Abu-Fadil Trains Journalists for Saudi Daily

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil put eight young journalists for a Saudi Arabian daily through the paces of reporting, writing and editing as part of a an intensive workshop to upgrade their skills and catapult them to the next level.

The training in Dubai in August 2019 involved exercises based on presentations and discussions that “seasoned” writers sometimes take for granted: leads, headlines, photo captions, grammar, punctuation, story components and structure, to say nothing of contextual background information like history, geography, numbers and visuals.

Saudi newspaper journalists hone their skills

The materials included relevant videos, assignments, tools, online research and news tests.

A key session focused on media ethics, notably in today’s world of alternative facts, disinformation, deep fakes and artificial intelligence-generated news.

Other sessions concentrated on interviewing techniques, the AP style guide, long considered the industry standard, as well as coverage of speeches, meetings and news conferences.

 

During the long afternoon sessions, she helped the trainees sharpen their writing proficiency with a mix of topics including housing problems, oil spills and their environmental impact, and the hospitality industry.

One afternoon was dedicated to visiting Bloomberg’s Dubai hub for a briefing on the newsgathering and editing operation, including automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Riad Hamade and Nayla Razzouk explain workings of Bloomberg’s Dubai TV studio

Riad Hamade, executive editor for the Middle East and North Africa at Bloomberg News, gave them a rundown on his organization’s workings.

Hamade, along with Nayla Razzouk, Bloomberg News Team Leader for Energy and Commodities in the Middle East & North Africa, and Claudia Maedler, the Gulf bureau chief (excluding Saudi Arabia), took the group on a tour of the very impressive newsroom and TV studio.

MU Director to Cairo Confab: Fight Disinformation With MIL

“Don’t believe everything you see.”

That’s how Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil began a presentation with a picture of Britain’s Prince William seemingly giving someone the finger.

Seen from another angle, the Duke of Cambridge looked like he was gesturing with the number three – a significant difference.

Magda Abu-Fadil to Cairo confab: “Don’t believe everything you see.”

She was, once again, beating the Media and Information Literacy (MIL) drum, this time to an audience of students, faculty members, media and others at the American University in Cairo in April 2019 as a panelist at the “Cultivating Cooperation: How Industry and Academia Can Transform Digital Storytelling” conference co-organized by AUC and the Egypt Media Development Program.

AUC-EMPD conference flyer

She told them it can be confusing when ‘information disorder’ comes from the highest authority and showed a video of U.S. President Donald Trump in an Orwellian clip telling his audience not to believe what they saw in the media.

That’s why fact-checker has become a full-time job, like that of reporter, editor, producer, and infographic designer in many news organizations.

Abu-Fadil provided various case studies of MIL, the importance of critical thinking and that in an age of “fake news” and alternative facts students need to grasp the concept of media and information literacy to understand news as a means to detect ‘information disorder’ in obvious and subliminal messages.

UNESCO’s MIL concept

She presented the different types of literacies under the MIL umbrella as defined by
UNESCO: Information literacy, library literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy, games literacy, cinema literacy, television literacy, news literacy, advertising literacy, and media literacy.

Abu-Fadil said in 2016, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published the “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa” yearbook for which she was the lead editor and key co-author.

Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

A newer book she co-authored for UNESCO is “Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation.” It’s also a university course that can be taught during a whole semester, or as modules in other courses.

Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation

The MU director spoke about entering dangerous territory in the digital era with artificial intelligence (AI), notably deepfake. She showed how a deepfake video is produced and how misleading it can be.

She said students should understand that privacy is dead and that anything they post on social media can (and very likely) will come back to haunt them.

UNESCO’s false experts chart

Another form of “disinformation” is manipulation of information with false experts: in academia, government, science, medicine, finance, the environment, and even the media.

Last, but not least, she plugged an older paper she wrote for UNESCO, “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

MU Director On Media Ethics Using Refugee, Migrant Photos

Choosing and publishing images of refugees, migrants and people in distress is both painful and difficult, notably when they’re graphic and reach various audiences across multiple media platforms in record time.

