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 Presents MIL Case Studies at Doha Experts Meeting

Morocco, South Africa and The Netherlands offer good examples of how Media and Information Literacy (MIL) can be integrated into school curricula, experts were told at a meeting in Doha.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil examined successful case studies from those countries at a three-day gathering in June 2013 organized by the Doha Center for Media Freedom (DCMF).

MU director proposes MIL solutions

MU director proposes MIL solutions

Abu-Fadil has written on the subject over the years and trained school teachers and activities coordinators on how to incorporate media literacy in their curricula.

The meeting dovetails with Qatar’s ambitious plan to ensure that public and private schools in the Arab Gulf emirate are fully media and information literate by 2014.

The DCMF is also aiming further afield to reach institutions in the Middle East and Africa.

“Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is a relatively new concept in the Middle East and suffers from a lack of knowledge among educators,” said DCMF Director Jan Keulen.

Qatar Higher Education Council's Asmaa Al Mohanadi, UN Alliance of Civilizations' Jordi Torrent and DCMF's Jan Keulen

Qatar Higher Education Council’s Asmaa Al Mohanadi, UN Alliance of Civilizations’ Jordi Torrent and DCMF’s Jan Keulen

But arming students with 21st Century skills and preparing teachers with the know-how to guide them is filling a gap in the country’s educational system, added Keulen, whose center is leading the charge.

The center organized the experts meeting on MIL in Doha grouping educators, ICT professionals, media practitioners and members of international organizations.

It included experts from Qatar’s Higher Education Council, Qatar University, ICT Qatar, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Cairo University, Kuwait University, the African Center for Media & Information Literacy, Japan’s Hosei University, the European Association for Viewers Interest, and the League of Arab States.

DCMF's MIL strategy

DCMF’s MIL strategy

UNESCO  has been at the forefront of the MIL effort. It published a Media and Information Literacy Curriculum for Teachers in five languages that is available for download as a PDF.

Participants agreed to follow up on the meeting, develop and share ideas on implementing MIL in the Arab region, and, provide sustainable training programs, research and curricula for teachers.

Recommendations also emphasized the need for a shift in teaching methods, the establishment of exchange programs to build on successful youth-produced media initiatives, the creation of socially inclusive MIL programs for women and people with disabilities, and the building of national and international networks to share knowledge and resources.

The DCMF published a [PDF] report in English on the meeting.

The DCMF published a [PDF] report in Arabic on the meeting.

@SocialMediasPACE Empowers Lebanese Netizens

A standing-room only hall of Lebanon-based netizens sharpened their skills, rubbed shoulders with experts and networked feverishly to expand their professional and online activist horizons.

Dubbed @SocialMediasPACE, a one-day fair in Beirut grouped activists, bloggers, journalists, Net newbies and geeks to “explore ways to leverage the power of digital technologies to foster civic engagement and social change.”

Lebanon-based netizens acquire online skills

Lebanon-based netizens acquire online skills

“Google showed me how little I knew about marketing and personal branding,” admitted radio and TV talk show host Milad Hadchiti, the event’s MC who doubles as a branding coach, about his early encounters with the search engine and social media.

An introduction by media specialist Nada Hamzeh of The Promoting Active Citizen Engagement (PACE) program funded by the US Agency for International Development USAID), focused on ways to activate NGOs and civil society groups by building strategies for their social media and creating partnerships between different actors.

“The goal of this three-year $8.3 million PACE project, is to strengthen civil society’s ability to create a stronger civic culture and more democratic governance throughout Lebanon,” said Denise O’Toole, director of the Education, Democracy & Governance at USAID/Lebanon. “So far, a number of initiatives have been launched and successfully implemented under PACE to empower local organizations to become catalysts for change on a variety of issues in their respective communities.”

USAID’s Denise O’Toole

USAID’s Denise O’Toole

A first panel on content, not tools, featured cyber advocacy expert Imad Bazzi (a/k/a Trella), IndyAct communications director Ali Fakhry, Kazamedia founder Ahmad Karout and Online Collaborative digital marketer Darine Sabbagh.

“We can use cyberspace to send out political messages,” said Bazzi, who with cohorts launched a teasing campaign dubbed “Laehat Abeeh Nafsi” (I Sell Myself List) with frivolous content ahead of planned legislative elections in Lebanon.

Screen shot of Imad Bazzi’s (Trella) home page

Screen shot of Imad Bazzi’s (Trella) home page

 Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil chaired a panel entitled “Alliances that pay off: Convergence between traditional and social media, civil society and marketing professionals.”

“We’ve gone from video cassette tapes to mobiles and with the development of social media it’s good to be in touch with the people,” said Tania Mehanna, senior reporter/correspondent at LBCI TV.

Other panelists were Omar Sadek, managing director at J. Walter Thompson, Patrick Richa, head of web and news services at MTV-Lebanon, and Riad Kobeissi, investigative journalist at Al Jadeed TV.

MU's Abu-Fadil chairs panel grouping Riad Kobeissi, Patrick Richa and Omar Sadek

MU’s Abu-Fadil chairs panel grouping Riad Kobeissi, Patrick Richa and Omar Sadek

According to Sadek, private companies are becoming more involved in corporate social responsibility and trying to mix profits with their role in society.

“Media firms need content to draw in audiences. The alliance between NGOs and media via marketing companies is attracting more attention and can lead to the public good,” he added.

Networking was paramount at the confab. The program included social media roundtables using free and open source software, online safety and privacy, and consultancy booths featuring crowdsourcing and multimedia platform management.

The event was covered extensively by Lebanese media (PDF).

The Middle East in Transition: What Future for Arab Youth?

Arab Youth are more concerned about fair pay, home ownership and a decent life than democracy, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told students at Sciences Po – Menton in the south of France.

The rising cost of living was a major concern although the lack of democracy and civil unrest were also seen as obstacles to progress, she said quoting the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2012 that analyzed data from 12 countries.

The study also revealed that while a majority of young people agreed traditional values were paramount, an increasing number of them said such values were outdated and should be replaced.

Magda Abu-Fadil on Arab youth prospects with Sciences Po-Menton director Bernard El-Ghoul and students

Creating jobs for a growing Arab youth population is a major challenge for decision makers following the outbreak of revolutions in a number of the region’s countries.

Demographic issues such as high population growth and pressures on labor markets compound the problem, Abu-Fadil said.

She also discussed young people’s contribution to revolutions gripping the Arab world and what prompted them to take to the streets.

The role social media played in the various uprisings was another topic of discussion, with Abu-Fadil explaining that such tools were not the ultimate influencers in these movements given the high rate of illiteracy and uneven access to the Internet.

Although prospects may appear dim, education reform could be an answer, with emphasis on critical thinking and the revisiting of school and university curricula to meet employers’ requirements.

The discussion in January 2013 was part of a week-long orientation program at the Middle East/Mediterranean campus of Sciences Po aimed at familiarizing students with the university’s undergraduate and graduate studies, life in the Middle East, and exchange programs available to them.