Arab Universities Must Include Journalists’ Safety Course in Media Programs

A course on safety for journalists is a must and Arab universities should incorporate it in their media programs, experts said at a two-day UNESCO conference in Beirut.

UNESCO’s safety guide for journalists

UNESCO’s safety guide for journalists

“News organizations should train journalists and insist on safety measures and the use of proper equipment,” said Yazbeck Wehbe, a veteran of LBCI TV News who also teaches journalism at several Lebanese universities.

Academics from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and Oman went over a draft of a semester-long course to be taught as one required unit, as an elective, or, from which they can select components to incorporate in other relevant media courses.

Magda Abu-Fadil (3rd from right) at Beirut conference on safety for journalists course in college curricula

Magda Abu-Fadil (3rd from right) at Beirut conference on safety for journalists course in college curricula 

Speakers included a security expert as well as four noted Lebanese journalists – two who work locally and two whose international track record in covering conflict zones is legend.

The course syllabus includes an overview and raison d’etre for safety as well as content on planning and personal safety, risk assessment, travel security, health and health care in hostile environments, demonstrations (and riots), natural disasters, gender safety, digital security, ethics, international humanitarian law, and safe investigative reporting.

Patrick Baz (a/k/a “Boom Boom” Baz), a world-renowned photojournalist whose career is linked to Agence France-Presse (AFP), offered valuable insights on how he covered some of the hottest spots in the Arab world and what lingering impact it’s had on him.

International photojournalist Patrick Baz in Fallujah, Iraq

International photojournalist Patrick Baz in Fallujah, Iraq

The February 2016 event was a follow-up to last year’s launch in Jordan of the initiative in collaboration with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It dovetailed with the goals of the “U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.”

“Being a correspondent is going to places and sometimes bearing witness to war crimes,” said Samia Nakhoul, a Reuters veteran and Middle East editor who was seriously injured and almost died when U.S. tanks lobbed shells into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad where foreign media were based during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al Jadeed TV Vice Chair Karma Khayat, IFJ President Jim Boumelha and Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul

Al Jadeed TV Vice Chair Karma Khayat, IFJ President Jim Boumelha and Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul

The Beirut gathering came 10 days after UNESCO held a conference on “News Organizations Standing Up for the Safety of Media Professionals” at its Paris headquarters that drew some 300 international media leaders focused on safeguarding their staffers and ending impunity for attacks against them.

The course will undergo revision before being made available to all Arab universities and the public at large.

IFJ publications on journalists' casualties and safety

IFJ publications on journalists’ casualties and safety

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, one of the experts involved in creating this course, moderated sessions at the Beirut conference. 

Abu-Fadil Featured at Aljazeera Center for Studies Roundtable

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke on the rising impact of social media on traditional journalism and how ethics can balance it out at a Qatar gathering of experts.

She focused on Lebanon as a case study in the Arab world in the wake of neighboring revolutions, conflicts and the country’s own internal problems.

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses Aljazeera Center for Studies roundtable

The October 2015 event grouped researchers from Aljazeera’s Center for Studies.

Abu-Fadil shed light on how news operations had morphed in recent years to cater to how news is consumed today as well as to the changing definition of journalism.

Participants also discussed the rising impact of platforms such as the all-news/current events channel and site Aljazeera Plus on the future of news.

Arab Media Need Work on Professionalism, Ethics: Abu-Fadil

Arab media have made progress but some still need work to overcome issues of journalistic professionalism and ethics, Magda Abu-Fadil told Dubai TV in May 2015.

“We see too many examples of unethical behavior in broadcast outlets, online and in print,” the Media Unlimited director said during an interview at the Arab Media Forum.

Magda Abu-Fadil interviewed by Dubai TV

Magda Abu-Fadil interviewed by Dubai TV

Given the highly charged environment in several Arab countries, media have been reflecting the political and sectarian splits by fanning the flames through sedition, unsubstantiated news reporting and slander, she added.

She also noted that schools of communication and journalism should do a better job of equipping their students for the ever-changing job market by providing them with flexible skills and not just focus primarily on outdated theories or research that have little practical application.

MU Director Interviewed on Social Media Ethics

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil weighed in on a hot ethics topic following a Twitter slugfest during which a journalist and an activist carried on battling during a Lebanese TV talk show.

Journalist Ghadi Francis in a controversial tweet described the Syrian city of Douma as “meshwiyyeh” (Arabic for grilled or barbequed) by barrel bombs dropped on it that kill untold numbers of civilians.

Screen shot of Twitter shouting match over Douma

Screen shot of Twitter shouting match over Douma

When her label struck a raw nerve with opponents of the Syrian regime that’s accused of using these weapons, Francis then tweeted “if grilled doesn’t cut it, then it’s ‘maslouqa’ (boiled).”

That prompted activist Sara Assaf to lunge back: “This is what idiotic @ghadifrancis, a ‘journalist’ at @OTVLebanon had to say about #Douma massacre. WLEK TFOUUU (I spit on you).

Enter Paula Yacoubian, host of the political talk show “Inter-Views” on Lebanon’s Future TV, who, also in a tweet, invited both women to further expound on the matter on her program in February 2015.

Asked if there were guidelines to follow in social media under pressures of war and conflict, Abu-Fadil replied: “There are standards. While we have freedom to express ourselves through social media, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a sense of responsibility.”

Paula Yacoubian Inter-Views Magda Abu-Fadil on social media ethics

Paula Yacoubian Inter-Views Magda Abu-Fadil on social media ethics

Abu-Fadil also referred to the five core values of journalism, expounded by Ethical Journalism Network director Aidan White in a video: as accuracy, independence, impartiality, humanity and accountability.

