Lebanese Media Suffer Major Cutbacks

Lebanese journalists are on tenterhooks as mass layoffs decimate various media and budget cuts constrain operations, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told Al Arabiya English.

Al Arabiya Interview

“We are in a transitional phase. There is what is known as disruption and innovation and [things are] constantly changing,” she said.

Her comments followed news that Dolly Ghanem, a founding reporter and anchor at LBCI TV,  had been relieved of her last remaining duties of co-hosting a morning talk show after 31 years on the job.

“There’s constant change, but it’s happening at such a fast pace that media are having a hard time catching up,” Abu Fadil said.

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A major setback: the drastic drop in oil prices, which has, by extension, adversely affected Gulf Arab patrons’ support of several print and broadcast Lebanese media.

So when that started drying up or dwindling, there was an obvious trickle-down effect, she added.

MU Director on Journo Safety, Disinformation & Freedom of Expression at Helsinki WPFD

Too many journalists are victims of violence and impunity and more should be done in academia to prepare media students for the perils they’re likely to face.

“I urge all faculty members here to incorporate a course on safety for journalists in their curricula,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told academics and media experts in Helsinki. “It’s not a luxury, it’s an urgent necessity.”

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Magda Abu-Fadil on safety for journalists

Abu-Fadil was addressing the UNESCO Research Conference on Safety of Journalists in connection with World Press Freedom Day in May 2016 the Finnish capital.

According to UNESCO, one journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty and the impunity of such acts is unabated.

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

One journalist is killed every five days in the line of duty

Unlike the issues of journalism and freedom of expression, journalists’ safety has not been a very popular topic of academic research. It has rarely been discussed as a specific research question, much less in practical courses.

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development 

“Press freedom depends on safety,” noted Guy Berger, UNESCO’s director of the Division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at the opening of a parallel research conference, adding that 95% of attacks on media staffers are never resolved.

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists' safety

UNESCO WPFD parallel conference on journalists’ safety

Abu-Fadil participated in another session on new frontiers in disinformation and the use of propaganda.

Panelists discussed various aspects of media’s misleading messages, hate speech, phony photographs and visuals, manipulation by terrorist groups, and, the proliferation of news websites as a counterforce to government-controlled media and corporate monopolies.

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

Abu-Fadil (second from right) tackles new frontiers in disinformation

This year’s WPFD coincided with the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Law in Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden at the time.

The “Freedom of the Press Act 1776” passed by Sweden’s parliament abolished preventive censorship and made political debate – including criticism of the country’s rulers – permissible. But religious texts remained subject to prior censorship.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights - Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour chairs plenary on “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”

“We need governments to be accountable and transparent,” said CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and chair of a plenary session entitled “Protecting Your Rights – Surveillance Overreach, Data Protection, and Online Censorship”.

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil took part in “Promoting Freedom of Expression: A Public Seminar on UNESCO’s Impact in the Arab Region.”

The session focused on the importance of freedom of expression for sustainable development, democratic governance, and intercultural dialogue, notably in post-conflict environments.

The three-day conference, including off-site activities, was packed with sessions focusing on media coverage of the refugee crisis, artistic freedom, whistleblowers and source protection, hate speech and ethics, gender issues, and freedom of information.

The conference culminated in the Finlandia Declaration on Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms.

Abu-Fadil Trains Libyan Journalists in Conflict-Sensitive Reporting

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil pulled all the stops to familiarize Libyan journalists with the concept of conflict-sensitive reporting aimed at producing a code of ethics for their country’s media.

MU director explains the impact of deadly rumors

MU director explains the impact of deadly rumors

During two training courses, Abu-Fadil focused on definitions of conflict-sensitive reporting and bias, propaganda, hate speech, rumors, pictures, images, and video clips, the pros and cons of online and social media, religious incitement, and peace journalism.

Propaganda stokes conflicts, journalists told

Propaganda stokes conflicts, journalists told

The final event, a workshop grouping some of the participants from the second training and others who complemented the assemblage, focused on hammering out a code of ethics to be adopted by Libyan media.

Ethics, media and conflicts

Ethics, media and conflicts

UNESCO’s Division for Freedom of Information and Media Development in collaboration with the Tunis-based UNESCO Libya CI focal point commissioned the work that was conducted in Amman, Jordan in April 2016.

UNESCO's Raja'a El Abasi at training workshop for Libyan journalists

UNESCO’s Raja’a El Abasi at training workshop for Libyan journalists

The event followed earlier efforts by UNESCO to establish a base for media ethics in Libya. The Amman program was co-funded by the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

Michael Croft, UNESCO Head of Office and Representative in Libya addresses participants as US Public Affairs Officer Stephen Ibelli (center) looks on

Michael Croft, UNESCO Head of Office and Representative in Libya, addresses participants as US Public Affairs Officer Stephen Ibelli (center) looks on

The journalists came from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to Jordan. Some of the participants were already in Amman, since they work for Libyan media based in the Jordanian capital. They represented print, broadcast and online media.

