Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.

Abu-Fadil Draws Line Between Free Speech, Insults in Lebanese Media

A two-month-plus revolution in Lebanon has brought out the worst in people, with countless traditional and social media spreading hate speech, insults and instigation to violence, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Medi1Radio.

“The very thin line between insults and freedom of expression in the media is when you violate other people’s rights and don’t give them the opportunity to express their views, as often occurs in traditional and social media in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately, we see politicized and biased media.”

Correspondent Khaldoun Zeineddine reported that freedom of expression was enshrined in the preamble to the Lebanese constitution but asked if the protesters against a corrupt system and failed economic policies had contributed to confusing freedom with insults.

“Some protesters have contributed to mixing between freedom of expression and abuses, given their lack of arguments and critical thinking, and the culture of civilized debate, but that doesn’t apply to everyone,” Abu-Fadil added.

The brief interview can be heard below.

 

MU Director Leads Newsroom Management Workshops in Riyadh, Jeddah

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Arab News journalists on the finer points of newsroom management at the paper’s Riyadh and Jeddah headquarters, with follow-up mentoring covering the Misk Global Forum in the Saudi Arabian capital.

Arab News headquarters in Riyadh

The workshops in November 2019 included the evolution of organizational charts from traditional to digital integrated multimedia newsrooms, issues of leadership, the importance of optimizing technology, and having IT people, designers, data visualization artists, infographics, photo, video and illustration teams alongside journalists and editors.

Magda Abu-Fadil with Arab News journalists in Riyadh

There was no escaping a requisite session on media ethics, notably in an era of alternative facts, deepfakes, disinformation, and the need for fact-checking in all newsrooms.

Journalists also learned about the importance of engagement with their audiences across various platforms. Almost each session had topic-related exercises.

Arab News Riyadh team being drilled on newsroom management

Abu-Fadil used a session on social media to focus on how apps can be optimized to gather and double-check information and why journalists should live blog and live tweet at major events or while covering breaking news.

There was a session on photojournalism and how newsrooms handle graphic images and videos, violence, death and hate speech.

 

Preparing to cover and mentor Arab News journalists at the Misk Global Forum

Not to be ignored is the importance of mobile journalism (MoJo), which Abu-Fadil stressed is a cornerstone of most newsrooms today, meaning reporters should be able to report, interview, write, shoot pictures and videos, edit their work and, if need be, upload the material to the newsroom, or directly to a live platform, if they’re qualified and authorized to do so.

Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The workshop sessions were interspersed with several informative and how-to videos to help the trainees better understand the material’s context.

There were reminders on writing headlines, leads, nut graphs, dealing with numbers, interviewing techniques and covering major events.

 

Arab News journalists in Jeddah beavering away at writing and editing exercises

Other topics covered during the training included gamification, how young people consume news and comics journalism.

Abu-Fadil Trains Journalists for Saudi Daily

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil put eight young journalists for a Saudi Arabian daily through the paces of reporting, writing and editing as part of a an intensive workshop to upgrade their skills and catapult them to the next level.

The training in Dubai in August 2019 involved exercises based on presentations and discussions that “seasoned” writers sometimes take for granted: leads, headlines, photo captions, grammar, punctuation, story components and structure, to say nothing of contextual background information like history, geography, numbers and visuals.

Saudi newspaper journalists hone their skills

The materials included relevant videos, assignments, tools, online research and news tests.

A key session focused on media ethics, notably in today’s world of alternative facts, disinformation, deep fakes and artificial intelligence-generated news.

Other sessions concentrated on interviewing techniques, the AP style guide, long considered the industry standard, as well as coverage of speeches, meetings and news conferences.

 

During the long afternoon sessions, she helped the trainees sharpen their writing proficiency with a mix of topics including housing problems, oil spills and their environmental impact, and the hospitality industry.

One afternoon was dedicated to visiting Bloomberg’s Dubai hub for a briefing on the newsgathering and editing operation, including automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Riad Hamade and Nayla Razzouk explain workings of Bloomberg’s Dubai TV studio

Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Bloomberg News, gave them a rundown on his organization’s workings.

