‘Social media should unite people, not divide them’

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Mona Al-Marri, president of the Dubai Press Club and chairperson of the AMF Organizing Committee, at the last year’s Arab Media Forum. (WAM)
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Alia Al-Theeb
Updated 01 May 2017

‘Social media should unite people, not divide them’

DUBAI: The Arab media should be doing more to fight hatred and discrimination, much of which is spread online, according to the organizer of a major industry event starting today in Dubai.
The 16th edition of the Arab Media Forum (AMF), to be held on May 1-2 at the Madinat Jumeirah, is being held around the theme “civil dialogue.”
Alia Al-Theeb, director of the Dubai Press Club (DPC), which last week unveiled the schedule for the AMF, said that the media industry has a responsibility to promote civil dialogue and is not currently doing enough.
“This year we thought that the most pressing issue was these hate messages we are seeing and a lot of discriminatory messages that people are exchanging, especially on social media,” she told Arab News.
“We thought that the Arab media should play a better role in terms of leading this dialogue and directing it toward a civil dialogue, which should be based on the pillars of tolerance, acceptance of the other, respect and coexistence.”
Many messages of hatred are spread by individuals via social media, Al-Theeb said. “Social media should be used to unite people rather than divide them,” she added.
But the problem is not just confined to hatred spread on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Some players of the established media are also sending out discriminatory messages, Al-Theeb said.
“In some media outlets, we did notice that they do slip into promoting hate messages, indirectly or directly, intentionally or unintentionally,” she said.
“There has been a lot of different hate messages: Discrimination between countries, between nationalities and even discrimination based on religion.” An example of this is when certain media cover a terror attack and put undue emphasis on a perpetrator’s religion or nationality, Al-Theeb said.
“Then you are kind of ‘programming’ people’s minds to think that all Muslims are terrorists, or all Christians are terrorists.”

Keynote speakers
This year’s AMF is expected to attract over 3,000 participants and experts in the media industry.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League secretary-general and the UAE’s Minister of State for Tolerance Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al-Qasimi will give the keynote addresses on the first and second days, respectively.
Al-Theeb said that the aim of the event is to open “the door for a clearer and open discussion, bringing different points of view.”
Noura Al-Kaabi, minister of state for Federal National Council Affairs and chairperson of the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority, will present a panel session on “Constructive Dialogue,” while Minister of State for Youth Affairs Shamma Al-Mazrui will be launching a media initiative for Arab youth.
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of DP World, will speak at a panel discussion titled “The Silk Road.” The session — moderated by Nadine Hani, business news presenter at Al Arabiya News Channel — will address the role of business in enriching civil dialogue between nations.
International media figures will also be partaking in the annual event, including Richard Buangan, managing director for international media at the US Department of State, who will be talking during a session titled “Successful Political Dialogue.”
Alex Aiken, the UK executive director of government communications, will speak at AMF about the “Dialogue of Tolerance.”

Dubai Press Club
The program was announced last week by the DPC, of which Al-Theeb was named director late last year. She praised the leadership of Mona Al-Marri, who is president of the DPC and chairperson of the AMF Organizing Committee.
“It is a great opportunity for me to be part of (the) Dubai Press Club,” Al-Theeb said. “I think I have a big challenge to build on the success of this club, and add to it. Because it is already a very well-established club.”
Al-Theeb has experience working in the media, spending six years at the Gulf News daily in Dubai and having studied journalism at Zayed University.
“Working as a journalist is a different world in itself… You learn to work under pressure,” she said. “All these challenges are now helping me.”
She spoke to Arab News ahead of her latest, and biggest, deadline to date: Finalizing the plans for this week’s AMF.
“The deadline is a key issue. You have a lot of things to follow up at the same time and making sure that things are completed on time,” she said. “The Arab Media Forum is a big event and everyone’s expectations are very high.”

Journalist murder marks upsurge in N. Ireland unrest

Journalist Lyra McKee poses for a portrait outside the Sunflower Pub on Union Street in Belfast, Northern Ireland May 19, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 April 2019

Journalist murder marks upsurge in N. Ireland unrest

  • McKee, 29, was shot in the head late Thursday by, police believe, dissident republicans linked to the New IRA paramilitary group as they clashed with police in Northern Ireland’s second city

DUBLIN: The killing of a journalist in Londonderry marks the latest upsurge of violence in Northern Ireland — where fears are growing that a fragile and hard-won peace is increasingly at risk.
Lyra McKee, 29, was shot dead during a riot as dissident republicans clashed Thursday with police in the province’s second city — a historic flashpoint in the three decades of violence known as “The Troubles.”
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement largely ended the turbulence in Northern Ireland — mandating a withdrawal of British security forces and the disarming of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary group.
But dissident republicans — seeking Northern Ireland’s departure from the United Kingdom and integration into the Republic of Ireland through violent means — remain active.
Police believe the New IRA splinter group is behind McKee’s murder.

Among commentators there is a wide-held belief that the perpetrators are youngsters not old enough to remember “The Troubles,” and are being manipulated by a radical older element.
“There’s a dangerous radicalization of young people in Derry by those linked to and on the periphery of the New IRA,” wrote The Irish Times newspaper’s security correspondent Allison Morris.
Police Service of Northern Ireland detective superintendent Jason Murphy, who is leading the probe into McKee’s death, warned: “What we’re seeing is a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks.”
Two men aged 18 and 19 were arrested Thursday but later released without charges.
Police appealed again to the community for help in finding the killer.
“I know there will be some people who know what happened but are scared to come forward but if you have information, no matter how small, please contact detectives,” said Murphy, stressing that the information would be treated as “100 percent anonymous.”

McKee’s murder follows a car bomb in Londonderry in January and a spate of letter bombs sent to British targets in March — both claimed by the New IRA.
There is speculation that Brexit — which has raised the spectre of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland — is acting as an irritant to dissident republicans.
Proposed divorce deals with the EU could see Northern Ireland more closely aligned to the Republic of Ireland or bound tighter in union with mainland Britain — raising competing loyalist and republican visions of the future.
Kieran McConaghy, a lecturer in terrorism at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said it was “hard to say” whether Brexit has played a “major role” in recent attacks, as such events have been consistent since the cease-fire.
Since the British government began publishing security assessments in 2010, the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland has remained at “severe” — denoting that an attack is considered “highly likely.”
However, “Brexit hasn’t been good for stability in Northern Ireland,” McConaghy told CBC.
“It has made people more uncomfortable with the peace process in Northern Ireland, which is seen to be faltering at present.
“Politicians would do well to try and clarify some of the uncertainty... so that organizations like the New IRA and others don’t fill that political vacuum.”
There are particular fears that a no-deal hard Brexit would see checks erected along the 500-kilometer (310-mile) border, which would offer dissident militants a natural target.

Following McKee’s murder, police in the republican area of Londonderry where McKee was killed say they have experienced a “sea change” in previously-strained community attitudes toward officers.
The Free Derry Corner landmark wall has been repainted to reflect the local community’s revulsion.
Underneath the sign “You are now entering free Derry,” marking the start of a republican area, a message now reads: “Not in our name. R. I. P. Lyra.”
In the wake of her murder, Northern Ireland’s six main political parties — including rival unionists and republicans who have been unable to form a devolved government for more than two years — issued a rare joint statement.
“It was a pointless and futile act to destroy the progress made over the last 20 years, which has the overwhelming support of people everywhere,” it read.