#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.

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.


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.