Hamade, along with Nayla Razzouk, Bloomberg News Team Leader for Energy and Commodities in the Middle East & North Africa, and Claudia Maedler, the Gulf bureau chief (excluding Saudi Arabia), took the group on a tour of the very impressive newsroom and TV studio.

MU Director Trains Armenian Students on Migration & Media Issues

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Armenian students on how media should cover the issues of migration, refugees and human trafficking during a summer school grouping local and international academics and experts in Aghveran.

The three-day event in July 2019 on migration and development was funded by the European Union and organized by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, with input from MIBMA Support to Migration and Border Management in Armenia.

Armenian students attend summer school on migration and development

Abu-Fadil and other specialists briefed 23 graduate and undergraduate students from Yerevan State University, Russian-Armenian University, Brusov University of Foreign Languages and other institutions on a host of topics ranging from security to globalization to migration policies to media matters.

The program acquainted the students with Armenia’s migration policies, which have been in place for over a decade, and the integration of asylum seekers, notably thousands of Syrian refugees of Armenian origin settling in the country.

On the first day Abu-Fadil contributed the media perspective for journalism students, or those who expect to deal with media, with an initial session on the need for journalists to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking.

Magda Abu-Fadil tells students they need to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking

She demonstrated how they should become acquainted with various international organizations and NGOs that handle these issues and learn about laws, treaties, resolutions and conventions that have been adopted over the years to better frame their reports.

Armenians have emigrated to Russia for decades in search of greener pastures. They’ve also gone further afield to the United States, Canada, Europe and several Arab countries.

Lebanon, for example, boasts a sizeable Armenian community with Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent in all walks of life and actively involved in political affairs.

Perhaps the largest waves of the Armenian diaspora were triggered by the Muslim Ottoman genocide of Christian Armenians in the early 20th Century. It involved deporting and mass killing Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire by the “Young Turk” government during World War I. Modern Turkey has never acknowledged it as a genocide.

Armenia – Google Maps

Armenia has also experienced waves of displacement with Armenians moving internally as a result of earthquakes, to which the country is prone, as well as from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in today’s southwestern Azerbaijan, where a majority of ethnic Armenians live and are backed by the government in Yerevan, and where wars have been fought with the Republic of Azerbaijan, thereby forcing the residents to seek refuge elsewhere.

On the second day, Abu-Fadil delved into the details of how media should cover migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Media’s familiarization with migration and refugee-related organizations

That ranged from researching the story, dealing with data, and statistics from various sources, to interviewing techniques for questioning officials, migrants, refugees and human trafficking survivors, host communities, to examining case studies of good and bad reporting, and the use of social media in getting and telling the story.

On the last day, she turned to media ethics and how journalists should humanize the story by translating numbers and statistics into individuals with fears, hopes, failures, successes and resilience against tremendous odds.

The key, she said, was changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping. She provided tips on how to shoot pictures and videos in an ethical fashion given the impact of visual imagery across multiple digital platforms.

MU director on changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping

There was also the key element of verification, notably in the age of disinformation and alternative facts where migrants are often vilified based on fabricated accounts.

There was an exercise at the end of each session to test the students’ grasp of the media-related topics and all her presentations had embedded videos to better explain what the ideas and examples meant.

Abu-Fadil to GEN Confab: Rethink Migration Coverage

Migration, refugees and human trafficking won’t disappear as topics any time soon so media had better change their narrative and learn to cover them more professionally and less sensationally.

GEN Summit Athens

That was the thrust of a panel Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil moderated at the June 2019 Global Editors Network (GEN) summit in Athens during which she tackled the thorny issues of what people should be called when they move from one country to another for whatever reason, how the story should be framed, and what types of ethical guidelines to follow.

In an introductory presentation, she showed a brief video produced by the UNHCR about the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries since the conflict broke out in Syria to highlight facts and figures with which governments may disagree, and to underline how this problem can mislead and confuse journalists.

How can we change the narrative on migration media coverage?

Confusion also arises about the terminology used by various international and local organizations. Who’s a migrant? Who’s a refugee? Who’s a displaced person? Who’s an expat or economic migrant?

