Media Ethics: Whose Standards?

It bears repeating: media ethics aren’t a one-off endeavor and shouldn’t be a priority only when trouble brews.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil made the point during the “Radio and Television Broadcasting Conference: Policies, Transformations, Challenges” organized in Amman by the Jordan Media Institute in May 2015.

Magda Abu-Fadil speaks on ethics in broadcast media

Magda Abu-Fadil speaks on ethics in broadcast media

She said broadcast media were under intense pressure, given tight deadlines, security threats, competition and shrinking budgets.

So the key challenges are: how do we define media ethics and who sets the standards when the journalism of terror is becoming the new normal?

Abu-Fadil spoke about representatives of major Western media who addressed the issue of “The journalism of terror: How do we bear witness when everybody is a witness?” at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy in April.

Given the unstable security situation in many countries, broadcast news is relying more and more on footage and reports from alternative and questionable sources like citizen journalists, terrorists, activists, NGOs, governments and others.

Live tweeting broadcasting conference

Live tweeting broadcasting conference

Abu-Fadil cited several broadcast, online and social media case studies from Arab and Western news organizations that were clear violations of ethical standards.

She wrapped up her presentation with the “Guide to Online Media Ethics in Arabic” and the guidelines for graphic content of the Radio Television Digital News Association in the U.S.

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.

MU Director on Veracity of U.S. Journalists’ Beheadings

Aljazeera’s Arabic website published a story ridiculing the beheadings of US journalists, to the dismay of their loved ones, thereby prompting a debate on media ethics.

The report said the executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff that were posted on social media were unconvincing, were akin to a Hollywood production, and created a pretext for Western intervention in Syria.

Screen shot of Al Arabiya's Take on Aljazeera's Beheading Report

Screen shot of Al Arabiya’s Take on Aljazeera’s Beheading Report

“In a court of law, one would need solid data, not just circumstantial evidence,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya’s English website, asking whether Aljazeera’s reporter had solid proof the beheadings were bogus.

Read more on Abu-Fadil’s interview and comments on media ethics, news fabrication and journalism. A [PDF] version is available here.

MU Director Tutors Moroccan Journalists in Avoiding Pitfalls

Twelve eager journalists from across Morocco returned to a Rabat workshop to present work they had produced following earlier intensive training led by BBC Media Action.

Analysis of Moroccan journalist's EU-related article

Analysis of Moroccan journalist’s EU-related article

The March 2014 training, conducted by BBC veteran Jim Fish and Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil centered on a review of print and online articles, as well as radio and television reports covering crimes, the controversial Sahara issue, protesting judges, and projects funded by the European Union (EU), to name a few.

BBC veteran Jim Fish (far right) with pointers on good reporting for Moroccan journalists

BBC veteran Jim Fish (far right) with pointers on good reporting for Moroccan journalists

The trainers went over several samples of work, critiquing content, sourcing, accuracy, style, presentation, and ethics.

They also cautioned participants to avoid bias, focus on the real story, sidestep long-winded rhetoric and remember the context.

Jim Fish (left) & Magda Abu-Fadil (right) with Moroccan journalists

Jim Fish (left) & Magda Abu-Fadil (right) with Moroccan journalists

The journalists hailed from Rabat, Sale, Casablanca, Meknes, Tetouan, Laayoune, and Sidi Ifni.

The workshop is part of a journalism training project funded by the EU and run by a BBC Media Action-led consortium covering 17 countries in the “European Neighbourhood.”

Abu-Fadil to Journalists: Differentiate Between News and Views

Arab journalists should differentiate between news and views and should not ignore context in their online and traditional outlet stories, said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.

She told Morocco’s Al Roaya News young reporters are impatient and often ignore journalism basics like proper sourcing, research and media ethics.

She urged journalists to enroll in training workshops on a regular basis to upgrade and update their knowledge and skills and to fall back on critical thinking in their endeavors.

A [PDF] of the interview is available here.

Social Media & Wars

Social Media & Wars

In another interview, with Lebanon’s daily Annahar, Abu-Fadil described how media disseminated news of the country’s 1975-90 civil war as opposed to the ubiquitous use of social media today that parallel and compete with legacy media in covering local and regional conflicts.

She said journalists should not be misled by incorrect or doctored information from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and should be diligent in checking all sources.

A [PDF] of the interview is available here.

MU Speaks Out on Need for Better Journalism Teaching/Training at Dubai’s 11th Arab Media Forum

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told participants at an Arab Media Forum (AMF) 2012 workshop that academics must get up to speed and not deride the importance of social media.

Some panelists and members of the audience said online media users could not be described as journalists since they don’t have the requisite academic and professional qualifications.

Magda Abu-Fadil (second from right) during AMF2012 workshop on instinctive online journalists (Courtesy of DPC)

But, Abu-Fadil argued, many Arab journalism schools lacked resources and because of their poor curricula were turning out functional illiterates by not providing students with the knowledge base and skills for today’s exploding media market.

Additionally, faculty members were often below par and incapable of keeping up with the times, hence their aversion to digital advances, social media, and inability to incorporate them in their programs.

Media Unlimited featured at Arab Media Forum 2012 in Dubai (Courtesy of DPC)

The workshop — which preceded the two-day event’s official opening — focused on whether social and online media users had become journalists by instinct.

Talk show host Zeina Yazigi (Twitter @zyazigi) of Dubai TV interviewed Abu-Fadil on her show “Al Shari’ Al Arabi” (The Arab Street) to discuss the impact of online and social media on Arabs in the wake of revolutions gripping the region and whether citizen journalists posed serious competition to traditional media.

Read details of the 11th Arab Media Forum organized by the Dubai Press Club May 8-9, 2012.