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Media literacy key ‘to combating fake news, hate speech’

Magda Abu-Fadil
JEDDAH: Media literacy in the Arab world is still “nascent,” but building awareness of critical-thinking skills can help fight fake news and hate speech, an expert in the field has said.
Seasoned journalist Magda Abu-Fadil — who has worked for international news organizations like Agence France-Presse (AFP) and United Press International (UPI), and now runs workshops for journalists — was lead editor of “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).”
The book, published late last year, is a group effort by media experts to document the state of media and information literacy — and, said Abu-Fadil, “often the lack, or scant application” of it — in this region.
The book was the result of cooperation between the UN Alliance of Civilizations, UNESCO and the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Aimed at educators, the media industry, government decision-makers and parents, the book’s 13 chapters, by several different authors, give perspectives from across the Arab world.
It outlines the importance of the subject given the scourge of the “digital propaganda engines of groups spreading hate, polarization and extreme violence across the world.”
Abu-Fadil said: “Media literacy is one of the keys to deciphering and combating fake news, extremism and hate speech. One must first understand and discern what’s fake, extremist and hateful, before being able to mount an effective and sustained counter-attack.”
Media and information literacy is “nascent” in the MENA region because of the disparities in education and media systems, Abu-Fadil added.
“Whereas you see an interest in promoting the concept and its application in countries like Lebanon, the UAE and Qatar, as well as varied aspects of it in Tunisia, for example, you need proper training of those who impart knowledge to understand how media and information are gathered, disseminated, deconstructed and analyzed — from elementary school all the way up to the university, and beyond,” she said.
“Being ‘nascent’ in the MENA region means we must do some very fast catching up, in deeds, not just in words. We must allocate the required budgets to pursue that goal and train the trainers who will make it happen.”
But she acknowledged that with fake news on the rise globally — and even having been attributed to swinging the election in the US — this issue is of worldwide importance.
“There definitely is a global shortfall in media literacy, as witnessed from the US election… the French election, the Dutch election and wherever else there are high stakes,” she said.