MIL to Mitigate Violent Extremism

Experts met at United Nations headquarters to discuss how best to mitigate violent extremism and incorporate their findings into viable educational frameworks against a backdrop of mounting xenophobia, hate speech, and a deficit in critical thinking.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

The February 2017 New York forum, co-organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) Media and Information Literacy program and the United Nations Academic Impact’s (UNAI) Unlearning Intolerance program, was themed “Media and Information Literacy: Educational Strategies for the Prevention of Violent Extremism.”

Jordi Torrent, UNAOC's Media Literacy Education Project Manager, UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Jordi Torrent, UNAOC’s Media Literacy Education Project Manager, UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil was part of the event with a presentation featuring case studies of positive initiatives from the Middle East and North Africa region that succeeded in mitigating violent extremism through engagement with youth.

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses UNAOC conference in New York

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses UNAOC conference in New York

She also highlighted examples of sedition, hate speech and xenophobia that are increasingly being disseminated via social media.

Her presentation is available in her Huffington Post contribution and LinkedIn blogpost.

The forum saw the Americas’ launch of the recently published “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” for which Abu-Fadil was the lead editor and a co-author.

Presentation of MENA MIL book co-edited-co-authored by Abu-Fadil (UNAOC photo)

Presentation of MENA MIL book co-edited, co-authored by Abu-Fadil (UNAOC photo)

The book was co-published by UNAOC, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Nordic Documentation Center for Mass Communication Research (NORDICOM).

Abu-Fadil stressed the crucial need for media and information literacy (MIL) worldwide as well as the necessity for news and religion literacy to combat today’s toxic environment.

Regina de Assis, former Secretary of Education, Ministry of Education, Brazil (UNAOC photo)

Regina de Assis, former Secretary of Education, Ministry of Education, Brazil (UNAOC photo)

She’s been trying to create awareness on the subject in the Middle East and North Africa region for decades.

In 1999, a colleague from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and Abu-Fadil designed a cross-cultural media project.

In 2007, she presented a paper for a UNESCO world literacy conference in Doha, Qatar entitled “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

Guy Berger, UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

These are just two of the many articles, chapters in books and blogposts she’s published. She’s written, spoken, and trained extensively on the subject.

#SpreadNoHate Brussels Confab Strikes Timely Note

News of a U.S. travel ban on citizens from mostly Muslim countries, revved-up populist rhetoric and anti-migrant/refugee campaigns snowballed as an international symposium tagged #SpreadNoHate offered an opposing scenario with recommendations to fight the venom.

“When one minority comes under attack, everyone’s freedom is at stake,” said Federica Mogherini to a symposium in Brussels in January 2017 hours before the travel ban took effect. “When people are discriminated (against) because they look different, it’s not only a violation of their human rights, but an attack against the very fabric of our societies.”

Federica Mogherini's video message on hate speech

Federica Mogherini’s video message on hate speech

Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, told conferees in a video message that the rise of hate speech was a global phenomenon requiring global awareness and local mobilization.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil moderated the first session and asked if media and information literacy could mitigate the damage of hate speech and if so, how?

Magda Abu-Fadil (center) moderates #SpreadNoHate panel

Magda Abu-Fadil (center) moderates #SpreadNoHate panel

She also stirred the debate pot by wondering whether governments, Internet service providers, and social media should control the message, if legacy media should be restrained in what they publish once offensive content has gone viral on social media, and, who else was to blame for fanning the flames of populism.

The event organized by the European Union External Action and United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) focused on hate speech against migrants and refugees in the media and grouped experts, journalists, academics, government officials and members of NGOs from across the globe.

Hate speech debated at Brussels symposium

Hate speech debated at Brussels symposium

“Hate speech is a violation of freedom of expression,” noted Cécile Kyenge, a member of the European Parliament and a former minister of integration in Italy, adding that that freedom was a pillar of all democratic societies.

MEP Cécile Kyenge (courtesy Virginie van Elbmt)

MEP Cécile Kyenge (courtesy Virginie van Elbmt)

Kyenge, an ophthalmologist who was born in the Congo, has experienced racism and hate speech first hand. A former government minister called her an orangutan and detractors tossed bananas at her while on a podium to speak, according media reports.

Spread No Hate publications

Spread No Hate publications

The UNAOC symposium was organized within the framework of its #SpreadNoHate initiative given the rising rhetoric of hate speech and incitement against migrants and refugees across Europe and elsewhere.

The daylong event’s themes were: media and the rise of populism; triggers and mechanisms of hate speech against migrants and refugees; improving the quality of media coverage about migrants and refugees; promoting ethical journalism; strengthening partnerships between media and civil society to promote balanced narratives; and providing recommendations on next steps to sustain the initiative.