Abu-Fadil describes causes of conflicts

Abu-Fadil describes causes of conflicts

The program sought to change behavior and practice in Libya’s media sector. It drew on frameworks the journalists had established and adopted in the Madrid Declaration of July 2015 issued by Libyan media managers in talks facilitated by UNESCO in Spain.

Abu-Fadil and El Abasi with Libyan journalists in Amman

Abu-Fadil and El Abasi with Libyan journalists in Amman

The journalists are expected to work with their peers, civil society, and local and national authorities to establish a national consensus on media practice, freedom of expression, and the role of the media in Libyan society.

Amal Alwerfali receives workshop certificate

Amal Alwerfali receives workshop certificate

 

 

MU Director Discusses Media Ethics, Migrants in AUC Podcast

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil spoke with Arab Media and Society, the magazine of the American University in Cairo, about how the migration crisis has been covered in Lebanese media and beyond, as well as issues of media ethics in the Arab world.

Two recent articles and a report chapter by Abu-Fadil are mentioned in a podcast and can be found here:

Ethical Journalism Network Report.

Huffington Post Blogs – “Lebanon: Media Put Humanity in the Picture as Refugee Crisis Takes Hold.” 

“Moving Stories: International Review of How Media Cover Migration.”

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.

 

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.

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.

Lebanese Freelance Journalists Hanging by a Thread: Abu-Fadil

Freelance journalists, notably in Lebanon, face countless difficulties, not least of which are steady assignments, benefits and proper protection in conflict zones.

“Print, broadcast, online and multimedia news organizations in Lebanon are cutting down on field crews for various reasons, notably economic shrinkage and reduced administrative budgets, in addition to political pressures making freelancers more attractive and cheaper than their full-time counterparts,” said Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.

Old fashioned freelancer

Old fashioned freelancer

Media prefer such an arrangement to avoid paying social security, transportation expenses, medical costs, education benefits, life insurance and end-of-service indemnities, she told Al Modon.

As media increasingly employ contractual reporters, photojournalists and multimedia journalists to cover events, there are a growing number of journalism school graduates every year facing a tight job market and low salaries.

Here is a [PDF] of the article.

Abu-Fadil Speaks At Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told an audience in Brussels that training journalists should be given adequate time to improve their skills, in all fairness to them and their instructors.

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

Abu-Fadil (center) discusses training successes and challenges

She was referring to a series of brief workshops for traditional journalists and bloggers from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Georgia in which she co-trained with BBC veterans Russell Peasgood and Jim Fish.

Abu-Fadil spoke at the Media Neighborhood Journalism Awards in the Belgian capital in February 2015 – a culmination of a project funded by the European Union and delivered by a consortium led by BBC Media Action.

Abu-Fadil was involved in the latter part of a process that provided initial training and subsequent writing and producing assignments for various media.

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Being fully functional in English, Arabic and French enabled her to assess the final products in those languages, with the majority being in Arabic. But in the case of Georgia, it was a bit challenging since print, online and broadcast reports were in Georgian or Russian, forcing her to rely on English translations.

On the plus side, Abu-Fadil and her colleagues emphasized and instilled in the trainees a sense of what solid journalism is, and should be.

They hammered away at the importance of proper and diverse sourcing, balance in presenting various sides in a story, ethical considerations, newsworthiness and accuracy.

They also stressed the importance of the correct use of language, grammar, attention to translated material, ensuring numerical data are presented in the proper context, writing strong leads and avoiding opinions in hard news reports.

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Trainer Ali Khalil and team leader Jean-Michel Duffrene (background)

Abu-Fadil reviewed obstacles journalists and bloggers faced in the countries they represented and how constraints were reflected in their work.

The Syrians encountered problems in verifying information and assorted dangers while reporting from the field in their war-torn country.

Lebanese media saw a decline in their ability to function freely while Palestinian journalists also faced safety and access to information problems.

Jordanian journalists also had to deal with increasingly stricter rules and laws, notably those related to online media.

Egyptian journalists had to contend with the country’s roller coaster ride from a 30-year dictatorship to interim leaderships and elected presidents, which resulted in an interesting mix of reports mirroring the state of affairs.

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Trainers, trainees and mentors at awards ceremony

Ditto for Tunisian participants who hailed from the trigger of the so-called “Arab Spring.” They had also been conditioned to think and operate a certain way and were adjusting to their own transitional phase of government, which came out in their reports.

The Moroccan journalists had their own set of political issues but were also cautioned to avoid bias, to focus on the real story, and to sidestep long-winded rhetoric.

The least fortunate were the Libyans whose freedom had been locked up for four decades as was their lack of understanding of what journalism is.

The awards program was held at the European Commission and grouped trainers, trainee award winners, mentors, and consortium representatives.

The full training project targeted journalists from Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Moldova, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.