethics, Magda Abu-Fadil told Dubai TV in May 2015.
“We see too many examples of unethical behavior in broadcast outlets, online and in print,” the Media Unlimited director said during an interview at the Arab Media Forum.
Magda Abu-Fadil interviewed by Dubai TV
Given the highly charged environment in several Arab countries, media have been reflecting the political and sectarian splits by fanning the flames through sedition, unsubstantiated news reporting and slander, she added.
She also noted that schools of communication and journalism should do a better job of equipping their students for the ever-changing job market by providing them with flexible skills and not just focus primarily on outdated theories or research that have little practical application.
Freelance journalists, notably in Lebanon, face countless difficulties, not least of which are steady assignments, benefits and proper protection in conflict zones.
“Print, broadcast, online and multimedia news organizations in Lebanon are cutting down on field crews for various reasons, notably economic shrinkage and reduced administrative budgets, in addition to political pressures making freelancers more attractive and cheaper than their full-time counterparts,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.
Old fashioned freelancer
Media prefer such an arrangement to avoid paying social security, transportation expenses, medical costs, education benefits, life insurance and end-of-service indemnities, she told Al Modon.
As media increasingly employ contractual reporters, photojournalists and multimedia journalists to cover events, there are a growing number of journalism school graduates every year facing a tight job market and low salaries.
Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil weighed in on a hot ethics topic following a Twitter slugfest during which a journalist and an activist carried on battling during a Lebanese TV talk show.
Journalist Ghadi Francis in a controversial tweet described the Syrian city of Douma as “meshwiyyeh” (Arabic for grilled or barbequed) by barrel bombs dropped on it that kill untold numbers of civilians.
Screen shot of Twitter shouting match over Douma
When her label struck a raw nerve with opponents of the Syrian regime that’s accused of using these weapons, Francis then tweeted “if grilled doesn’t cut it, then it’s ‘maslouqa’ (boiled).”
That prompted activist Sara Assaf to lunge back: “This is what idiotic @ghadifrancis, a ‘journalist’ at @OTVLebanon had to say about #Douma massacre. WLEK TFOUUU (I spit on you).
Enter Paula Yacoubian, host of the political talk show “Inter-Views” on Lebanon’s Future TV, who, also in a tweet, invited both women to further expound on the matter on her program in February 2015.
Asked if there were guidelines to follow in social media under pressures of war and conflict, Abu-Fadil replied: “There are standards. While we have freedom to express ourselves through social media, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a sense of responsibility.”
Paula Yacoubian Inter-Views Magda Abu-Fadil on social media ethics
Abu-Fadil also referred to the five core values of journalism, expounded by Ethical Journalism Network director Aidan White in a video: as accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability.
She argued that they apply equally to bloggers, activists and non-journalists using social media.
“What we’re seeing a lot on social media are reflexive answers, where someone tweets something and another person replies reflexively, with no consideration for critical thinking,” she said.
Abu-Fadil added that one has to stop and think about the repercussions of tweets and whether they could cause harm.
“What’s this incredible accomplishment of contributing to hate speech? It’s disgraceful. We’ve reached a level of unprecedented degeneration,” she noted.
Use and abuse of social media has become the “new battleground” in conflict coverage with Gaza being a recent example.
“A click is often faster than legwork to obtain information and shape it into good story form,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil. “I believe the same rules apply to social media as legacy media in terms of coverage and good journalism, albeit in more condensed form and at greater speed: accuracy, balance, fairness, ethics.”
She discussed the implications in “Information wars: how journalists navigated social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
Screen shot of WAN-IFRA’s Information Wars
Read more from Abu-Fadil on emotions, comments, images and videos used by warring factions via social media in a blogpost by Lucy Dean. A [PDF] version is available here.
How is the Syrian war playing out on social media? Are reports by citizen journalists and activists credible?
Is it “the most socially mediated civil conflict in history” and can we agree with a study’s conclusion that “social media have revolutionized the way that the world has understood the Syrian conflict?”
Screen shot of Syria’s “Twitter Jihad”
According to Magda Abu-Fadil, social media are a double-edged sword.
“[Social media] help provide vital information that traditional media have been unable to obtain, but they also have misused it to disseminate disinformation,” says Abu-Fadil, a veteran journalist in the region. “One has to take it on a case-by–case basis.”
Read more from Media Unlimited’s director on media ethics, propaganda, information verification, photos and videos in “Syria’s ‘Twitter Jihad’: Social media is hardly immune from the fog of war,’ an article in Global Journalist. A [PDF] version is available here.
America’s NBC News buckled under pressure when it pulled correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza after he tweeted about witnessing Israel’s killing of four boys on a beach, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya English.
Ayman Mohyeldin (NBC-Al Arabiya)
She said the Arab-American Mohyeldin, who was later reassigned to cover Gaza, acted professionally and that his reporting of the conflict pitting Israel against mostly unarmed civilians in the besieged and densely-populated strip accurately reflected events on the ground.
In earlier remarks also to Al Arabiya English, Abu-Fadil scrutinized the New York Times’ coverage of the war on Gaza saying she was surprised to learn the paper had been attacked for being anti-Israel.
She cautioned that media evaluation requires sustained monitoring and that lone tweets or occasional op-eds don’t determine a newspaper’s slant.
Lebanese journalists face hardships in accessing information, with legal checks and outside pressures barring them from conducting proper investigations into corruption, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.
“Laws often trip up journalists as their interpretation or misapplication hamper serious investigations and the uncovering of wrongdoing,” she told the International Anti-Corruption Academy’s “IACAlumnus” magazine.
But, she noted, that if a dedicated journalist is intent on covering corruption issues, he/she can do so at his/her own peril.
“The Endless Battle on Corruption in Media,” an article in the magazine by Rouba El Helou, focuses on issues like the mixture of politics, religion and economics that lead to corruption in media and undermine journalists.
“Revealing the truth in corruption stories helps protect citizens from further harm, sets a good example as to what ethical behavior ought to be, and acts as a deterrent to potential criminals,” Abu-Fadil said.
A tectonic shift has occurred for media coverage in Syria with information gathering and dissemination evolving from assigning correspondents to the conflict to relying on citizen journalists and content from social media.
“We’re being bombarded with messages from every direction at breakneck speed, the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.
Syria’s civil war plays out on social media: AP
She told The Associated Press that as the conflict became more dangerous, legacy news organizations have had to turn to non-traditional means to fill their pages, air time and websites.
This has meant publishing and broadcasting text, photos and videos from ordinary citizens, activists, warriors and anybody with a mobile device, Internet connection or functioning telephone line.