The image as symbol (courtesy “A Sea of Images”)

Weighty decisions may lead to photos becoming icons and symbols representing all other victims as that of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler lying face down on a Turkish beach in 2015 that went viral in just three hours.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil discussed the ethical implications and how such pictures can also be (mis)used by politicians to score points and advance their own agendas.

Magda Abu-Fadil (left) discusses the ethics of using photos of migrants, refugees (courtesy Tom Law)

The topic made for an animated discussion during “Movie Night” hosted by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN)  at the December 2017 Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism’s (ARIJ) annual conference in which she participated as a panelist.

The movie in question was “A Sea of Images,” a documentary on how media tackle migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa fleeing their troubled lands in a perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The film, produced by Misja Pekel and Maud van de Reijt, is part of a series for Dutch public television that examined the connection between media and public opinion.

How do editors decide what photos to publish? (courtesy A Sea of Images)

 Refugee fatigue, she argued in the discussion following the film’s showing, can affect journalists’ and editors’ judgment in their choice and dissemination of images, with ethics falling by the wayside.

 

Audience debates ethics of photo publishing (courtesy Tom Law)

Aidan White, veteran journalist and director of the Ethical Journalism Network, said three of the Aylan Kurdi pictures were published around the world, but photos could be used in different ways to tell different narratives.

“What that reveals, is that although the pictures are dramatic and important, in the end it’s the context in which the pictures are used by journalists,” White explained.

Aidan White on the ethical use of images (courtesy “A Sea of Images”)

The ethical use of images depicting migrants, refugees and vulnerable people in the media, and what impact they have on public policy, will continue to trigger debate so long as conflicts, economic and natural disasters cause massive population displacement.

Is It Time to Teach Media and Information Literacy (MIL)?

A rhetorical question Al Ain TV (UAE) asked in a post to introduce an interview with Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil.

MU Director Magda Abu-Fadil discusses MIL on Al Ain TV

Abu-Fadil, the lead editor and co-author of “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy (MIL) in the Middle East and North Africa,” spoke of the importance of incorporating MIL in curricula, of promoting critical thinking, and of reinforcing awareness to combat online hate speech and fake news.

Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy (MIL) in the Middle East and North Africa

The book, in English and Arabic, was funded by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and UNESCO and published by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The interview in Arabic can be viewed here.

 

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.

MIL to Mitigate Violent Extremism

Experts met at United Nations headquarters to discuss how best to mitigate violent extremism and incorporate their findings into viable educational frameworks against a backdrop of mounting xenophobia, hate speech, and a deficit in critical thinking.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

The February 2017 New York forum, co-organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) Media and Information Literacy program and the United Nations Academic Impact’s (UNAI) Unlearning Intolerance program, was themed “Media and Information Literacy: Educational Strategies for the Prevention of Violent Extremism.”

Jordi Torrent, UNAOC's Media Literacy Education Project Manager, UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Jordi Torrent, UNAOC’s Media Literacy Education Project Manager, UNAOC (UNAOC photo)

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil was part of the event with a presentation featuring case studies of positive initiatives from the Middle East and North Africa region that succeeded in mitigating violent extremism through engagement with youth.

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses UNAOC conference in New York

Magda Abu-Fadil addresses UNAOC conference in New York

She also highlighted examples of sedition, hate speech and xenophobia that are increasingly being disseminated via social media.

Her presentation is available in her Huffington Post contribution and LinkedIn blogpost.

The forum saw the Americas’ launch of the recently published “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” for which Abu-Fadil was the lead editor and a co-author.

Presentation of MENA MIL book co-edited-co-authored by Abu-Fadil (UNAOC photo)

Presentation of MENA MIL book co-edited, co-authored by Abu-Fadil (UNAOC photo)

The book was co-published by UNAOC, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Nordic Documentation Center for Mass Communication Research (NORDICOM).

Abu-Fadil stressed the crucial need for media and information literacy (MIL) worldwide as well as the necessity for news and religion literacy to combat today’s toxic environment.