MU Director on Arab Media Coverage of Migrants, Refugees at Brussels Press Club

Arab media’s coverage of the migrant/refugee crisis has seesawed from humane to atrocious, with Lebanon providing case studies of how ethical reporting hasn’t always been a priority.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke at the Brussels Press Club on the need for better training of journalists who cover this expanding beat, and for other stakeholders to learn how to communicate effectively about the issue.

MU director talks on Lebanese media coverage of migrants, refugees

MU director talks on Lebanese media coverage of migrants, refugees

“Policymakers have to understand the news cycle,” and newsworthiness, and not flood already over-stretched journalists with jargon-filled releases and irrelevant material, she said at the event dubbed Towards a Balanced Narrative on Migration in the Mediterranean.

Asked how to handle viral hate speech in the media, Abu-Fadil replied: “Let’s not give too much airtime to lunatics.’

The one-day symposium in January 2017 organized by Euromed Migration IV, a program funded by the European Union and led by the EU Commission’s Directorate General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, grouped some 100 policymakers and experts.

Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and has provided shelter for countless migrants from Africa, was on hand to launch the “Migration Media Award.”

Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella announcing Migration Media Award launch

Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella announcing Migration Media Award launch

The event also saw the release of preliminary findings of the Ethical Journalism Network’s (EJN) 17-country study on migration in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Abu-Fadil wrote the report’s Lebanon chapter.

EJN’s draft migration and media report

EJN’s draft migration and media report

EJN director Aidan White presented initial findings and recommendations of the report commissioned by the International Center for Migration Policy Development.

EJN Director Aidan White

EJN Director Aidan White

The study reveals how journalism in the countries surveyed is a distorting lens: a magnifying glass…exposing inhumanity and corruption in the way migrants are treated, and following an agenda triggering discrimination and hate to compound the suffering of migration victims.

Media, migration report at Brussels Press Club

Media, migration report at Brussels Press Club

 

MU Director on Female Internet Radicalization at UNESCO Quebec Meet

Why do young people, including girls and women, turn radical and what role does the Internet play in their radicalization?

A question Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil tried to answer in the workshop “Gender Perspectives and the Process of Radicalization” at the UNESCO conference “Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living Together“ in Quebec, Canada in November 2016.

Abu-Fadil on female Internet radicalization

Abu-Fadil on female Internet radicalization

She referred to research by Lebanese sociologist Mona Fayyad who said high crime rates in crowded urban areas, notably poverty belts surrounding major cities, often go undetected by social monitoring and supervision, leading to an increased possibility of crimes and violence alongside a collapse of traditional structures.

Fayyad focused on Syrian refugees and migrants in Lebanon and their exposure to untold horrors and injustices possibly leading to deviant behavior. Lebanon hosts upwards of 1.5 million Syrian refugees and migrants who escaped the war in their country, depending on whose figures one believes.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon may add to security threat

Syrian refugees in Lebanon may add to security threat

According to women experts on a BBC Arabic TV show, many of the recruits fighting in Arab countries come from abroad. While home grown female jihadists in Iraq exist, for example, many others hail from Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Europe and Russia.

One researcher said women recruits exhibited character weakness, a proclivity to violence, a need for escape (from their reality), and were in search of alternatives.

Sadly, authorities in many countries treat the symptom, not the cause, of radicalization, Abu-Fadil said.

What draws women and girls to extremist organizations? Females join ISIS ranks to follow boyfriends, husbands, siblings or other family members.

Female jihadists duped

Female jihadists duped

In most cases, it’s under the false pretense of a better, holier and more exciting life. To their horror, they discover it’s all a hoax.

Among the non-Muslim-majority countries, Russia, France, and Germany supply the largest numbers of ISIS’ foreign workforce, a World Bank study said.

Recommendations on tackling female radicalization

Recommendations on tackling female radicalization

A writeup of Abu-Fadil’s presentation is available here.

Abu-Fadil Edits/Co-Authors Media & Information Literacy Book

Do Middle East/North Africa (MENA) consumers and producers of media in all their permutations and across countless platforms fully comprehend what they’re doing and how they fit in the larger scheme of things?

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil traced her trajectory into the realm of media and information literacy (MIL) in Lebanon dating back to 1999 in a virtual cross-cultural academic and journalistic experiment with a professor and his students from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

MENA MIL book (Abu-Fadil)

Abu-Fadil has contributed various chapters to books and has written articles on the subject, all of which were summarized and compiled in a chapter in the English/Arabic book “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” published by the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth & Media at Nordicom, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, with support from UNESCO and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations).

