Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.

Abu-Fadil Draws Line Between Free Speech, Insults in Lebanese Media

A two-month-plus revolution in Lebanon has brought out the worst in people, with countless traditional and social media spreading hate speech, insults and instigation to violence, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Medi1Radio.

“The very thin line between insults and freedom of expression in the media is when you violate other people’s rights and don’t give them the opportunity to express their views, as often occurs in traditional and social media in Lebanon,” she said. “Unfortunately, we see politicized and biased media.”

Correspondent Khaldoun Zeineddine reported that freedom of expression was enshrined in the preamble to the Lebanese constitution but asked if the protesters against a corrupt system and failed economic policies had contributed to confusing freedom with insults.

“Some protesters have contributed to mixing between freedom of expression and abuses, given their lack of arguments and critical thinking, and the culture of civilized debate, but that doesn’t apply to everyone,” Abu-Fadil added.

The brief interview can be heard below.

 

MU Director Trains Armenian Students on Migration & Media Issues

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Armenian students on how media should cover the issues of migration, refugees and human trafficking during a summer school grouping local and international academics and experts in Aghveran.

The three-day event in July 2019 on migration and development was funded by the European Union and organized by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development, with input from MIBMA Support to Migration and Border Management in Armenia.

Armenian students attend summer school on migration and development

Abu-Fadil and other specialists briefed 23 graduate and undergraduate students from Yerevan State University, Russian-Armenian University, Brusov University of Foreign Languages and other institutions on a host of topics ranging from security to globalization to migration policies to media matters.

The program acquainted the students with Armenia’s migration policies, which have been in place for over a decade, and the integration of asylum seekers, notably thousands of Syrian refugees of Armenian origin settling in the country.

On the first day Abu-Fadil contributed the media perspective for journalism students, or those who expect to deal with media, with an initial session on the need for journalists to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking.

Magda Abu-Fadil tells students they need to understand the terminology of migration, refugees and human trafficking

She demonstrated how they should become acquainted with various international organizations and NGOs that handle these issues and learn about laws, treaties, resolutions and conventions that have been adopted over the years to better frame their reports.

Armenians have emigrated to Russia for decades in search of greener pastures. They’ve also gone further afield to the United States, Canada, Europe and several Arab countries.

Lebanon, for example, boasts a sizeable Armenian community with Lebanese citizens of Armenian descent in all walks of life and actively involved in political affairs.

Perhaps the largest waves of the Armenian diaspora were triggered by the Muslim Ottoman genocide of Christian Armenians in the early 20th Century. It involved deporting and mass killing Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire by the “Young Turk” government during World War I. Modern Turkey has never acknowledged it as a genocide.

Armenia – Google Maps

Armenia has also experienced waves of displacement with Armenians moving internally as a result of earthquakes, to which the country is prone, as well as from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in today’s southwestern Azerbaijan, where a majority of ethnic Armenians live and are backed by the government in Yerevan, and where wars have been fought with the Republic of Azerbaijan, thereby forcing the residents to seek refuge elsewhere.

On the second day, Abu-Fadil delved into the details of how media should cover migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

Media’s familiarization with migration and refugee-related organizations

That ranged from researching the story, dealing with data, and statistics from various sources, to interviewing techniques for questioning officials, migrants, refugees and human trafficking survivors, host communities, to examining case studies of good and bad reporting, and the use of social media in getting and telling the story.

On the last day, she turned to media ethics and how journalists should humanize the story by translating numbers and statistics into individuals with fears, hopes, failures, successes and resilience against tremendous odds.

The key, she said, was changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping. She provided tips on how to shoot pictures and videos in an ethical fashion given the impact of visual imagery across multiple digital platforms.

MU director on changing the narrative from hate speech and stereotyping

There was also the key element of verification, notably in the age of disinformation and alternative facts where migrants are often vilified based on fabricated accounts.

There was an exercise at the end of each session to test the students’ grasp of the media-related topics and all her presentations had embedded videos to better explain what the ideas and examples meant.

“Journalism in the Internet Age”: MU Director to NDU Students

“We need journalists to tell the story and tell it well,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told media graduate students at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University during a Skype discussion on journalism and its transformation.

Abu-Fadil Skypes with NDU students

The virtual seminar “Journalism in the Internet Age: Trends, Tools and Technologies” November 15, 2017 began with a presentation reviewing Abu-Fadil’s evolution from an analog to a digital journalist in a career spanning over four decades.

“Whether you’re using analog or digital tools, what matters is the content,” she told students of Rouba El Helou-Sensenig’s JOU 640 class.

 

MU director explains her start as an analog, manual journalist

The discussion also focused on adapting journalism skills to incorporate technological changes like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR).

 

Demonstrating the use of a smartphone for mobile journalism

Abu-Fadil explained how newsrooms must reinvent themselves just to keep up.

She said what she could do with a large bag of equipment – cameras, lenses, filters, batteries, rolls of film, recorders, notebooks and more – she can now accomplish with a small smartphone, some pocket-size accessories, and apps.

Lebanese Journalists Need Training on Migrant/Refugee Coverage: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese journalists are mostly ill equipped to cover the migrant and refugee story, with reporting ranging from hate speech to a sympathetic approach, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an Austrian newspaper.

Media coverage of migrants and refugees in Lebanon is a mixed bag: it includes xenophobia and fear mongering as well as more humanitarian reporting,” she said. “But a major problem is that journalists do this along with coverage of other news and have to juggle many priorities with increasingly shrinking resources, so it’s a challenge.”

