MU Director On Media Ethics Using Refugee, Migrant Photos

Choosing and publishing images of refugees, migrants and people in distress is both painful and difficult, notably when they’re graphic and reach various audiences across multiple media platforms in record time.

The image as symbol (courtesy “A Sea of Images”)

Weighty decisions may lead to photos becoming icons and symbols representing all other victims as that of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler lying face down on a Turkish beach in 2015 that went viral in just three hours.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil discussed the ethical implications and how such pictures can also be (mis)used by politicians to score points and advance their own agendas.

Magda Abu-Fadil (left) discusses the ethics of using photos of migrants, refugees (courtesy Tom Law)

The topic made for an animated discussion during “Movie Night” hosted by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN)  at the December 2017 Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism’s (ARIJ) annual conference in which she participated as a panelist.

The movie in question was “A Sea of Images,” a documentary on how media tackle migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa fleeing their troubled lands in a perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The film, produced by Misja Pekel and Maud van de Reijt, is part of a series for Dutch public television that examined the connection between media and public opinion.

How do editors decide what photos to publish? (courtesy A Sea of Images)

 Refugee fatigue, she argued in the discussion following the film’s showing, can affect journalists’ and editors’ judgment in their choice and dissemination of images, with ethics falling by the wayside.


Audience debates ethics of photo publishing (courtesy Tom Law)

Aidan White, veteran journalist and director of the Ethical Journalism Network, said three of the Aylan Kurdi pictures were published around the world, but photos could be used in different ways to tell different narratives.

“What that reveals, is that although the pictures are dramatic and important, in the end it’s the context in which the pictures are used by journalists,” White explained.

Aidan White on the ethical use of images (courtesy “A Sea of Images”)

The ethical use of images depicting migrants, refugees and vulnerable people in the media, and what impact they have on public policy, will continue to trigger debate so long as conflicts, economic and natural disasters cause massive population displacement.

Abu-Fadil Raises Media Ethics Issues at COPEAM 2017 Confab

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told a Beirut conference the issue of fake news may cause extensive damage and provided examples of how Photoshopped pictures and distorted videos go viral on social media.

RAI President Monica Maggioni, Anna Lindh Foundation Executive Director Hatem Atallah, Media Unlimited Director Magda Abu-Fadil and AFP video journalist Will Vassilopoulos

“Professionalism and media ethics equal a winning equation in the 21st Century,” she said at the “Mediterranean Storytelling: Complexities, Media Response and Public Opinion” event, adding that today’s wars and crises are defined as social media and fabricated news conflicts.

Abu-Fadil was speaking at the at the 24th Annual Conference and 23rd General Assembly of COPEAM, the Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators in Beirut, Lebanon, in May 2017.

She joined experts seeking solutions to coverage of complex issues, notably migration, terrorism, fake news, their impact, and audience behavior.

COPEAM is a non-profit association devoted to the promotion of dialogue and cultural integration in the Mediterranean region through the involvement of the audiovisual sector’s major players.


COPEAM conferees discuss their roles and responsibilities

These include public service radio and TV broadcasters of 26 countries, as well as professional and cultural associations, higher education institutions, and, independent producers and local authorities from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Rome-based COPEAM groups 60 members. It acts on a multilateral cooperation formula aimed at enhancing and exchanging expertise within its network.

MU Director on Female Internet Radicalization at UNESCO Quebec Meet

Why do young people, including girls and women, turn radical and what role does the Internet play in their radicalization?

A question Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil tried to answer in the workshop “Gender Perspectives and the Process of Radicalization” at the UNESCO conference “Internet and the Radicalization of Youth: Preventing, Acting and Living Together“ in Quebec, Canada in November 2016.

Abu-Fadil on female Internet radicalization

Abu-Fadil on female Internet radicalization

She referred to research by Lebanese sociologist Mona Fayyad who said high crime rates in crowded urban areas, notably poverty belts surrounding major cities, often go undetected by social monitoring and supervision, leading to an increased possibility of crimes and violence alongside a collapse of traditional structures.

Fayyad focused on Syrian refugees and migrants in Lebanon and their exposure to untold horrors and injustices possibly leading to deviant behavior. Lebanon hosts upwards of 1.5 million Syrian refugees and migrants who escaped the war in their country, depending on whose figures one believes.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon may add to security threat

Syrian refugees in Lebanon may add to security threat

According to women experts on a BBC Arabic TV show, many of the recruits fighting in Arab countries come from abroad. While home grown female jihadists in Iraq exist, for example, many others hail from Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Europe and Russia.

One researcher said women recruits exhibited character weakness, a proclivity to violence, a need for escape (from their reality), and were in search of alternatives.

Sadly, authorities in many countries treat the symptom, not the cause, of radicalization, Abu-Fadil said.

What draws women and girls to extremist organizations? Females join ISIS ranks to follow boyfriends, husbands, siblings or other family members.

Female jihadists duped

Female jihadists duped

In most cases, it’s under the false pretense of a better, holier and more exciting life. To their horror, they discover it’s all a hoax.

Among the non-Muslim-majority countries, Russia, France, and Germany supply the largest numbers of ISIS’ foreign workforce, a World Bank study said.

Recommendations on tackling female radicalization

Recommendations on tackling female radicalization

A writeup of Abu-Fadil’s presentation is available here.