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

 

Media Education in Lebanon Needs Revisiting: Abu-Fadil

Media education in Lebanon needs revisiting as faculty members and curricula are often well behind the times leaving graduates unable to meet market needs.

“The gap begins with curricula that resemble poems of the Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic) era,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil who spent years trying to upgrade courses at two universities in Lebanon but was often met with academic and bureaucratic obstructionists.

Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Al Jazeera Journalism Review

She said many of the instructors teaching journalism and media courses had never worked in the field and had never run newsrooms, leading to a disconnect between academia and the media to fulfill job requirements.

Abu-Fadil, who was interviewed by the Al Jazeera Journalism Review, said journalism and media studies graduates who do not acquire the necessary skills may latch on to superficial manifestations like the latest technology and social media, rather than pay attention to news substance regardless of the platform.

“Sadly, there’s a big drop in the command of languages (stressing the importance of mastering several in a globalized world), a shortage of critical thinking, little grasp of general knowledge, not to mention media ethics that’s almost non-existent, and, a problem of accuracy, balance, and verification in light of everything that’s published on social media,” she noted.

Asked whether the media weren’t also to blame for promoting journalists and presenters who were ill qualified, Abu-Fadil replied: “Everyone is responsible because media want to attract audiences, but in an era of cutbacks, sliding revenues, a switch to online/mobile/interactive digital media, there’s a great need to change employers’ mindsets.”

She said media’s role should be to benefit and enlighten readers, listeners, viewers and browsers, not just owners, adding that Lebanese media are also constrained by political, sectarian and economic factors.

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.

Arab Journalists Learn Religion Coverage

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil helped train Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi journalists in Beirut on the mechanics of covering religion, religious diversity and freedom of expression during a much-needed five-day workshop.

They had been given a solid dose of religious, philosophical and academic arguments and definitions in previous days by men of the cloth, university faculty members and other experts in a mini-course organized by the Adyan Foundation, an organization promoting interreligious studies and spiritual solidarity.

Abu-Fadil on how to cover religion

Abu-Fadil on how to cover religion

Abu-Fadil’s sessions in October 2016 focused on the essence of covering religion, the research involved, the fieldwork, the critical thinking needed for such assignments, and the hazards involved.

Videos included how sectarian provocation in the media was monitored in Lebanon in 2015, how religious differences are interpreted by children (based on their upbringing), how to detect bias in reporting, religious forgiveness, and tolerance.

The tips she provided included reporting accurately about religious groups and matters, not assuming anything, being fair and balanced, familiarizing oneself with religious laws where they apply, providing the necessary context to any story and adding the economic, political, social and cultural dimensions to reports.

Religious and sectarian differences in Lebanon

Religious and sectarian differences in Lebanon

She also cautioned them about politicians’ use of religious verses to further political and possibly nefarious agendas.

Abu-Fadil moreover focused on media ethics in the religious context with countless caveats on pitfalls that could sink journalists like inciting hate, misusing social media, and disseminating rumors.

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 Peace Building in Lebanon Via Media

I Hate You.”

A powerful statement and title of a 385-page study on hate speech and sectarianism in “Arab Spring” media, wrote Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.

It is also a reflection of countless Arab world afflictions that was published in 2014 by the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ).

Peace Building in Lebanon (Abu-Fadil)

“In the Arab Spring’s crisis, it is hard to provide a stamp of innocence to exonerate Arab media from responsibility in the spread of hate speech, since most are co-conspirators in their practice, or in their silence,” wrote CDFJ Executive President Nidal Mansour in the book’s foreword (page 9).

It plunges into case studies of hate speech in Jordan, as that is manifested against Syrian refugees, but it may as well have been addressing the issue in Lebanon, where a host of similarities exist…

Read the full article that appeared in a newspaper supplement on peace building in Lebanon produced by the United Nations Development Program in English for The Daily Star [PDF], in Arabic for Annahar and Assafir [PDF] and in French for L’Orient-Le Jour [PDF].

Lebanese Media Suffer Major Cutbacks

Lebanese journalists are on tenterhooks as mass layoffs decimate various media and budget cuts constrain operations, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya English.

Al Arabiya Interview

“We are in a transitional phase. There is what is known as disruption and innovation and [things are] constantly changing,” she said.

Her comments followed news that Dolly Ghanem, a founding reporter and anchor at LBCI TV,  had been relieved of her last remaining duties of co-hosting a morning talk show after 31 years on the job.

“There’s constant change, but it’s happening at such a fast pace that media are having a hard time catching up,” Abu Fadil said.

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A major setback: the drastic drop in oil prices, which has, by extension, adversely affected Gulf Arab patrons’ support of several print and broadcast Lebanese media.

So when that started drying up or dwindling, there was an obvious trickle-down effect, she added.

Abu-Fadil Provides Palestinian Diplomats With Media Skills

Ten young Palestinian diplomats sharpened their media skills in Turin, Italy, as part of a program to prepare them for the rigors of public diplomacy and exposure to the world.

The group of eager men and women attended a weeklong workshop conducted in July 2016 by Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil and media expert Abdelhamid Siyam at the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) training center there.

Abdelhamid Siyam and Magda Abu-Fadil on fine points of public diplomacy

Abdelhamid Siyam and Magda Abu-Fadil on fine points of public diplomacy

Abu-Fadil’s input began with concentrated sessions on how to think and act like a journalist.

That meant understanding the rapid and major changes media and journalists have to undergo as well as the added pressures Palestinians face on their home turf, where (among other things) mobility is regularly hampered by the Israeli occupation, and abroad, where they have to compete for attention with other pressing world issues.

The diplomats were also briefed on how newsrooms and journalists have to contend with a multimedia digital ecosystem as users of countless apps and social media often outpace traditional news outlets.

Palestinian diplomats hone media skills in Turin

Palestinian diplomats hone media skills in Turin

Abu-Fadil helped them define news, news values, the impact of information they disseminate, controversy, notoriety, sources, and how to write for different media, not just their superiors and other government officials.

A major part of one session was dedicated to media ethics and the trainees were told about verification and credibility of sources, notably in conflict zones, how to minimize the risk of misinforming audiences and how to mitigate the impact of hate speech.

Siyam offers pointers on TV interviews

Siyam offers pointers on TV interviews

Abu-Fadil and Siyam walked the diplomats through interview skills and how diplomats can improve their performance on the air, in print, and in online media.

That meant the proper planning and execution of the before, during, and after parts of interviews, and the subsequent assessment of one’s performance for improved future delivery of a message or project.

Simulations and mock interviews were part of the practical work in the workshop. Siyam was the interviewer and Abu-Fadil was the camerawoman/producer.

Other sessions involved writing skills, special focus on media in the Arab world, dealing with reputation issues, and social media for diplomacy.