Abu-Fadil was interviewed by the Salzburger Nachrichten on her contribution to two international reports on how media have covered the migrant and refugee crisis, notably in the Euro Mediterranean region.

“Additionally, nobody is trained to cover migrant and refugee issues,” she said. “There’s a need for such training and for understanding the consequences of the stress placed on journalists who cover this crisis.”

This is a [PDF] of the article, including views from various experts.

MU Director Speaks on Media/Migrant/Refugee Coverage, Presents Award

International organizations and government officials are paying attention to the need for collaboration with media on the migrant/refugee crisis to mitigate a rising tide of xenophobia egged on by false and toxic reporting.

The International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), partnering with the European Union (EU), Euro Mediterranean Migration IV (EMM4) and the government of Malta, organized the “Director General Conference: Balancing the Narrative on Migration, The Role of Media and Policymakers” in Valetta in June 2017 aimed at balancing the narrative on migration.

Narrative on migration and media conference

Topics included a panel on the role of the media and migration reporting in informing the public during which Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil presented a Lebanese social media case study of politics, sectarianism, xenophobia, hate speech, a counter-narrative, and, pushback from maligned parties.

The conference grouped policymakers, media representatives and academics who discussed how media and different stakeholder groups, including policymakers, communicate on migration, how the media gather, use and convey migration-related data, and how this ultimately influences the narrative and public opinion on migration.

 

Magda Abu-Fadil presents Lebanese social media case study

Abu-Fadil also spoke of the importance of promoting critical thinking, and reinforcing awareness to combat online hate speech and fake news against migrants and refugees through media, information and news literacy.

 

Organizers, along with Open Media Hub hosted in Valetta the first Migration Media Award for journalistic excellence on migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region. It’s an EU-funded journalism competition for which Abu-Fadil served as one of the judges.

 

Migration Media Award recipients and judges

It recognized 35 journalists from 16 countries for their journalistic excellence in reporting on migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Abu-Fadil handed the first prize in the print category to Moroccan journalist Salaheddine Lemaizi for his winning entry “Right to Asylum: What to do with Syrian Refugees?”

 

Abu-Fadil hands Migration Media Award to Salaheddine Lemaizi

The winning entries featured fact-based and impartial reporting on the complexity of migration, its many challenges and opportunities.

UNESCO/IFJ Launch Journalists Safety University Course

UNESCO’s Beirut office and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched the “Model Course on Safety of Journalists,” to help lessen dangers to media workers by incorporating a safety course in university curricula across the Middle East/North Africa (MENA).

The course covers: a broad introduction to journalism safety and threats to media workers; planning for personal safety; personal health care and trauma in hostile environments; risk assessment; travel security; digital security; gender and safe reporting; covering demonstrations and civil unrest; human rights and humanitarian law; ethics; and, safety and investigative journalism.

IFJ’s Anthony Bellanger, Lebanese Education Ministry’s Ahmad Jammal and UNESCO’s Sylvie Coudray and George Awad

It was published and launched in Beirut, Lebanon in May 2017 in hard copy in English and Arabic. It is available as downloadable PDFs in both languages as a gift to academics and students.

Arabic version of safety course

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, Michael Foley, and Clare Arthurs prepared the 174-page English version to shed light on fatalities, injuries, and disappearances that are at record highs in the MENA region and prepare students for dangers they’re likely to face.

Lebanese University professor Hassana Rachid translated the book to Arabic.

Foley is a former journalist who moved into academia, as did Arthurs, a BBC journalist-turned-instructor and trainer.

 

Magda Abu-Fadil presents lessons in safety for journalists course

Abu-Fadil is a veteran journalist who has worked in the staid halls of academe, where media curricula in the MENA countries have not always kept pace with the skills needed and job market requirements.

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.

Lebanese Media Produce Hodgepodge Coverage of Migrants/Refugees: Report

Can media cover migration effectively and are adequate resources provided for such a gargantuan endeavor, notably in Mediterranean countries facing an unprecedented influx of people seeking shelter from conflicts and better economic opportunities?

 

Lebanon chapter of media migration report

“How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on Migration? A study by journalists, for journalists and policymakers: Migration media coverage in 17 countries from 2015 to 2016” is a joint effort of the Ethical Journalism Network, the European Union, Euromed Migration and the International Center for Migration Policy Development.

 

Middle East map with Lebanon in the eastern Mediterranean

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil penned the report’s Lebanon chapter. It provides 11 case studies of media controversies in 2016 arising from migration-related coverage.

 

Media migration report

The Lebanon chapter, “Mixed Messages as Media Cope with Internal Stress and External Pressure,” sheds light on how Lebanese media mired in dysfunctional domestic politics, facing regional security threats and international upheavals, and troubled by their own shaky existence, have produced a hodgepodge of migration coverage since 2015.

Although glossaries of migrant-related terminology – provided by international organizations and NGOs – exist, journalists covering the story still use terms like “migrant,” “refugee” and “settler” incorrectly and interchangeably.

An executive summary of the report, released in May 2017, was presented at a pre-launch event at the Brussels Press Club during which organizers announced the creation of the Migration Media Award.

Brussels Press Club

“Moving Stories,” an earlier report by EJN, on how media cover migration worldwide, is available here [PDF}.

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.