Regina de Assis, former Secretary of Education, Ministry of Education, Brazil (UNAOC photo)

Regina de Assis, former Secretary of Education, Ministry of Education, Brazil (UNAOC photo)

She’s been trying to create awareness on the subject in the Middle East and North Africa region for decades.

In 1999, a colleague from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and Abu-Fadil designed a cross-cultural media project.

In 2007, she presented a paper for a UNESCO world literacy conference in Doha, Qatar entitled “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

Guy Berger, UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

Guy Berger, UNESCO’s Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development

These are just two of the many articles, chapters in books and blogposts she’s published. She’s written, spoken, and trained extensively on the subject.

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. 

MU Director Weighs In On Journalists’ Safety In Media Curricula

Far too many journalists in the field are endangered by their work but may not have the proper training or support to save themselves or avoid countless threats, hence the need for safety courses in university media curricula.

Short courses for professionals are inadequate and mitigating risks has become a necessity, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil and other experts in the field told academics at a workshop in Amman in January 2015.

Magda Abu-Fadil explains integration of safety course in journalism curriculum

Magda Abu-Fadil explains integration of safety course in journalism curriculum

The event was backed by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and grouped media school deans and faculty members from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq.

George Awad on UNESCO's contribution to safety

George Awad on UNESCO’s contribution to safety

The two-and-a-half-day workshop was a team effort including journalist, trainer and safety expert Clare Arthurs, who brought a wealth of experience to the table.

Clare Arthurs explains safety for journalists in the field

Clare Arthurs explains safety for journalists in the field

Safety for journalists isn’t limited to conflict zones, wars and terrorism. There are natural disasters, epidemics, and other events that put journalists’ lives in danger.

An exercise in risk assessment seems an afterthought, or a luxury at best, although it should be second nature to news organizations.

Abu-Fadil’s and Arthurs’ combined journalism background added weight to the argument as did that of Princess Rym Ali (formerly Rym Brahimi of CNN who covered the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and was expelled from Baghdad with colleague Nic Robertson).

Princess Rym Ali recounts experience as a CNN correspondent

Princess Rym Ali recounts experience as a CNN correspondent

After marrying Jordan King Abdullah’s brother, Prince Ali, and giving up her journalistic career, she founded the Jordan Media Institute where the workshop was held.

IFJ Arabic safety guide

IFJ Arabic safety guide

The workshop’s outcome and ultimate course design will be tailored to the needs of various educational systems, contexts and languages in the Middle East/North Africa region, and eventually worldwide. It will also be made available online for easy access to all those interested in helping safeguard journalists.

Abu-Fadil Addresses Beirut Hate Speech Seminar

There’s never enough said about media ethics, notably when it involves hate speech perpetuated by the media.

So the London-based Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) partnered with Beirut’s Maharat Foundation and the Norwegian Institute of Journalism and convened experts from across the Middle East and North Africa to discuss how to combat hate speech in the media.

Director Aidan White explains EJN's five-point test for hate

Director Aidan White explains EJN’s five-point test for hate

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media is a good example of what we face today. It’s a 385-page book of well-documented case studies from across the region.

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

I Hate You: Hate Speech and Sectarianism in Arab Spring Media

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil brought up the need for serious review of media ethics and presented guidelines on good journalistic practice at the November 2014 seminar in Beirut.

There are regular calls to end sedition and sectarianism in Lebanon, she noted, but said there were no serious efforts to hold the media, bloggers and activists accountable, without resorting to draconian measures like jail sentences and banning of outlets.

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

Magda Abu-Fadil demonstrates how media fuel hate speech

She pointed to the Arabic Online Media Ethics Guide launched with colleague Rouba El Helou in May to help netizens publish acceptable content.

“There’s a great need to shed light on hate speech that leads to murder and other crimes,” said Abdel Salam Sidahmed, the Middle East regional representative at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that racism was on the rise on the Internet and in social media.

Attorney Tony Mikhael, who oversees Maharat’s media monitoring arm, explained hate speech in legal terms in Lebanon.

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

Attorney Tony Mikhael explains legalities and hate speech

The event’s participants hailed from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and Norway.