Abu-Fadil (center) and international experts launch MENA MIL book in Amman

Abu-Fadil (center) and international experts launch MENA MIL book in Amman

In the introduction to the book, Abu-Fadil also wrote:

There has never been a more propitious time than the present to promote, teach, and engage with media and information literacy (MIL) in all its permutations across the Middle East/North Africa region, notably the Arab states that are undergoing tectonic changes.

The very notion of MIL is nascent in most of the countries surveyed herein and the application of programs falling under the MIL umbrella varies from almost non-existent to relatively dynamic, albeit on a limited scale. 

That is due, in great measure, to the variety of educational systems across the Arab world, although there is also common ground in that the top-down imparting of information (not always knowledge) has been the rule rather than the exception and can still be seen in schools and universities. 

Critical thinking has yet to take root across the board. There are examples of educational institutions where it has been encouraged but various factors come into play in its application.

Abu-Fadil is the lead editor of this reference and a key co-author. She helped launch the book in Amman, Jordan in October 2016.

MU Director on Journo Safety, Disinformation & Freedom of Expression at Helsinki WPFD

Too many journalists are victims of violence and impunity and more should be done in academia to prepare media students for the perils they’re likely to face.

“I urge all faculty members here to incorporate a course on safety for journalists in their curricula,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told academics and media experts in Helsinki. “It’s not a luxury, it’s an urgent necessity.”

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Abu-Fadil was addressing the UNESCO Research Conference on Safety of Journalists in connection with World Press Freedom Day in May 2016 the Finnish capital.

According to UNESCO, one journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty and the impunity of such acts is unabated.

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

Unlike the issues of journalism and freedom of expression, journalists’ safety has not been a very popular topic of academic research. It has rarely been discussed as a specific research question, much less in practical courses.

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development 

“Press freedom depends on safety,” noted Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the opening of a parallel research conference, adding that 95% of attacks on media staffers are never resolved.

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists' safety

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists’ safety

Abu-Fadil participated in another session on new frontiers in disinformation and the use of propaganda.

Panelists discussed various aspects of media’s misleading messages, hate speech, phony photographs and visuals, manipulation by terrorist groups, and, the proliferation of news websites as a counterforce to government-controlled media and corporate monopolies.

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

This year’s WPFD coincided with the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Law in Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden at the time.

The “Freedom of the Press Act 1776” passed by Sweden’s parliament abolished preventive censorship and made political debate – including criticism of the country’s rulers – permissible. But religious texts remained subject to prior censorship.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights - Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

“We need governments to be accountable and transparent,” said CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and chair of a plenary session entitled “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”.

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil took part in “Promoting Freedom of Expression: A Public Seminar on UNESCO’s Impact in the Arab Region.”

The session focused on the importance of freedom of expression for sustainable development, democratic governance, and intercultural dialogue, notably in post-conflict environments.

The three-day conference, including off-site activities, was packed with sessions focusing on media coverage of the refugee crisis, artistic freedom, whistleblowers and source protection, hate speech and ethics, gender issues, and freedom of information.

The conference culminated in the Finlandia Declaration on Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.

Arab Universities Must Include Journalists’ Safety Course in Media Programs

A course on safety for journalists is a must and Arab universities should incorporate it in their media programs, experts said at a two-day UNESCO conference in Beirut.

UNESCO’s safety guide for journalists

UNESCO’s safety guide for journalists

“News organizations should train journalists and insist on safety measures and the use of proper equipment,” said Yazbeck Wehbe, a veteran of LBCI TV News who also teaches journalism at several Lebanese universities.

Academics from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman went over a draft of a semester-long course to be taught as one required unit, as an elective, or, from which they can select components to incorporate in other relevant media courses.

Magda Abu-Fadil (3rd from right) at Beirut conference on safety for journalists course in college curricula

Magda Abu-Fadil (3rd from right) at Beirut conference on safety for journalists course in college curricula 

Speakers included a security expert as well as four noted Lebanese journalists – two who work locally and two whose international track record in covering conflict zones is legend.

The course syllabus includes an overview and raison d’etre for safety as well as content on planning and personal safety, risk assessment, travel security, health and health care in hostile environments, demonstrations (and riots), natural disasters, gender safety, digital security, ethics, international humanitarian law, and safe investigative reporting.

Patrick Baz (a/k/a “Boom Boom” Baz), a world-renowned photojournalist whose career is linked to Agence France-Presse (AFP), offered valuable insights on how he covered some of the hottest spots in the Arab world and what lingering impact it’s had on him.

International photojournalist Patrick Baz in Fallujah, Iraq

International photojournalist Patrick Baz in Fallujah, Iraq

The February 2016 event was a follow-up to last year’s launch in Jordan of the initiative in collaboration with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It dovetailed with the goals of the “U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.”