“It has become a hot topic in Europe and America where far-right politics is driving the conversation around migration and it’s also somehow forcing coverage to follow along those lines,” said Omoyele Sowore, founder and editor in chief of Sahara Reporters (SR), adding that some of those discussions are driven by racist sentiments.

Blanca Tapia and Omoyele Sowore

An SR team set up the innovative prototype “Africana” to help newsrooms approach the topic of migration in new and innovative ways and debunk misinformation on how it’s reported in Africa, and beyond.

For Blanca Tapia, the focus was migrants’ rights in European Union (EU) countries and how her niche organization provides media with the needed information to humanize the story and respect for those who’ve been displaced, had to leave their homelands, and seek asylum.

“People talk about economic migrant; I could be an economic migrant, I come from Spain, I took a job, I ended up in Vienna, but I belong to a fantastic category called expats,” she said about the classification and stereotyping of people.

Tapia, a former broadcast journalist, is the program manager at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), one of the EU’s decentralized agencies set up to provide expert advice to the EU’s institutions and member states on the people living therein.

Screen shot of e-Media Toolkit (courtesy fraEuropa)

She introduced FRA’s new e-learning platform produced by journalists for journalists to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

An online e-Media Toolkit developed in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union and the Ethical Journalism Network with the support of the European Federation of Journalists provides first-hand assistance to media professionals with learning resources, training courses, and opportunities to share and interact.

Abu-Fadil said she was commissioned to write a guide by the Thompson Foundation’s Open Media Hub (OMH) and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in English that was translated to Arabic and French.

Then Open Media Hub asked her to turn it into workshops and she trained journalists in Tunis on how to cover the topic.

OMH and ICMPD, with European Union funding, also launched the Migration Media Award, of which she’s a jury member.

OMH also asked Abu-Fadil to create an online course based on the handbook. It’s self-paced, free, and available in four languages: English, Arabic, French, and Russian.

Online “Reporting on Migration” course

You can view the whole GEN discussion on YouTube.

MU Director to Cairo Confab: Fight Disinformation With MIL

“Don’t believe everything you see.”

That’s how Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil began a presentation with a picture of Britain’s Prince William seemingly giving someone the finger.

Seen from another angle, the Duke of Cambridge looked like he was gesturing with the number three – a significant difference.

Magda Abu-Fadil to Cairo confab: “Don’t believe everything you see.”

She was, once again, beating the Media and Information Literacy (MIL) drum, this time to an audience of students, faculty members, media and others at the American University in Cairo in April 2019 as a panelist at the “Cultivating Cooperation: How Industry and Academia Can Transform Digital Storytelling” conference co-organized by AUC and the Egypt Media Development Program.

AUC-EMPD conference flyer

She told them it can be confusing when ‘information disorder’ comes from the highest authority and showed a video of U.S. President Donald Trump in an Orwellian clip telling his audience not to believe what they saw in the media.

That’s why fact-checker has become a full-time job, like that of reporter, editor, producer, and infographic designer in many news organizations.

Abu-Fadil provided various case studies of MIL, the importance of critical thinking and that in an age of “fake news” and alternative facts students need to grasp the concept of media and information literacy to understand news as a means to detect ‘information disorder’ in obvious and subliminal messages.

UNESCO’s MIL concept

She presented the different types of literacies under the MIL umbrella as defined by
UNESCO: Information literacy, library literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy, games literacy, cinema literacy, television literacy, news literacy, advertising literacy, and media literacy.

Abu-Fadil said in 2016, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published the “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa” yearbook for which she was the lead editor and key co-author.

Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

A newer book she co-authored for UNESCO is “Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation.” It’s also a university course that can be taught during a whole semester, or as modules in other courses.

Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation

The MU director spoke about entering dangerous territory in the digital era with artificial intelligence (AI), notably deepfake. She showed how a deepfake video is produced and how misleading it can be.

She said students should understand that privacy is dead and that anything they post on social media can (and very likely) will come back to haunt them.

UNESCO’s false experts chart

Another form of “disinformation” is manipulation of information with false experts: in academia, government, science, medicine, finance, the environment, and even the media.