She argued that they apply equally to bloggers, activists and non-journalists using social media.

“What we’re seeing a lot on social media are reflexive answers, where someone tweets something and another person replies reflexively, with no consideration for critical thinking,” she said.

Abu-Fadil added that one has to stop and think about the repercussions of tweets and whether they could cause harm.

“What’s this incredible accomplishment of contributing to hate speech? It’s disgraceful. We’ve reached a level of unprecedented degeneration,” she noted.

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.

Abu-Fadil Caps Workshops Run With Egyptian Journalists

Capping a series of workshops across the Middle East/North Africa region and beyond, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil joined BBC veteran Jim Fish to train two groups of Egyptian journalists in Jordan.

BBC veteran Jim Fish reviews journalists' work

BBC veteran Jim Fish reviews journalists’ work

Fish and Abu-Fadil reviewed and assessed the work of two groups of reporters, producers and editors for Egyptian print, broadcast and online media.

Egyptian journalists listen to comments about their work

Egyptian journalists listen to comments about their work

The journalists’ output was an assignment finalizing training that followed up on earlier courses organized by BBC Media Action and that the journalists had undergone on news reporting and writing.

Jim Fish & Magda Abu-Fadil with Group I of Egyptian journalists

Jim Fish & Magda Abu-Fadil with Group I of Egyptian journalists

The September 2014 back-to-back workshops in Amman aimed at ascertaining the importance of proper and diverse sourcing, balance in presenting various sides to the reported information, ethical considerations, newsworthiness and accuracy.

The trainers also stressed the importance of the correct use of language, grammar, attention to translated material used in the journalists’ coverage, and making sure all information, notably numerical data, are presented in the proper context.

Abu-Fadil & Fish with Group II of Egyptian trainees

Abu-Fadil & Fish with Group II of Egyptian trainees

Fish and Abu-Fadil also provided pointers on how to improve radio, TV and online stories’ audio, visual and multimedia presentations.

The European Union-funded workshops are part of a program run by a BBC Media Action-led consortium covering 17 countries in the “European Neighbourhood.”

Abu-Fadil Launches Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide at MSF14

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil launched the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide at a conference in Lebanon aimed at creating awareness about digital freedom and responsibility.

Charbel El Kareh listens as Abu-Fadil launches the guide

Charbel El Kareh listens as Abu-Fadil launches the guide

She presented the guide at the Media Studies Forum MSF14 at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University (NDU) which faculty member/journalist Rouba El Helou translated from a similar booklet edited by Andrea Gallo, a student at Louisiana State University.

Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide

Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide

It was well timed in May 2014 with the forum’s theme, “Ethics of Digital Media and Online Knowledge Production.”

Abu-Fadil raised issues like misattribution of sources, manipulation of visual content and accepting gifts during a panel entitled “Online Media Freedom and Ethics.”

Abu-Fadil and El-Helou at MSF14

Abu-Fadil and El Helou at MSF14

She showed a report that was the top story on a Lebanese TV newscast of a woman committing suicide by jumping off a balcony while her husband filmed it on his mobile phone to jolt the forum’s audience and sensitize participating students to what is and isn’t acceptable.

Since videos and photos can easily be manipulated, Abu-Fadil made a point of demonstrating how Tungstène, the fake photo finder used by Agence France-Presse, and other software can detect inaccurate visual data.

The Verification Handbook was another excellent resource to which she referred.

Screen shot of Verification Handbook

Abu-Fadil pointed to the dangers of “remixing,” what the code of best practice for fair use is, and what the School of Communication at her alma mater, American University in Washington, DC, did to explain it in a very handy video.

“The Endless Battle on Corruption in Media”

Lebanese journalists face hardships in accessing information, with legal checks and outside pressures barring them from conducting proper investigations into corruption, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said.

“Laws often trip up journalists as their interpretation or misapplication hamper serious investigations and the uncovering of wrongdoing,” she told the International Anti-Corruption Academy’s “IACAlumnus” magazine.

1IACAlumnus_Issue 2_2014-1

But, she noted, that if a dedicated journalist is intent on covering corruption issues, he/she can do so at his/her own peril.

“The Endless Battle on Corruption in Media,” an article in the magazine by Rouba El Helou, focuses on issues like the mixture of politics, religion and economics that lead to corruption in media and undermine journalists.

“Revealing the truth in corruption stories helps protect citizens from further harm, sets a good example as to what ethical behavior ought to be, and acts as a deterrent to potential criminals,” Abu-Fadil said.

 

UAE Foreign Aid Organizations Participate in Strat Comm Course

Some 20 participants from United Arab Emirates-funded foreign aid organizations learned how to fine-tune their communications strategies by ensuring better interaction with field workers and disseminating their news through the media.

The participants took part in a workshop on Strategic Communications conducted by Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil under the patronage of Sheikha Lubna bint Khaled Al Qassemi to help them craft their internal and external messages.

Magda Abu-Fadil (center back row) trains UAE-based foreign aid communications  officials

Magda Abu-Fadil (center back row) trains UAE-based foreign aid communications officials

The March 2013 training in Abu Dhabi centered on building bridges with the media, setting priorities, appreciating deadlines for various media, collecting news from the field, ethics in public relations, planted stories and conflict of interest, and, their organization’s visual identity.

Participants worked in groups to map out strategic media plans, practiced writing op-eds, and discussed how to improve coordination between their respective organizations.

Working groups map out strategic communications plans

Working groups map out strategic communications plans

They were advised to think like journalists, and to beef up their online presence through traditional and social media channels.

The workshop was organized by the UAE Ministry of International Cooperation and Development, the Office for the Coordination of Foreign Aid, and twofour54 Tadreeb.