“Being a correspondent is going to places and sometimes bearing witness to war crimes,” said Samia Nakhoul, a Reuters veteran and Middle East editor who was seriously injured and almost died when U.S. tanks lobbed shells into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad where foreign media were based during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al Jadeed TV Vice Chair Karma Khayat, IFJ President Jim Boumelha and Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul

Al Jadeed TV Vice Chair Karma Khayat, IFJ President Jim Boumelha and Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul

The Beirut gathering came 10 days after UNESCO held a conference on “News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals” at its Paris headquarters that drew some 300 international media leaders focused on safeguarding their staffers and ending impunity for attacks against them.

The course will undergo revision before being made available to all Arab universities and the public at large.

IFJ publications on journalists' casualties and safety

IFJ publications on journalists’ casualties and safety

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, one of the experts involved in creating this course, moderated sessions at the Beirut conference. 

MU Director Talks on Lebanese Media Hate Speech at Cairo Seminar

Lebanese media mirror the country’s political, economic, and social ambiance, to the detriment of accuracy, fairness and balance in many instances, Magda Abu-Fadil told a Cairo seminar in November 2015.

Moroccan Professor Mohamed Allali and Magda Abu-Fadil at hate speech seminar at AUC

Moroccan Professor Mohamed Allali and Magda Abu-Fadil at AUC hate speech seminar 

The Media Unlimited director listed a number of adjectives, descriptions, stereotypes and ethnic or sectarian slurs that often creep into the public sphere and translate into hate speech, augmented by biased media coverage, she said.

Participants at Cairo hate speech and ethics seminar

Participants at Cairo hate speech and ethics seminar

It’s also common for politicians from opposing factions to engage in mudslinging through the media, although laws and regulations, not to mention basic media ethics, should act as a deterrent, she added.

Conferees discuss the role of press councils

Conferees discuss the role of press councils

The two-day seminar, held at the American University in Cairo, was a collaborative effort by the Ethical Journalism Network, the Norwegian Institute of Journalism, the Egyptian Editors Association and the Egypt Media Development Program 

Seminar group

Seminar group

The seminar dealt with the definition of hate speech, how to counter hate speech, case studies from the participants’ respective countries, group discussions with prominent media personalities, and efforts to establish a regional center for hate speech monitoring.

It grouped participants from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Britain, and the United States and is a follow-up to an earlier event in Beirut in 2014.

 

Abu-Fadil Featured at Aljazeera Center for Studies Roundtable

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke on the rising impact of social media on traditional journalism and how ethics can balance it out at a Qatar gathering of experts.

She focused on Lebanon as a case study in the Arab world in the wake of neighboring revolutions, conflicts and the country’s own internal problems.

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

The October 2015 event grouped researchers from Aljazeera’s Center for Studies.

Abu-Fadil shed light on how news operations had morphed in recent years to cater to how news is consumed today as well as to the changing definition of journalism.

Participants also discussed the rising impact of platforms such as the all-news/current events channel and site Aljazeera Plus on the future of news.

MU Director Lectures/Trains on Social Media, Ethical Implications

How credible are social media, are they reliable sources of information, and should journalists use them for their coverage?

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil raised these three and other pertinent questions in an address to mass communications students and faculty members at Qatar University in October.

Magda Abu-Fadil lectures on social media and ethics at Qatar University

Magda Abu-Fadil lectures on social media and ethics at Qatar University

Abu-Fadil touched on how legacy media are increasingly using tips and reports disseminated through social media in conflict zones and in light of widespread terrorism but that verification remained a major challenge.

QU's Mass Communications Director Dr. Mahmoud Galandar with Abu-Fadil

QU’s Mass Communications Director Dr. Mahmoud Galandar with Abu-Fadil

She used case studies from coverage of demonstrations in Lebanon and how the media interpreted the civil society and rioters’ presence in the streets during a lecture entitled “Rise of Social Media on the Media Landscape: Impact on Media Ethics.” 

Skills digital journalist needs

Skills digital journalist needs

Abu-Fadil also tracked the evolution of social media and their incorporation into integrated multimedia news operations serving consumers across various platforms using mostly mobile digital devices.

She stressed the need for critical thinking to deconstruct social media messages and posts and understand what positive and negative impact they have on recipients.

Abu-Fadil with Qatar University students

Abu-Fadil with Qatar University students

On a second day, Abu-Fadil conducted a workshop for QU students on the use of social media and online journalism, notably the ubiquity of mobile journalists (mojos).

Social media and online journalism workshop at QU

Social media and online journalism workshop at QU

The workshop included a general knowledge test for the students as well as tips on how to verify online data, and case studies of unethical media behavior online.