Truth is Ultimate Weapon When Covering Conflicts: Abu-Fadil

Journalists shouldn’t cross the line from reporting to activism by publicly taking sides in conflict situations, which may endanger them and their media organizations, and undermine their credibility.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil argued that journalists covering battles in their backyards shouldn’t cross the line from sympathy to active support of causes.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right: Truth is our most important weapon when covering conflicts,” she headlined an editorial published by Deutsche Welle Akademie in a manual on media and conflict.

The 2021 publication “How close should we get? Media and conflict” covers a range of topics from across the globe including photographing conflicts, interviewing a traumatized person, newsroom diversity and its impact on coverage, and disinformation.

How close should we get?

 

While not advocating detached coverage of conflicts, given their complexity, need for deft handling and understanding of the context in which they exist, Abu-Fadil said advocacy defeats the purpose of disseminating untainted solid news, which the audience needs.

Lebanese NNA Features Media Unlimited Fact-Checking Workshop

Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) featured Media Unlimited’s workshop on fact-checking with Minister of Information Manal Abdel Samad thanking director Magda Abu-Fadil for providing dynamic, engaged and interactive coaching to 24 journalists and academics.

NNA coverage of fact-checking workshop

Abdel Samad commended Abu-Fadil for combining theory and practice in the intensive three-day training based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” the latter co-authored.

Abu-Fadil coached Lebanese reporters, editors, anchors and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies, exercises and various tools in combating the infodemic.

National News Agency logo

 She conducted the workshop organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information in March 2021 and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the training with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm due to manipulated data.

The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.

MU Director Trains Lebanese Media, Academics on Fact-Checking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil trained Lebanese journalists and media professors on how to detect false information using case studies and various tools in combating the infodemic.

 

Fact-checking workshop for Lebanese journalists and academics

She introduced the trainees to visual illusions and misleading pictures employed to trick viewers and brought up disinformation about Covid-19 vaccines that spread virally on social media to dissuade people from being vaccinated.

She conducted the three-day workshop, organized by UNESCO and the Lebanese Ministry of Information, in March 2021, and hosted expert Nayla Salibi from Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio to launch the coaching with a review of cyber security and how information disruption can cause great harm when people fall prey to manipulated data.

Monte Carlo Doualiya’s Nayla Salibi explains online risks

 

Abu-Fadil’s training was based primarily on the UNESCO handbook/course she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation.”

The sessions included participants from Lebanon’s Ministry of Information and National News Agency, Saudi 24 TV channel, Kuwait TV, Lebanon’s OTV, Radio Liban, Télé Liban, LBC TV, Al Arabi Al Jadeed, Univérsité Saint Joseph and Univérsité Saint Esprit Kaslik, among others.

The participants were shown a doctored video that former U.S. President Donald Trump had re-tweeted to attack CNN by falsely claiming it was “fake news” and why critical thinking was an essential tool in combatting disinformation.

Donald Trump retweeted a doctored video to attack CNN

 

She pointed to the need for media ethics and directed them to the Ethical Journalism Network’s website that provides valuable resources in multiple languages, including Arabic.

The Ethical Journalism network is an integral part of fact-checking

Abu-Fadil broke down the various types of egregious behavior leading to mis-, dis- and mal-information and provided tips on how to avoid them while showing examples with videos that drove home the point.

She also directed their attention to less prominent cases such as satire and parody that can be mistaken for real news and lead to damaging consequences.

The participants viewed a video of on a program to detect distortions in digital photographs that was adopted by Agence France-Presse as well as a video of AFP’s active fact-checking program.

AFP’s Fact Check program

 

Abu-Fadil presented a case study of pre-digital information verification from her experience as a foreign correspondent and editor with AFP and how the principles of ensuring that information is correct had not changed but that technological tools had made it both a blessing and a curse in trying to avert information disruption.

She provided tips on how to verify user-generated content and what types of questions to ask to ascertain its veracity with several case studies to emphasize the point.

Abu-Fadil further explored the historical background of propaganda and showed a video on the meaning of this news genre.

Adolf Hitler was a master propagandist

 

The participants were briefed on Media and Information Literacy with all its sub-divisions and how journalists should become familiar with it to better understand the implications of what they produce and disseminate.

Abu-Fadil introduced them to the UNESCO and UN Alliance of Civilizations book “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa,” of which she was the key editor and key author.

The need for media and information literacy

 

She told them she was the first person to introduce the concept in Lebanon in 1998-99 through a distance-learning project with the University of Missouri School of Journalism when she headed the journalism program at the Lebanese American University.