Last, but not least, she plugged an older paper she wrote for UNESCO, “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

MCD Interviews Abu-Fadil on “Fake News,” Media Literacy

Monte Carlo Doualiya radio interviewed Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil to discuss her take on mitigating the dangers of “fake news” and how journalists should verify sources.

Digital” show host Nayla Al Salibi dedicated a segment to Abu-Fadil’s media and information literacy chapter in the UNESCO book/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” and the tools needed to handle misleading news before it’s published.

Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” show interviewed MU director Abu-Fadil

Abu-Fadil shed light on journalists’ issues in dealing with social media and dubious platforms as well as media ethics in the digital age since photos, videos and audio content can be manipulated with ease.

She insisted the expression “fake news” should not be used since it’s been weaponized by politicians, notably U.S. President Donald Trump and others, against their adversaries.

Abu-Fadil said disinformation and misinformation in the “post-truth” and “alternative facts” age were more appropriate, depending on their respective contexts.

You can hear the interview here [3].

MU Director Equips Tunisian Media With Migration Coverage Know-How

Migration, refugees and human trafficking once again featured at a three-day workshop in Tunis grouping 16 journalists from various media who learned how to shape the story, focus the narrative, keep it ethical, and make it more relatable.

How to cover migration, refugees and human trafficking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, cameraman/editor David Hands and senior media training and exchange expert at the Open Media Hub Petko Georgiev led the mini-course.

Magda Abu-Fadil and David Hands mentor Tunisian journalists during workshop on migration and media

It aimed at helping the reporters and editors better understand the subject, identify who the stakeholders are, acquire the correct terminology to define people and their status, know where to dig for contextual information, and what traps to avoid when reporting the story.

 

Tunisian journalists complete in-session exercise

The workshop in November 2018 included journalists from Tunisia’s national television channel, newspapers, news websites, the state-run national news agency and radio stations.

They had proposed story ideas to pursue prior to the training and several went out with Hands to shoot footage and conduct interviews during the sessions.

 

David Hands helps edit footage for a migration story

On their return to the mentoring periods the journalists were then guided by Hands and Georgiev on the mechanics of assembling the elements into viable short pieces for broadcast while Abu-Fadil pitched in advice on ethics and interviewing techniques.

The previous week Abu-Fadil moderated a panel at the Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis where some 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries gathered to probe the question: Journalism Useful for Citizens?

Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis drew 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries

The three-day event in the Tunisian capital – almost 50 thematic sessions, debates, exhibitions and side activities – comes at a critical time when freedom of expression is being tested and violated on a daily basis in many of the countries from which the delegates hailed.

Abu-Fadil chaired a session entitled “No Useful Journalism Without Verification: How Do We Confirm An Image, Information?” during which she also plugged the UNESCO book she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” .

 

Abu-Fadil (right) chairs panels on verification

The Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis is supported financially and programmatically by the Open Media Hub, which is implemented by the Thomson Foundation.

Abu-Fadil Teaches OMH “Reporting on Migration” Course

Journalists wishing to hone their skills on the issues of migration, refugees and human trafficking may take Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil’s online Open Media Hub course in English and Arabic.

Open Media Hub course sign-up page

The free, self-paced interactive “Reporting on Migration” course is divided into an introduction, three modules, and a wrap-up.

Module 1 focuses on migration terminology, key international organizations and NGOs involved in the issue. There’s a section on international and national legislation on migration. Participants are tested on what they’ve learned.

In module 2, participants learn the key steps to covering the migration story: research, data analysis, interviews, choosing visuals, the economics of migration, and, are shown case studies of good and bad reporting. They’re tested on what they’ve learned at the end of the module.

 

OMH “Reporting on Migration” course structure

Module 3 aims at ethics in reporting on migration with an emphasis on humanizing the story. Participants are taught the importance of verification and contextualization, the ethical use of photos and videos and their impact, obtaining consent before using people’s information and visuals, covering celebrities, and activism. Participants are tested on what they’ve learned at the end of the module.

The wrap-up consists of a final knowledge quiz, a summary and a list of further reading.

Open Media Hub falls under the Thomson Foundation umbrella and is funded by the European Union.