MU Director Pens Migration & Media Journalist’s Handbook

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil authored a manual for journalists in the EuroMediterranean region to help them better cover the topics of migration, refugees and human trafficking.

The handbook was published by the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in November 2021 and was funded by the European Union.

It’s available for download as a PDF in EnglishFrench and Arabic.

Monte Carlo Doualiya Interviews Abu-Fadil on Migration & Media Study

Monte Carlo Doualiya (MCD) Radio’s Arabic service interviewed Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil on a study she conducted about coverage of migration in southern Mediterranean countries’ media that showed widened polarization between positive vs negative reporting.

Monte Carlo Doualiya logo

Abu-Fadil presented results of the study at the 4th EUROMED Migration Communicators Workshop panel in Paris in November 2021.

The event underlined the need for closer cooperation between journalists and migration-related entities to better convey the story of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

You can hear the audio clip on MCD’s “Digital Newscast” here or download it here [MCD].

MU Director Presents Study at EuroMed Migration & Media Event

Traditional media coverage of the migration question in the southern Mediterranean slowed down in the past two years due to changing priorities but online platforms picked up some of the slack, according to a study.

While more focus was on the coronavirus and budget cuts at news organizations hampered coverage, the report pointed to widened polarization between positive vs negative coverage with a spike in media fatigue in recent years leading to ad hoc and reactive reporting.

Magda Abu-Fadil (far right) presents results of her study on media coverage of migration in southern Mediterranean countries (courtesy ICMPD)

 

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil presented results of the study she conducted at a panel on media and migration narratives and how effective partnerships can be established at the 4th EUROMED Migration Communicators Workshop in Paris in November 2021.

The event underlined the need for closer cooperation between journalists and migration-related entities to better convey the story of migrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking.

She used a questionnaire sent to journalists, academics and members of NGOs from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Jordan isn’t on the Mediterranean but hosts large numbers of refugees and migrants.

The study’s results indicated various actors increasingly used migration for local political and economic goals; social media and “alternative news” became more important in shaping public opinion on migration issues; lack of regulations or control over dis-, mis- and mal-information added to the problem; social media as a tool against migrants, to spread xenophobia and to picture migrants as a potential threat, was a growing trend, notably in transit and host countries; the pandemic affected the number of stories, and, to a great extent, nature and tone of those published, broadcast and posted online; and, the spread of Covid-19 was used as an anti-migrant tool in several countries.

Abu-Fadil concluded by asking the following questions: What constitutes a news story, a feature, an investigative report on migration? Are people on wooden boats seeking freedom and a better life just statistics? What’s lacking in news coverage? Who is worthy of citizenship? Who can contribute to a new adopted homeland?

The workshop was part of efforts by EUROMED Migration V (EMM5) to redefine partnerships, by focusing on the communication skills required to promote balanced narratives that enable effective and sustainable migration policy.

Journalism 101 for Arab News Recruits

Today’s journalists must work holistically across digital platforms but shouldn’t forget the basics of getting the story right and building their knowledge base, Arab News recruits learned in a virtual workshop.

Journalism 101 for recruits

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil put a group of newly-minted reporters at the Saudi daily through the paces by first testing their grasp of geography, history, basic economics, verification skills, writing copy, headlines and captions as well as note taking and observation by turning video content into a story.

Geography test

The three-day workshop in September 2021 included basics in grammar, errors writers often make, redundancies in copy, and punctuation that journalists often take for granted.

Abu-Fadil said news writing wasn’t literature or poetry and provided a detailed explanation of what constituted news.

What’s the story?

She stressed the importance of fact checking in a bid to mitigate the damage from mis-, dis- and mal-information, adding that journalism is an interdisciplinary field requiring extensive reading and research.

She also urged the trainees not to fall for superficial social media messages.

The journalists were introduced to the basic structure of a news story, the essence of news, writing effective leads, the importance of context in the nut graf, proper use of quotations and the ability to distinguish between American and British English journalistic writing styles.

 

How to use quotes

The training’s other key elements included numbers, hype, oxymorons, jargon, clichés and the use of visuals.

Abu-Fadil spoke of media ethics, the use of anonymous sources, and focused on the skills needed to conduct effective interviews, in person and virtually.

She also stressed the importance of establishing interview ground rules and differentiating between attribution terminology in American and British English.

Let’s edit

On the final day, the recruits demonstrated what they learned through rigorous writing and editing exercises that included turning bland official news releases into actual stories with adequate context, proper attribution, well placed quotes, research and strong active verb leads to draw readers into the rest of the article.

 

The importance of fact checking

They viewed a video to test their sense of observation and news judgment and a short film on fact checking.

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.