She also discussed a paper she presented in 2007 at the UN Literacy Decade conference in Doha, Qatar commissioned by UNESCO and entitled “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

TinEye reverse image search tool

Abu-Fadil presented a list of tools to detect wrong information on social media platforms, reverse imaging techniques, geolocation, weather assessment and the safe use of chat apps.

Tom Cruise deep fake video

 

She concluded with examples of “deep fake” videos featuring U.S. actor Tom Cruise and the need to combat online harassment, particularly of women.

Lebanese Journos Should Sharpen Skills, Build Trust: Abu-Fadil

Lebanese journalists should pay attention to details and not take things for granted if they’re to maintain their credibility, Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil said in a podcast interview.

From simple matters like accurately identifying interviewees to expressing themselves in grammatically correct language without any factual errors, Abu-Fadil said journalists who fail to do so undermine their trustworthiness.

“I get very upset because it’s proof of negligence, laziness and lack of professionalism,” she said about seeing her name misspelled in media reports.

Speaking to students producing youth-oriented broadcasts entitled “Radio Talk” marking World Radio Day (WRD), she said the coronavirus had been a blessing and a curse for journalism.

A curse because of constraints on people under lockdown conditions, but a blessing because it’s provided journalists with opportunities to acquire knowledge about public health issues, medicine and how to deal with a devastating pandemic.

“I conducted a workshop on how to cover the coronavirus in a professional, scientific way, and learned a lot while preparing for the training” she said.

Habib Akiki, a student from a nine-member multi-university team, interviewed Abu-Fadil as part of UNESCO’s WRD activities in February 2021, under the supervision of lecturer and communication expert Rouba El Helou.

Asked whether journalists in Lebanon can report on Covid-19 without adding their personal views, Abu-Fadil said she doubted it as they flavor their coverage with politics and sectarianism.

Turning to investigative journalism, Abu-Fadil said this type of reporting is difficult to produce for radio because it isn’t visual.

“People tend to believe more what’s tangible and visible, what they can read, what’s on TV,” she said, noting that reporters in Lebanon still haven’t mastered data journalism, and how to obtain information from documents to formulate their stories.

Journalists must combine that skill with well-written copy and good visuals like infographics, videos and attractive digital elements, but Abu-Fadil cautioned they can’t press buttons and automatically produce investigative stories since that requires hard work that could take weeks, months or years.

“Do Lebanese media have the ability and budgets to commit to good investigative reports?” she asked rhetorically.

On whether the press in Lebanon was sustainable, Abu-Fadil said many newspapers and magazines that existed in the once vibrant media milieu had disappeared and been replaced by websites with advertising revenue taking a direct hit.

“But there are alternatives, there’s financing from NGOs, and there can be crowdfunding, where money is raised through donations from different sources,” she explained.

Due to health safety concerns and remote work requirements, the student radio team was selected from different areas in Lebanon as part of a collaborative digital approach.

UNESCO’s Regional Office in Beirut celebrated WRD in collaboration with three local stations: Radio Lebanon, Voice of Lebanon and Sawt el Mada. The three programs can be heard here.

The radio stations’ managements provided the students with support, and allowed them to choose topics and guests for the shows’ various segments.

Since 2011, UNESCO has celebrated World Radio Day annually to honor the founding of United Nations radio in 1946.

Abu-Fadil’s interview can be heard here.

 

Abu-Fadil Leads Virtual Masterclasses in COVID-19 Coverage

Journalists from bureaus of the Saudi-based daily Arab News took active part in a virtual masterclass on how to cover COVID-19 as the pandemic continues to grip the world and demand effective media attention.

 

Covering COVID-19

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil conducted three sessions in May 2020 for the reporters in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Pakistan/India, with one journalist joining Saudi colleagues from London.

The teleconferenced training tackled working from home and how that has morphed into the journalists’ distributed newsroom. The masterclass emphasized the importance of the reporters’ mental and physical safety in lockdown situations, or on their occasional trips out.

 

Dubai-based journalists shown the dangers of viruses spreading on a plane

The class delved into the medical aspect of the coronavirus by first making sure participants understood and conveyed the proper terminology in their coverage, to seeking advice from medical experts, to the role of the World Health Organization and other medical institutions, to learning how to filter through medical journals and studies.

Abu-Fadil also cautioned the journalists against being misled by dis-, mis- and mal-information disseminated through traditional and social media, or regular contacts with other people. She shared several case studies of dubious information and pressed upon her charges the importance of fact-checking, spotting and debunking deliberate or unintentional lies.

