Media Education in Lebanon Needs Revisiting: Abu-Fadil

Media education in Lebanon needs revisiting as faculty members and curricula are often well behind the times leaving graduates unable to meet market needs.

“The gap begins with curricula that resemble poems of the Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic) era,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil who spent years trying to upgrade courses at two universities in Lebanon but was often met with academic and bureaucratic obstructionists.

Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Al Jazeera Journalism Review

She said many of the instructors teaching journalism and media courses had never worked in the field and had never run newsrooms, leading to a disconnect between academia and the media to fulfill job requirements.

Abu-Fadil, who was interviewed by the Al Jazeera Journalism Review, said journalism and media studies graduates who do not acquire the necessary skills may latch on to superficial manifestations like the latest technology and social media, rather than pay attention to news substance regardless of the platform.

“Sadly, there’s a big drop in the command of languages (stressing the importance of mastering several in a globalized world), a shortage of critical thinking, little grasp of general knowledge, not to mention media ethics that’s almost non-existent, and, a problem of accuracy, balance, and verification in light of everything that’s published on social media,” she noted.

Asked whether the media weren’t also to blame for promoting journalists and presenters who were ill qualified, Abu-Fadil replied: “Everyone is responsible because media want to attract audiences, but in an era of cutbacks, sliding revenues, a switch to online/mobile/interactive digital media, there’s a great need to change employers’ mindsets.”

She said media’s role should be to benefit and enlighten readers, listeners, viewers and browsers, not just owners, adding that Lebanese media are also constrained by political, sectarian and economic factors.

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.

Abu-Fadil Edits/Co-Authors Media & Information Literacy Book

Do Middle East/North Africa (MENA) consumers and producers of media in all their permutations and across countless platforms fully comprehend what they’re doing and how they fit in the larger scheme of things?

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil traced her trajectory into the realm of media and information literacy (MIL) in Lebanon dating back to 1999 in a virtual cross-cultural academic and journalistic experiment with a professor and his students from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

MENA MIL book (Abu-Fadil)

Abu-Fadil has contributed various chapters to books and has written articles on the subject, all of which were summarized and compiled in a chapter in the English/Arabic book “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” published by the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth & Media at Nordicom, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, with support from UNESCO and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations).

Abu-Fadil (center) and international experts launch MENA MIL book in Amman

Abu-Fadil (center) and international experts launch MENA MIL book in Amman

In the introduction to the book, Abu-Fadil also wrote:

There has never been a more propitious time than the present to promote, teach, and engage with media and information literacy (MIL) in all its permutations across the Middle East/North Africa region, notably the Arab states that are undergoing tectonic changes.

The very notion of MIL is nascent in most of the countries surveyed herein and the application of programs falling under the MIL umbrella varies from almost non-existent to relatively dynamic, albeit on a limited scale. 

That is due, in great measure, to the variety of educational systems across the Arab world, although there is also common ground in that the top-down imparting of information (not always knowledge) has been the rule rather than the exception and can still be seen in schools and universities. 

Critical thinking has yet to take root across the board. There are examples of educational institutions where it has been encouraged but various factors come into play in its application.

Abu-Fadil is the lead editor of this reference and a key co-author. She helped launch the book in Amman, Jordan in October 2016.

MU Director on Peace Building in Lebanon Via Media

I Hate You.”

A powerful statement and title of a 385-page study on hate speech and sectarianism in “Arab Spring” media, wrote Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.

It is also a reflection of countless Arab world afflictions that was published in 2014 by the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ).

Peace Building in Lebanon (Abu-Fadil)

“In the Arab Spring’s crisis, it is hard to provide a stamp of innocence to exonerate Arab media from responsibility in the spread of hate speech, since most are co-conspirators in their practice, or in their silence,” wrote CDFJ Executive President Nidal Mansour in the book’s foreword (page 9).

It plunges into case studies of hate speech in Jordan, as that is manifested against Syrian refugees, but it may as well have been addressing the issue in Lebanon, where a host of similarities exist…

Read the full article that appeared in a newspaper supplement on peace building in Lebanon produced by the United Nations Development Program in English for The Daily Star [PDF], in Arabic for Annahar and Assafir [PDF] and in French for L’Orient-Le Jour [PDF].

Will Lebanese Newspapers Become Extinct?

The ax is falling fast on Lebanese journalists as word of newspapers going fully online or facing shutdown spread this week amid a sea of political, financial and social turmoil in the country.

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Lebanon Files’ Rabih Haber and Al Liwa’s Salah Salam

Besides sharp drops in advertising revenue, competition from newer local print and online media (not to mention social media and citizen journalists), rising production costs, measly subscriptions, and readers who would rather get their news in snippets on the move, Lebanese media have also been heavily dependent on political patronage and outside funding over the decades.

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

VDL talk show host Khaldoun Zeineddine

All dailies have online versions but the big question is whether the paper editions would survive.

Newsrooms have failed to keep up with the times. There’s no real integration of key elements of digital multimedia newsgathering, editing, distribution and interactivity or engagement with consumers.

