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.

MU Director Briefs GU & NWU Students on Journalism, Culture, Politics, Ethics

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.

Magda Abu-Fadil on journalism today

Magda Abu-Fadil on journalism today

She addressed Georgetown University School of Foreign Service students and faculty members in October in Qatar on the evolution of journalism, on becoming a foreign correspondent, on politics, and on media ethics.

Informal lunch talk with Georgetown-Qatar students and faculty

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

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.

Today’s mojos need fewer encumbering tools

Today’s mojos need fewer encumbering tools

The informal lunch gathering included students from Northwestern University’s Qatar campus who attend joint media classes at Georgetown.

Questions on whether it's worth becoming a journalist

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 Need Work on Professionalism, Ethics: Abu-Fadil

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

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.

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 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.

Deadlines, Competition Shouldn’t Precede Media Ethics: Abu-Fadil

Use and abuse of social media has become the “new battleground” in conflict coverage with Gaza being a recent example.

“A click is often faster than legwork to obtain information and shape it into good story form,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil. “I believe the same rules apply to social media as legacy media in terms of coverage and good journalism, albeit in more condensed form and at greater speed: accuracy, balance, fairness, ethics.”

She discussed the implications in “Information wars: how journalists navigated social media in the Israel-Palestine conflict,” for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Screen shot of WAN-IFRA's Information Wars

Screen shot of WAN-IFRA’s Information Wars

Read more from Abu-Fadil on emotions, comments, images and videos used by warring factions via social media in a blogpost by Lucy Dean. A [PDF] version is available here.

Abu-Fadil: Social Media a Double-Edged Sword in Syrian Conflict

How is the Syrian war playing out on social media? Are reports by citizen journalists and activists credible?

Is it “the most socially mediated civil conflict in history” and can we agree with a study’s conclusion that “social media have revolutionized the way that the world has understood the Syrian conflict?”

Screen shot of Syria's "Twitter Jihad"

Screen shot of Syria’s “Twitter Jihad”

According to Magda Abu-Fadil, social media are a double-edged sword.

“[Social media] help provide vital information that traditional media have been unable to obtain, but they also have misused it to disseminate disinformation,” says Abu-Fadil, a veteran journalist in the region. “One has to take it on a case-by–case basis.”

Read more from Media Unlimited’s director on media ethics, propaganda, information verification, photos and videos in “Syria’s ‘Twitter Jihad’: Social media is hardly immune from the fog of war,’ an article in Global Journalist. A [PDF] version is available here.

Abu-Fadil Co-Trains Libyan Journalists

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil helped eight Libyan journalists better understand solid reporting in a final workshop to assess their coverage of European Union-related issues.

MU director critiques Libyan journalists' work

MU director critiques Libyan journalists’ work

She joined BBC veteran Russell Peasgood to train the reporters from Tripoli, Benghazi and Ajdabia.

The training took place in Tunisia due to the unsettled situation in Libya.

BBC veteran Russell Peasgood (left) reviews Libyan reporter’s article

BBC veteran Russell Peasgood (left) reviews Libyan reporter’s article

Government security forces, opposing warring factions and militias systematically target Libyan journalists. The journalists’ work for the course reflected the threats under which they  operate.

Libyan journalists learn to sharpen skills

Libyan journalists learn to sharpen skills

Abu-Fadil stressed the importance of writing strong leads, avoiding opinions in hard news reports, verifying all information, using proper attribution, and being mindful of media ethics.

BBC Media Action training of Libyan journalists in Tunis

BBC Media Action training of Libyan journalists in Tunis

The European Union-funded workshop in April 2014 is part of a program run by a BBC Media Action-led consortium covering 17 countries in the “European Neighbourhood.”

Abu-Fadil Trains Jordanians on Use of Demographics in Reporting

Thirty-three Jordanian print, broadcast and online journalists plunged into an intensive course aimed at fine-tuning their reporting skills in coverage of public health issues by reading tables, deciphering statistics, and carefully filtering through complex demographic data.

Jordanian journalists toiling over demographic survey tables

Jordanian journalists toiling over demographic survey tables

 Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil contributed to the March 2014 workshop organized by Jordan’s former director of statistics Fathi Nsour and guided by the U.S.-based Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program.

The training focused on understanding Jordanian demographic survey results, the importance of math for journalists, simple rules for writing with numbers, health terminology, and general reporting guidelines.

Other experts in the fields of sociology, population, statistics and demographics were on hand to help clarify complex issues the journalists were expected to cover.

The workshop included practical math exercises, online research for primary and secondary sources, a mock news conference on public health, writing, editing, media ethics, and a general knowledge quiz.

Abu-Fadil discusses ethics in health coverage

Abu-Fadil discusses ethics in health coverage

Participants also watched relevant videos, including a segment from “About Latifa and Others,” a documentary on domestic violence by award-winning Lebanese journalist Diana Moukalled.

A major challenge was requiring the journalists to “put it all together” by reading and interpreting data, finding the story, verifying the information, not being overwhelmed by numbers, planning the story, reporting it, selecting the right headline, and simplifying complex terms for lay news consumers.

Magda Abu-Fadil (seated, red shirt) with Jordanian journalists and trainers

Magda Abu-Fadil (seated, red shirt) with Jordanian journalists and trainers

DHS is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It provides technical assistance to over 90 countries to conduct large national public health surveys and disseminate results to government and non-governmental agencies for use in programs and policies.

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.