At Arab Media Forum in Dubai, social media told to ‘man up’ to counter hate rhetoric

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At a session titled “What Type of Media Do We Want?” Jaber told a fully-packed hall at the Dubai World Trade Center that “social media helped countries in the region gain some freedoms, but they had devastating effects for spreading terrorism and hard-line ideology. (DMO)
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Daniel Funke, a journalist working with Poynter, a US school for journalists, gave a talk on “The Age of Fabrications,” in which he explained different types of misinformation and how it spreads. (DMO)
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Phil Chetwynd, the global news editor at Agence France-Presse gave a session titled “Standing Together Against Fake News.”
Updated 02 April 2019

At Arab Media Forum in Dubai, social media told to ‘man up’ to counter hate rhetoric

  • MBC Group TV director Ali Jaber challenges big tech companies like Facebook and Google to become a ‘force of positive change’
  • Others talk about how to tackle the spread of fake news and misinformation in the digital age

DUBAI: Big tech companies such as Facebook and Google are not doing enough to counter hate rhetoric and terrorism and need to “man up,” MBC Group TV director Ali Jaber said on the second day of Dubai’s Arab Media Forum on Thursday.

“Digital platforms have become platforms that spread bigotry and hatred. They have to man up and organize and be more transparent,” Jaber told Arab News, adding that “they need to be a force of positive change, and not the negative force they have been for the past few years.”

At a session titled “What Type of Media Do We Want?” Jaber told a fully-packed hall at the Dubai World Trade Center that “social media helped countries in the region gain some freedoms, but they had devastating effects for spreading terrorism and hard-line ideology.

“I have invested in the forum for the first time to launch a global anti-extremist initiative in the region,” he said, adding that “it is the responsibility of every journalist and media entity to counter and tackle these rhetorics. Whoever spreads them is not a journalist, but an instigator.”

Jaber also spoke of social media and big tech companies’ presence in everyone’s lives, for example,  how Google knows “when and what we eat, where we go, what we watch and what we do.”

“Google has an effect on us that we cannot even imagine, we don’t live in the world … we live in the Google world,” he said.

Countering terrorism and hate rhetoric in the region’s media has been a prevalent theme throughout the two-day forum, with several sessions highlighting the need to act swiftly and vigilantly.

Media agencies have been stepping up in terms of countering the spread of such deceit through the news mediums. Arab News recently launched a new series called Preachers of Hate, in which the words of the instigators are being documented and analyzed in an effort to inform the public of their ubiquity in all religions, and to create a dialogue to act against their destructive influence.

“The media possesses the power of the word and utilizes this power to make a positive impact on the community. Good words will grow and prosper. The media must maintain high levels of integrity and professionalism,” Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said at the forum on Wednesday.

Alongside countering terrorism and hate, delegates spoke about the continuing battle against fake news and misinformation. “We’re trying to play misinformation at its own game, with big, vulgar titles that will get attention and counter false news, as well as show and explain our craft of true reporting and fact-checking in Arabic and English,” Phil Chetwynd, the global news editor at Agence France-Presse, told the audience in a session titled “Standing Together Against Fake News.”

“We are in a position at the moment where we must justify everything that we are doing,” Chetwynd said. 

He showed examples of groups on Facebook getting more readers of stories than news entities do, which is troubling given the amount of misinformation that could be spread via these mediums when left unchecked.

Much is being done in countering fake news dissemination online. Several workshops and software programs were presented to journalists to help verify and fact-check certain news articles and images that are found online.

Daniel Funke, a journalist working with Poynter, a US school for journalists, gave a talk on “The Age of Fabrications,” in which he explained different types of misinformation and how it spreads.

“It’s not that hard to find fake news, but it’s really hard to tell when you want to intervene because you don’t want to amplify false narratives,” he told Arab News.

“Misinformation is trying to get a reaction out of you, so the headline could be all caps, big red letters, salacious claims, exclamation points, heavy punctuation … any of those things immediately should be a sign that things are probably not true,” he said.

But fake news could still appear in less obvious ways as it continuously adapts to draw in more viewers. “You see a lot of misinformation in your news feeds, and fact-checking journalists have become a primary defense against fakery. Anyone can become a fact-checker,” he said, adding that “if your mother tells you she loves you, check that out … check everything.”

Other sessions in the forum tackled the industry’s relationship with the political sphere. “There is a crisis between media and politics in the modern world,” said political analyst and author Abdel Monem Said. “Many media figures have become politicians and vice versa, and this is similar to the impersonation of roles between the political and media fields.”

He was speaking alongside Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, head of the editorial board at Al Arabiya, and Walid Phares, US President Donald Trump’s former foreign policy adviser.

“For us in the media, we try to give all parties space for self-expression, and this is the job of newsroom workers,” Al-Rashed said, adding that media should be unbiased and give a chance for all to voice their opinions and concerns.

Phares, however, gave the audience an insight into the West’s views of the Arab world, specifically those of US citizens. “There is a lack of understanding among the American public about what’s happening in the Arab world,’ he said.

The forum’s other sessions included one on the future of print journalism. “Print is not dead,” said Nayla Tueni, the editor-in-chief of Annahar newspaper in Lebanon.