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Magda Abu-Fadil on Voix du Liban talk show

Editors and publishers exist in bubbles of denial or believe that imitating certain foreign media’s tactics of a race for clicks and unrealistic analytics will help achieve their goals of monetizing online content.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil discussed Lebanese print media’s slippery slope in “Al Safha Al Akheera” (The Last Page), a radio talk show on Voix du Liban, in March 2016.

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Rabih Haber, Salah Salam, Abu-Fadil, Ahmad Zein El Dine, Khaldoun Zeineddine

Other guests were Ahmad Zeineddine, a media professor at the state-run Lebanese University, as well as Salah Salam, editor of the daily Al Liwa’ (The Banner) and Rabih Haber, publisher of the online news site Lebanon Files

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 Pens Lebanon Chapter in EJN Migrant Report

Media worldwide are failing the professional coverage test of the migrant/refugee story, with Lebanese journalists providing examples of what not to do in broaching the topic.

In a scathing indictment of how journalists are following the issue internationally, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) documented the practices of media’s shortfall in the European Union, Bulgaria, Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, China, The Gambia, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, South Africa and the United States.

Moving Stories Cover (courtesy EJN)

The EJN’s Moving Stories: International Review of How Media Cover Migration launched in December 2015 showed how journalists in those countries have, for the most part, flunked on several fronts.

Lebanon, which is hosting over a quarter of its population in Syrian refugees – added to earlier asylum seekers and migrants from different countries – is equally culpable, but NGOs are stepping in to mitigate media’s poor job of covering the story.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousefzai visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon (courtesy Eason Jordan)

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousefzai visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon (courtesy Eason Jordan)

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil contributed the chapter Lebanon: Media Put Humanity in the Picture as Refugee Crisis Takes Hold to the EJN report highlighting the failure to provide accurate, fair, balanced, and ethical coverage of the refugee and migrant issue. 

 

MU Director Talks on Lebanese Media Hate Speech at Cairo Seminar

Lebanese media mirror the country’s political, economic, and social ambiance, to the detriment of accuracy, fairness and balance in many instances, Magda Abu-Fadil told a Cairo seminar in November 2015.

Moroccan Professor Mohamed Allali and Magda Abu-Fadil at hate speech seminar at AUC

Moroccan Professor Mohamed Allali and Magda Abu-Fadil at AUC hate speech seminar 

The Media Unlimited director listed a number of adjectives, descriptions, stereotypes and ethnic or sectarian slurs that often creep into the public sphere and translate into hate speech, augmented by biased media coverage, she said.

Participants at Cairo hate speech and ethics seminar

Participants at Cairo hate speech and ethics seminar

It’s also common for politicians from opposing factions to engage in mudslinging through the media, although laws and regulations, not to mention basic media ethics, should act as a deterrent, she added.

Conferees discuss the role of press councils

Conferees discuss the role of press councils

The two-day seminar, held at the American University in Cairo, was a collaborative effort by the Ethical Journalism Network, the Norwegian Institute of Journalism, the Egyptian Editors Association and the Egypt Media Development Program 

Seminar group

Seminar group

The seminar dealt with the definition of hate speech, how to counter hate speech, case studies from the participants’ respective countries, group discussions with prominent media personalities, and efforts to establish a regional center for hate speech monitoring.

It grouped participants from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, Britain, and the United States and is a follow-up to an earlier event in Beirut in 2014.

 

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.

MU Director Lectures/Trains on Social Media, Ethical Implications

How credible are social media, are they reliable sources of information, and should journalists use them for their coverage?

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil raised these three and other pertinent questions in an address to mass communications students and faculty members at Qatar University in October.

Magda Abu-Fadil lectures on social media and ethics at Qatar University

Magda Abu-Fadil lectures on social media and ethics at Qatar University

Abu-Fadil touched on how legacy media are increasingly using tips and reports disseminated through social media in conflict zones and in light of widespread terrorism but that verification remained a major challenge.

QU's Mass Communications Director Dr. Mahmoud Galandar with Abu-Fadil

QU’s Mass Communications Director Dr. Mahmoud Galandar with Abu-Fadil

She used case studies from coverage of demonstrations in Lebanon and how the media interpreted the civil society and rioters’ presence in the streets during a lecture entitled “Rise of Social Media on the Media Landscape: Impact on Media Ethics.” 

Skills digital journalist needs

Skills digital journalist needs

Abu-Fadil also tracked the evolution of social media and their incorporation into integrated multimedia news operations serving consumers across various platforms using mostly mobile digital devices.

She stressed the need for critical thinking to deconstruct social media messages and posts and understand what positive and negative impact they have on recipients.

Abu-Fadil with Qatar University students

Abu-Fadil with Qatar University students

On a second day, Abu-Fadil conducted a workshop for QU students on the use of social media and online journalism, notably the ubiquity of mobile journalists (mojos).

Social media and online journalism workshop at QU

Social media and online journalism workshop at QU

The workshop included a general knowledge test for the students as well as tips on how to verify online data, and case studies of unethical media behavior online.