Arab Journalists Learn Religion Coverage

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil helped train Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi journalists in Beirut on the mechanics of covering religion, religious diversity and freedom of expression during a much-needed five-day workshop.

They had been given a solid dose of religious, philosophical and academic arguments and definitions in previous days by men of the cloth, university faculty members and other experts in a mini-course organized by the Adyan Foundation, an organization promoting interreligious studies and spiritual solidarity.

Abu-Fadil on how to cover religion

Abu-Fadil on how to cover religion

Abu-Fadil’s sessions in October 2016 focused on the essence of covering religion, the research involved, the fieldwork, the critical thinking needed for such assignments, and the hazards involved.

Videos included how sectarian provocation in the media was monitored in Lebanon in 2015, how religious differences are interpreted by children (based on their upbringing), how to detect bias in reporting, religious forgiveness, and tolerance.

The tips she provided included reporting accurately about religious groups and matters, not assuming anything, being fair and balanced, familiarizing oneself with religious laws where they apply, providing the necessary context to any story and adding the economic, political, social and cultural dimensions to reports.

Religious and sectarian differences in Lebanon

Religious and sectarian differences in Lebanon

She also cautioned them about politicians’ use of religious verses to further political and possibly nefarious agendas.

Abu-Fadil moreover focused on media ethics in the religious context with countless caveats on pitfalls that could sink journalists like inciting hate, misusing social media, and disseminating rumors.

MU Director on Journo Safety, Disinformation & Freedom of Expression at Helsinki WPFD

Too many journalists are victims of violence and impunity and more should be done in academia to prepare media students for the perils they’re likely to face.

“I urge all faculty members here to incorporate a course on safety for journalists in their curricula,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told academics and media experts in Helsinki. “It’s not a luxury, it’s an urgent necessity.”

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Abu-Fadil was addressing the UNESCO Research Conference on Safety of Journalists in connection with World Press Freedom Day in May 2016 the Finnish capital.

According to UNESCO, one journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty and the impunity of such acts is unabated.

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

Unlike the issues of journalism and freedom of expression, journalists’ safety has not been a very popular topic of academic research. It has rarely been discussed as a specific research question, much less in practical courses.

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development 

“Press freedom depends on safety,” noted Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the opening of a parallel research conference, adding that 95% of attacks on media staffers are never resolved.

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists' safety

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists’ safety

Abu-Fadil participated in another session on new frontiers in disinformation and the use of propaganda.

Panelists discussed various aspects of media’s misleading messages, hate speech, phony photographs and visuals, manipulation by terrorist groups, and, the proliferation of news websites as a counterforce to government-controlled media and corporate monopolies.

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

This year’s WPFD coincided with the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Law in Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden at the time.

The “Freedom of the Press Act 1776” passed by Sweden’s parliament abolished preventive censorship and made political debate – including criticism of the country’s rulers – permissible. But religious texts remained subject to prior censorship.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights - Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

“We need governments to be accountable and transparent,” said CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and chair of a plenary session entitled “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”.

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil took part in “Promoting Freedom of Expression: A Public Seminar on UNESCO’s Impact in the Arab Region.”

The session focused on the importance of freedom of expression for sustainable development, democratic governance, and intercultural dialogue, notably in post-conflict environments.

The three-day conference, including off-site activities, was packed with sessions focusing on media coverage of the refugee crisis, artistic freedom, whistleblowers and source protection, hate speech and ethics, gender issues, and freedom of information.

The conference culminated in the Finlandia Declaration on Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.

Abu-Fadil Trains Libyan Journalists in Conflict-Sensitive Reporting

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil pulled all the stops to familiarize Libyan journalists with the concept of conflict-sensitive reporting aimed at producing a code of ethics for their country’s media.

MU director explains the impact of deadly rumors

MU director explains the impact of deadly rumors

During two training courses, Abu-Fadil focused on definitions of conflict-sensitive reporting and bias, propaganda, hate speech, rumors, pictures, images, and video clips, the pros and cons of online and social media, religious incitement, and peace journalism.

Propaganda stokes conflicts, journalists told

Propaganda stokes conflicts, journalists told

The final event, a workshop grouping some of the participants from the second training and others who complemented the assemblage, focused on hammering out a code of ethics to be adopted by Libyan media.

Ethics, media and conflicts

Ethics, media and conflicts

UNESCO’s Division for Freedom of Information and Media Development in collaboration with the Tunis-based UNESCO Libya CI focal point commissioned the work that was conducted in Amman, Jordan in April 2016.

UNESCO's Raja'a El Abasi at training workshop for Libyan journalists

UNESCO’s Raja’a El Abasi at training workshop for Libyan journalists

The event followed earlier efforts by UNESCO to establish a base for media ethics in Libya. The Amman program was co-funded by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

Michael Croft, UNESCO Head of Office and Representative in Libya addresses participants as US Public Affairs Officer Stephen Ibelli (center) looks on

Michael Croft, UNESCO Head of Office and Representative in Libya, addresses participants as US Public Affairs Officer Stephen Ibelli (center) looks on

The journalists came from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to Jordan. Some of the participants were already in Amman, since they work for Libyan media based in the Jordanian capital. They represented print, broadcast and online media.

Abu-Fadil describes causes of conflicts

Abu-Fadil describes causes of conflicts

The program sought to change behavior and practice in Libya’s media sector. It drew on frameworks the journalists had established and adopted in the Madrid Declaration of July 2015 issued by Libyan media managers in talks facilitated by UNESCO in Spain.

Abu-Fadil and El Abasi with Libyan journalists in Amman

Abu-Fadil and El Abasi with Libyan journalists in Amman

The journalists are expected to work with their peers, civil society, and local and national authorities to establish a national consensus on media practice, freedom of expression, and the role of the media in Libyan society.

Amal Alwerfali receives workshop certificate

Amal Alwerfali receives workshop certificate

 

 

Walking A Tightrope: News Media & Freedom of Expression in the Middle East

Walking A Tightrope: News Media & Freedom of Expression in the Middle East by Layla Al-Zubaidi, Susanne Fischer and Magda Abu-Fadil is a good reference on the state of affairs in the MENA region with a focus on six Arab countries.

Over the past 15 years, the Arab World1 has witnessed the rapid development of its news media, raising standards of reporting as well as expectations. Satellite news channels have successfully breached national boundaries and have stirred public debate, challenged censorship and prompted critical reflection. Audiences across the region and in the diaspora have been actively participating in talk shows, and female anchors and hosts provide new role models for women in the region.

These channels have also managed to reverse the traditional flow of news from Western media to the region. In 1990, Arab viewers turned to CNN for live coverage, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and coalition forces led by the USrolled back the invasion. When a US-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, it was Western media that sought coverage from their Arab counterparts.

With the outbreak of what has become known as the “Arab Spring,” the media landscape is again in a heightened state of flux, as new questions arise: Have Facebook, Twitter and YouTube taken over, or do satellite television channels still enjoy the lion’s share of audiences? Are accurate figures on who is influencing whom attainable, at a time when traditional media are struggling to remain financially afloat – in the Arab World and beyond?

What about citizen journalists armed with mobile phones, small digital devices, Internet connections and other means of communication, who are competing to disseminate their messages of anger, hope, fear, defiance, demands for freedom and a better life, while their leaders cling to power and insist on squashing all forms of dissent?

The authors attempt to answer this and other questions in the study that can be downloaded from the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s website.