 

Tips on debunking disinformation

The reporters were armed with useful resources on where to obtain reliable data about COVID-19 and tips on protecting themselves.

The masterclass further explored the future of offices and activities while social distancing.

Of key importance was focus on the media in the COVID-19 crisis and how to cover the story ethically.

On the business front, Abu-Fadil discussed the impact on the world/regional economy, with a particular nod to the ever-growing gig economy. There were references to the supply chain, food shortages, hunger, poverty, social revolutions, border controls, and refugees.

 

Getting the medical details right

A touchy but important subject is how to cover major religions’ handling of the coronavirus for which Abu-Fadil showed ample examples.

Other sub-topics were art, culture, education and kids with distance learning presenting the biggest challenge to educators.

But entertainment under lockdown has also taken on new meaning and the trainees were shown options to virtual cultural trips to museums and concerts, and, the ability to download free books and obtain free subscriptions for kids’ publications to keep them occupied.

 

Pakistani and Indian journalists asked to change newspapers’ COVID-19 headlines

Last, but not least, Abu-Fadil turned to humor, saying Arab News journalists should infuse their coverage with some jokes to make light of COVID-19 in a bid to overcome the grim reality and used the example of a Lebanese newspaper that dedicates a whole page to funny items on the virus.

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.

Abu-Fadil to GEN Confab: Rethink Migration Coverage

Migration, refugees and human trafficking won’t disappear as topics any time soon so media had better change their narrative and learn to cover them more professionally and less sensationally.

GEN Summit Athens

That was the thrust of a panel Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil moderated at the June 2019 Global Editors Network (GEN) summit in Athens during which she tackled the thorny issues of what people should be called when they move from one country to another for whatever reason, how the story should be framed, and what types of ethical guidelines to follow.

In an introductory presentation, she showed a brief video produced by the UNHCR about the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries since the conflict broke out in Syria to highlight facts and figures with which governments may disagree, and to underline how this problem can mislead and confuse journalists.

How can we change the narrative on migration media coverage?

Confusion also arises about the terminology used by various international and local organizations. Who’s a migrant? Who’s a refugee? Who’s a displaced person? Who’s an expat or economic migrant?

“It has become a hot topic in Europe and America where far-right politics is driving the conversation around migration and it’s also somehow forcing coverage to follow along those lines,” said Omoyele Sowore, founder and editor in chief of Sahara Reporters (SR), adding that some of those discussions are driven by racist sentiments.

Blanca Tapia and Omoyele Sowore

An SR team set up the innovative prototype “Africana” to help newsrooms approach the topic of migration in new and innovative ways and debunk misinformation on how it’s reported in Africa, and beyond.

For Blanca Tapia, the focus was migrants’ rights in European Union (EU) countries and how her niche organization provides media with the needed information to humanize the story and respect for those who’ve been displaced, had to leave their homelands, and seek asylum.

“People talk about economic migrant; I could be an economic migrant, I come from Spain, I took a job, I ended up in Vienna, but I belong to a fantastic category called expats,” she said about the classification and stereotyping of people.

Tapia, a former broadcast journalist, is the program manager at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), one of the EU’s decentralized agencies set up to provide expert advice to the EU’s institutions and member states on the people living therein.

Screen shot of e-Media Toolkit (courtesy fraEuropa)

She introduced FRA’s new e-learning platform produced by journalists for journalists to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

An online e-Media Toolkit developed in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union and the Ethical Journalism Network with the support of the European Federation of Journalists provides first-hand assistance to media professionals with learning resources, training courses, and opportunities to share and interact.

Abu-Fadil said she was commissioned to write a guide by the Thompson Foundation’s Open Media Hub (OMH) and the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in English that was translated to Arabic and French.

Then Open Media Hub asked her to turn it into workshops and she trained journalists in Tunis on how to cover the topic.

OMH and ICMPD, with European Union funding, also launched the Migration Media Award, of which she’s a jury member.

OMH also asked Abu-Fadil to create an online course based on the handbook. It’s self-paced, free, and available in four languages: English, Arabic, French, and Russian.

Online “Reporting on Migration” course

You can view the whole GEN discussion on YouTube.

MU Director Equips Tunisian Media With Migration Coverage Know-How

Migration, refugees and human trafficking once again featured at a three-day workshop in Tunis grouping 16 journalists from various media who learned how to shape the story, focus the narrative, keep it ethical, and make it more relatable.

How to cover migration, refugees and human trafficking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, cameraman/editor David Hands and senior media training and exchange expert at the Open Media Hub Petko Georgiev led the mini-course.

