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.

Will Lebanese Newspapers Become Extinct?

The ax is falling fast on Lebanese journalists as word of newspapers going fully online or facing shutdown spread this week amid a sea of political, financial and social turmoil in the country.

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Besides sharp drops in advertising revenue, competition from newer local print and online media (not to mention social media and citizen journalists), rising production costs, measly subscriptions, and readers who would rather get their news in snippets on the move, Lebanese media have also been heavily dependent on political patronage and outside funding over the decades.

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

All dailies have online versions but the big question is whether the paper editions would survive.

Newsrooms have failed to keep up with the times. There’s no real integration of key elements of digital multimedia newsgathering, editing, distribution and interactivity or engagement with consumers.

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Editors and publishers exist in bubbles of denial or believe that imitating certain foreign media’s tactics of a race for clicks and unrealistic analytics will help achieve their goals of monetizing online content.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil discussed Lebanese print media’s slippery slope in “Al Safha Al Akheera” (The Last Page), a radio talk show on Voix du Liban, in March 2016.

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Other guests were Ahmad Zeineddine, a media professor at the state-run Lebanese University, as well as Salah Salam, editor of the daily Al Liwa’ (The Banner) and Rabih Haber, publisher of the online news site Lebanon Files