Abu-Fadil Speaks At Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an audience in Brussels that training journalists should be given adequate time to improve their skills, in all fairness to them and their instructors.

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

She was referring to a series of brief workshops for traditional journalists and bloggers from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Georgia in which she co-trained with BBC veterans Russell Peasgood and Jim Fish.

Abu-Fadil spoke at the Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards in the Belgian capital in February 2015 – a culmination of a project funded by the European Union and delivered by a consortium led by BBC Media Action.

Abu-Fadil was involved in the latter part of a process that provided initial training and subsequent writing and producing assignments for various media.

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Being fully functional in English, Arabic and French enabled her to assess the final products in those languages, with the majority being in Arabic. But in the case of Georgia, it was a bit challenging since print, online and broadcast reports were in Georgian or Russian, forcing her to rely on English translations.

On the plus side, Abu-Fadil and her colleagues emphasized and instilled in the trainees a sense of what solid journalism is, and should be.

They hammered away at the importance of proper and diverse sourcing, balance in presenting various sides in a story, ethical considerations, newsworthiness and accuracy.

They also stressed the importance of the correct use of language, grammar, attention to translated material, ensuring numerical data are presented in the proper context, writing strong leads and avoiding opinions in hard news reports.

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Abu-Fadil reviewed obstacles journalists and bloggers faced in the countries they represented and how constraints were reflected in their work.

The Syrians encountered problems in verifying information and assorted dangers while reporting from the field in their war-torn country.

Lebanese media saw a decline in their ability to function freely while Palestinian journalists also faced safety and access to information problems.

Jordanian journalists also had to deal with increasingly stricter rules and laws, notably those related to online media.

Egyptian journalists had to contend with the country’s roller coaster ride from a 30-year dictatorship to interim leaderships and elected presidents, which resulted in an interesting mix of reports mirroring the state of affairs.

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Ditto for Tunisian participants who hailed from the trigger of the so-called “Arab Spring.” They had also been conditioned to think and operate a certain way and were adjusting to their own transitional phase of government, which came out in their reports.

The Moroccan journalists had their own set of political issues but were also cautioned to avoid bias, to focus on the real story, and to sidestep long-winded rhetoric.

The least fortunate were the Libyans whose freedom had been locked up for four decades as was their lack of understanding of what journalism is.

The awards program was held at the European Commission and grouped trainers, trainee award winners, mentors, and consortium representatives.

The full training project targeted journalists from Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Moldova, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.

Abu-Fadil Addresses Beirut Hate Speech Seminar

There’s never enough said about media ethics, notably when it involves hate speech perpetuated by the media.

So the London-based Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) partnered with Beirut’s Maharat Foundation and the Norwegian Institute of Journalism and convened experts from across the Middle East and North Africa to discuss how to combat hate speech in the media.

Director Aidan White explains EJN's five-point test for hate

Director Aidan White explains EJN’s five-point test for hate

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media is a good example of what we face today. It’s a 385-page book of well-documented case studies from across the region.

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil brought up the need for serious review of media ethics and presented guidelines on good journalistic practice at the November 2014 seminar in Beirut.

There are regular calls to end sedition and sectarianism in Lebanon, she noted, but said there were no serious efforts to hold the media, bloggers and activists accountable, without resorting to draconian measures like jail sentences and banning of outlets.

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

She pointed to the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide launched with colleague Rouba El Helou in May to help netizens publish acceptable content.

“There’s a great need to shed light on hate speech that leads to murder and other crimes,” said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, the Middle East regional representative at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that racism was on the rise on the Internet and in social media.

Attorney Tony Mikhael, who oversees Maharat’s media monitoring arm, explained hate speech in legal terms in Lebanon.

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

The event’s participants hailed from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and Norway.

On Becoming A Foreign Correspondent

Hard work, preparation, a solid contact database, a nose for news, courage and ethics go into shaping foreign correspondents whose tools of the trade may have changed in a multimedia world, but whose mission to inform remains the same.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil provided 28 journalists and activists with tips on how to function as foreign correspondents and debunked myths about glamour and fame promoted in countless Hollywood movies.