Magda Abu-Fadil and David Hands mentor Tunisian journalists during workshop on migration and media

It aimed at helping the reporters and editors better understand the subject, identify who the stakeholders are, acquire the correct terminology to define people and their status, know where to dig for contextual information, and what traps to avoid when reporting the story.

 

Tunisian journalists complete in-session exercise

The workshop in November 2018 included journalists from Tunisia’s national television channel, newspapers, news websites, the state-run national news agency and radio stations.

They had proposed story ideas to pursue prior to the training and several went out with Hands to shoot footage and conduct interviews during the sessions.

 

David Hands helps edit footage for a migration story

On their return to the mentoring periods the journalists were then guided by Hands and Georgiev on the mechanics of assembling the elements into viable short pieces for broadcast while Abu-Fadil pitched in advice on ethics and interviewing techniques.

The previous week Abu-Fadil moderated a panel at the Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis where some 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries gathered to probe the question: Journalism Useful for Citizens?

Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis drew 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries

The three-day event in the Tunisian capital – almost 50 thematic sessions, debates, exhibitions and side activities – comes at a critical time when freedom of expression is being tested and violated on a daily basis in many of the countries from which the delegates hailed.

Abu-Fadil chaired a session entitled “No Useful Journalism Without Verification: How Do We Confirm An Image, Information?” during which she also plugged the UNESCO book she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” .

 

Abu-Fadil (right) chairs panels on verification

The Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis is supported financially and programmatically by the Open Media Hub, which is implemented by the Thomson Foundation.

MU Director Trains Arab Media on Migration Coverage

Don’t take migration issues lightly, do proper research, never assume, avoid hate speech, stick to the facts, use visuals ethically and tell a good story.

That’s some of the advice Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil gave journalists at a three-day workshop in Tunis in September 2018 organized by the Open Media Hub, a European Union-funded initiative administered by the Thomson Foundation.

 

Magda Abu-Fadil explains the ethics of shooting photos and videos of migrants and refugees

The production-led training grouped print, radio, TV, online and multimedia journalists from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Syria and provided them with tools aimed at improving their reporting on migration.

Cameraman/editor David Hands, senior media training and exchange expert at the Media Hub Project Petko Georgiev and Abu-Fadil were the instructors.

Migration and media – a complex topic to cover

They aimed to reinforce the journalists’ knowledge and abilities to help them achieve balance in their stories and provide unbiased public perception of migration.

Participants were asked earlier to submit a pitch for the story they intended to finalize during the workshop sessions.

Petko Georgiev, senior media training and exchange expert at Media Hub Project and cameraman/editor David Hands

The stories will be broadcast/published in their respective news outlets and made available on the Open Media Hub’s platform and website, for exchange between participants locally and internationally.

The workshop was built on a text Abu-Fadil wrote, “Migration and Media: A Journalist’s Handbook” – a cooperative project of the Open Media Hub, the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), and Euromed Migration with funding from the EU – that will be available online in English, Arabic and French.

Migration and Media: A Journalist’s Handbook

The handbook was also turned into an OMH online course in the three languages.

 

The importance of visuals in media coverage

The objective was to ensure journalists have a basic firm understanding of the complex issues of migration, refugees, and human trafficking and their impact on the politics, economics, demographics, environment, security, education and cultures of affected countries and beyond.

The trainers spent half the workshop mentoring their charges by helping them fine-tune proposals to produce viable reports and provided useful technical tips on video and audio production.

 

Mentoring journalists on how best to cover the topic

Another hitch is the lack of adequate resources and support from news organizations, so the Open Media Hub has stepped in to help defray the cost of travel and local coverage to journalists pitching credible stories that may then qualify for the EU-funded Migration Media Award (MMA). 

 

EU Ambassador to Tunisia Patrice Bergamini at the Migration Media Award

Several of the workshop participants were winners of the 2018 MMA in its second edition and hope to secure financial backing for follow-up stories.

As a member of the jury for Arabic-language media, Abu-Fadil presented the first prize in print to Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Mustafa whose story “Europe is Not Paradise” was published in the daily Al Akhbar.

 

Abu-Fadil handing Arabic Migration Media Award first prize in print

The MMA for print, radio, TV and multimedia stories in Arabic, English and French was launched in 2017 to recognize excellence, relevance and newsworthiness of journalistic pieces dealing with migration in all its aspects in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

 

End of a successful workshop

This year’s awards focused on diaspora, labor migration, vulnerable groups, and legal and irregular migration.