Will Lebanese Newspapers Become Extinct?

The ax is falling fast on Lebanese journalists as word of newspapers going fully online or facing shutdown spread this week amid a sea of political, financial and social turmoil in the country.

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Besides sharp drops in advertising revenue, competition from newer local print and online media (not to mention social media and citizen journalists), rising production costs, measly subscriptions, and readers who would rather get their news in snippets on the move, Lebanese media have also been heavily dependent on political patronage and outside funding over the decades.

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

All dailies have online versions but the big question is whether the paper editions would survive.

Newsrooms have failed to keep up with the times. There’s no real integration of key elements of digital multimedia newsgathering, editing, distribution and interactivity or engagement with consumers.

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Editors and publishers exist in bubbles of denial or believe that imitating certain foreign media’s tactics of a race for clicks and unrealistic analytics will help achieve their goals of monetizing online content.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil discussed Lebanese print media’s slippery slope in “Al Safha Al Akheera” (The Last Page), a radio talk show on Voix du Liban, in March 2016.

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Other guests were Ahmad Zeineddine, a media professor at the state-run Lebanese University, as well as Salah Salam, editor of the daily Al Liwa’ (The Banner) and Rabih Haber, publisher of the online news site Lebanon Files

MU Director Discusses Media Ethics, Migrants in AUC Podcast

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke with Arab Media and Society, the magazine of the American University in Cairo, about how the migration crisis has been covered in Lebanese media and beyond, as well as issues of media ethics in the Arab world.

Two recent articles and a report chapter by Abu-Fadil are mentioned in a podcast and can be found here:

Ethical Journalism Network Report.

Huffington Post Blogs – “Lebanon: Media Put Humanity in the Picture as Refugee Crisis Takes Hold.” 

“Moving Stories: International Review of How Media Cover Migration.”

Arab Media Need Work on Professionalism, Ethics: Abu-Fadil

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

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.

Lebanese Freelance Journalists Hanging by a Thread: Abu-Fadil

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

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.

Here is a [PDF] of the article.

MU Director Interviewed on Social Media Ethics

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

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

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.

Deadlines, Competition Shouldn’t Precede Media Ethics: Abu-Fadil

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

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.

Abu-Fadil: Social Media a Double-Edged Sword in Syrian Conflict

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"

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.

MU Director Analyzes U.S. Media’s Gaza Coverage

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)

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.

The comments can be downloaded here [PDF].

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.

The comments can be downloaded here [PDF].

Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide Launch Covered

Lebanese print, broadcast and online media covered presentation of an Arabic-language ethics booklet aimed at netizens in the Middle East/North Africa region.

Maharat coverage

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil launched the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide at a conference in Lebanon in a bid to create awareness about digital freedom and responsibility.

Abu-Fadil edited the guide which journalist/educator Rouba El Helou translated from a similar booklet produced by Andrea Gallo, a student at Louisiana State University.

Annahar article [PDF]

Maharat article [PDF]

“The Endless Battle on Corruption in Media”

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.

1IACAlumnus_Issue 2_2014-1

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.