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. 

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 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.

bbc-media-neighbourhood-logo

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.

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.

MU Director Contributes to UNESCO Elections Coverage Book

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil contributed to a UNESCO publication on elections coverage that featured the media’s mixed bag reporting of Lebanon’s presidential, parliamentary and municipal balloting.

The booklet entitled “Elections Reporting in the Arab Region” [PDF] is a handy collection of articles encapsulating the proceedings of an experts meeting in Amman, Jordan during which participants exchanged views on how the media tackled elections in their respective countries.

Elections Reporting in the Arab Region

Elections Reporting in the Arab Region

The seminar in November 2013 grouped Jordanian journalists who had attended training workshops on elections coverage with counterparts from Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Iraq who, in turn, had covered elections in their own countries as well as regionally and internationally.

The seminar was funded by the European Union and organized by UNESCO’s Amman office.

Lebanese Media Challenged in Covering Elections: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese media covering elections face a double challenge: reporting events tied to antiquated sectarian-based laws and grasping draft legislation aimed at reforming what’s on the books.

They must also deal with constraints on journalists and their organizations that hamper newsgathering and dissemination, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told reporters at a forum in Amman.

Magda Abu-Fadil on challenges in covering Lebanese elections

Magda Abu-Fadil on challenges in covering Lebanese elections

Her presentation drew on attempts by Lebanon’s National Commission on Parliamentary Electoral Law to streamline procedures, regulations on campaign finances, advertising, the voting age, establishing a quota for women candidates, permitting voters to cast their ballots in their place of residence, and, ensuring that serving cabinet members don’t double as legislators.

She showed video clips on a satirical campaign mocking politicians’ hollow promises, a spot on the divisiveness of sectarianism, the symbiotic relationship between the media and politicians, and how Lebanese youth view their elected officials.

Abu-Fadil also stressed the importance of being able to decypher government budgets and how public funds are spent.

A common thread at the forum was learning all about the candidates, their programs, the parties involved, campaign promises, policies, electoral rules and procedures, the vote counting process, surveys, and security measures.

Amman conferees discuss elections coverage in their countries

Amman conferees discuss elections coverage in their countries

The two-day seminar in November 2013 grouped Jordanian journalists who had attended training workshops on elections coverage with counterparts from Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Palestine and Iraq who had covered elections in their own countries as well as regionally and internationally.

Mai Shams El Din discusses Egypt's elections

Mai Shams El Din discusses Egypt’s elections

It was funded by the European Union and organized by UNESCO‘s Amman office .

UNESCO project manager Rut Gomez Sobrino and EU's Patricia Pennetier

UNESCO project manager Rut Gomez Sobrino and EU’s Patricia Pennetier