Becoming a journalist today requires a modified skill set to the one needed decades ago, but the principles of news gathering, fact checking, story telling and ethics remain the same, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told students in Doha.
Informal lunch talk with Georgetown-Qatar students and faculty
Abu-Fadil showed her audience how she had evolved as a reporter whose local and foreign assignments meant excellent preparations for stories through constant learning and knowledge as well as what was then available as tools of the trade.
Evolution of a journalist
The tools included notebooks, pens, recorders, batteries, cameras, lenses, filters, flashlights, tripods, and typewriters.
Mobile journalists, or mojos, including herself, using mobile, portable, connected devices have mostly replaced those earlier items, although several remain staples for reporters and photographers, she said.
Questions on whether it’s worth becoming a journalist
In another meeting with Georgetown students, Abu-Fadil spoke on media, culture and politics in the Middle East, focusing primarily on ethics (or the lack thereof) in print, broadcast, online and social media.
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
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their students for the ever-changing job market by providing them with flexible skills and not just focus primarily on outdated theories or research that have little practical application.
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
Abu-Fadil cited several broadcast, online and social media case studies from Arab and Western news organizations that were clear violations of ethical standards.
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
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
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.
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
“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.
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
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
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
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.”
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.
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.