Abu-Fadil on attribution and ground rules in different countries

Abu-Fadil on attribution and ground rules in different countries

The training in Morocco was part of the “Building a Digital Gateway to Better Lives” boot camp organized by the Washington-based International Center for Journalists.

It focused on cross-border and regional issues and involved investigative journalism team projects centered on child marriage, child labor, prostitution, human trafficking, prescription drugs on the black market, organized begging, cyber crimes, and illegal immigration.

Abu-Fadil presented examples of noted Arab and Western foreign correspondents, the beats they cover, working conditions, the costs and budgets required to maintain foreign bureaus and staffs, the transition to digital journalism, competition from citizen journalists, and the need to verify all data disseminated through social media and online sources.

Participants at Rabat boot camp

Participants at Rabat boot camp

She also stressed the importance of being multilingual, of being well versed in the history, geography, politics and social environment of the countries the correspondents cover, of the need to understand the economics and statistics of these countries, and how best to cover news conferences and interviews with foreign officials.

Abu-Fadil shows difference between Anglo and French numerals

Abu-Fadil shows difference between Anglo and French numerals

Abu-Fadil touched on first aid, security and safety measures reporters on foreign assignment should learn, which veteran Egyptian journalist Abeer Saady later tackled in depth.

Abeer Saady's safety tips on taxis

Abeer Saady’s safety tips on taxis

Also on hand was Moroccan IT expert Rachid Jankari to discuss mobile phones and cloud computing for use by journalists.

Rachid Jankari on mobile phones and cloud computing

Rachid Jankari on mobile phones and cloud computing

Senior strategist at National Public Radio, self-described real-time informational DJ and occasional journalist Andy Carvin also guided participants in the uses of social media to cover regional issues.

Rabat boot camp trainers and participants

Rabat boot camp trainers and participants

The September boot camp in the Moroccan capital Rabat grouped participants from Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.

Abu-Fadil Dissects Media Accountability in Lebanon

How much media accountability is there in Lebanon? Are media accountable and do they hold officials accountable?

It’s a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, said Media Unlimited Director Magda Abu-Fadil, adding that laws and codes of ethics are not implemented, loosely implemented, or totally ignored, depending on the issue at stake, politics involved, and persons influencing them.

Magda Abu-Fadil on media accountability in Lebanon

She dissected Lebanon’s antiquated print and broadcast media laws that require major overhaul.

In a presentation on accountability at a forum organized by Media Act in Toulouse, France, Abu-Fadil pointed to Lebanese legislator Ghassan Moukheiber’s Media Reform Bill aimed at shrinking the existing 109 provisions of the 1962 print law to 75.

According to Moukheiber, almost 80% of his draft bill’s provisions have been approved in the parliamentary committee discussing the matter.

Another draft bill on broadcast media put forward by Moukheiber would see the strengthening of the National Audio-Visual Media Council as a regulatory body.

Lebanese legislator Ghassan Moukheiber

It’s currently a toothless tiger of elected and appointed members along sectarian lines.

A very important draft bill on access to information has also passed the test, but all three bills have yet to be voted into law.

Abu-Fadil reviewed media-related events in 2012 and Lebanese print and broadcast journalists’ efforts to establish a stronger union presence.

She also discussed press freedom monitoring efforts by various local and international organizations, attempts to muzzle the media and whether Lebanon was immune to the “Arab Spring.”

The Media Act forum in January 2013 entitled “Media Accountability in Transition: Insights from the Arab World” was organized jointly by the German Erich-Brost-Institut at Dortmund University, the French Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Toulouse, and Paris II University.

Profs. Olivier Baisnée of IEP Toulouse and Judith Pies of Dortmund University

It grouped experts from Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Poland, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Lebanon who reviewed potentials for media accountability in Jordan and Tunisia as well prospects in Egypt and Morocco.