Tueni referred to the day that Annahar printed blank pages in protest at the recent political stalemate in Lebanon, in which it took six months to form a government.

“Everyone went and bought the paper, which was only white (pages),” she said. “Print is still relevant.”

 

 

 


Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

Updated 07 December 2019

Lebanon’s journalists suffer abuse, threats covering unrest

  • The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world

BEIRUT: Lebanese journalists are facing threats and wide-ranging harassment in their work — including verbal insults and physical attacks, even death threats — while reporting on nearly 50 days of anti-government protests, despite Lebanon’s reputation as a haven for free speech in a troubled region.
Nationwide demonstrations erupted on Oct. 17 over a plunging economy. They quickly grew into calls for sweeping aside Lebanon’s entire ruling elite. Local media outlets — some of which represent the sectarian interests protesters are looking to overthrow — are now largely seen as pro- or anti-protests, with some journalists feeling pressured to leave their workplaces over disagreements about media coverage.
The deteriorating situation for journalists in Lebanon comes despite its decades-old reputation for being an island of free press in the Arab world. Amid Lebanon’s divided politics, media staff have usually had wide range to freely express their opinions, unlike in other countries in the region where the state stifles the media.
The acts of harassment began early in the protests. MTV television reporter Nawal Berry was attacked in central Beirut in the first days of the demonstrations by supporters of the militant group Hezbollah and its allies. They smashed the camera, robbed the microphone she was holding, spat on her and kicked her in the leg.
“How is it possible that a journalist today goes to report and gets subjected to beating and humiliation? Where are we? Lebanon is the country of freedoms and democracy,” Berry said.
Outlets like MTV are widely seen as backing protesters’ demands that Lebanon’s sectarian political system be completely overturned to end decades of corruption and mismanagement.
Rival TV stations and newspapers portray the unrest — which led to the Cabinet’s resignation over a month ago — as playing into the hands of alleged plots to undermine Hezbollah and its allies. Many of those outlets are run by Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. These media regularly blast protesters for closing roads and using other civil disobedience tactics, describing them as “bandits.”
For Berry, the media environment worsened as the unrest continued. On the night of Nov. 24, while she was covering clashes between protesters and Hezbollah and Amal supporters on a central road in Beirut, supporters of the Shiite groups chased her into a building. She hid there until police came and escorted her out.
“I was doing my job and will continue to do so. I have passed through worse periods and was able to overcome them,” said Berry, who added she is taking a short break from working because of what she passed through recently.
Hezbollah supporters also targeted Dima Sadek, who resigned last month as an anchorwoman at LBC TV. She blamed Hezbollah supporters for robbing her smartphone while she was filming protests, and said the harassment was followed by insulting and threatening phone calls to her mother, who suffered a stroke as a result of the stress.
“I have taken a decision (to be part of the protests) and I am following it. I have been waiting for this moment all my life and I have always been against the political, sectarian and corrupt system in Lebanon,” said Sadek, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, adding that she has been subjected to cyberbullying for the past four years.
“I know very well that this will have repercussions on my personal and professional life. I will go to the end no matter what the price is,” Sadek said shortly after taking part in a demonstration in central Beirut.
Protesters have also targeted journalists reporting with what are seen as pro-government outlets. OTV station workers briefly removed their logos from equipment while covering on the demonstrations to avoid verbal and physical abuse. The station is run by supporters of Aoun’s FPM.
“The protest movement has turned our lives upside down,” said OTV journalist Rima Hamdan, who during one of her reports slapped a man on his hand after he pointed his middle finger at her. She said the station’s logo “is our identity even though sometimes we had to remove it for our own safety.”
Television reporters with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar and Amal’s NBN channels were also attacked in a town near Beirut, when they were covering the closure of the highway linking the capital city with southern Lebanon by protesters. In a video, an NBN correspondent is seen being attacked, while troops and policemen stand nearby without intervening.
“This happens a lot in Lebanon because some media organizations are politicized. No one sees media organizations as they are but sees them as representing the political group that owns them,” said Ayman Mhanna, director of the Beirut-based media watchdog group SKeyes.
“The biggest problem regarding these violations is that there is no punishment,” Mhanna said. Authorities usually fail to act even when they identify those behind attacks on journalists, he added.
Coverage of the protests also led to several journalists resigning from one of Lebanon’s most prominent newspapers, Al-Akhbar, which is seen as close to Hezbollah, and the pan-Arab TV station Al-Mayadeen, which aligns closely with the policies of Iran, Syria and Venezuela.
Joy Slim, who quit as culture writer at Al-Akhbar after more than five years, said she did so after being “disappointed” with the daily’s coverage of the demonstrations. She released a video widely circulated on social media that ridiculed those who accuse the protesters of being American agents.
Sami Kleib, a prominent Lebanese journalist with a wide following around the Middle East, resigned from Al-Mayadeen last month. He said the reason behind his move was that he was “closer to the people than the authorities.”
“The Lebanese media is similar to politics in Lebanon where there is division between two axes: One that supports the idea of conspiracy theory, and another that fully backs the protest movement with its advantages and disadvantages,” Kleib said.