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

Magda Abu-Fadil
Updated 16 May 2017
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Media literacy key ‘to combating fake news, hate speech’

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.


What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

Updated 15 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

  • Mermin shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news
  • The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations

The First Amendment ideal of an independent press allows American journalists to present critical perspectives on government policies and actions; but are the media independent of government in practice? Here Jonathan Mermin demonstrates that when it comes to military intervention, journalists over the past two decades have let the government itself set the terms and boundaries of foreign policy debate in the news.

Analyzing newspaper and television reporting of US intervention in Grenada and Panama, the bombing of Libya, the Gulf War, and US actions in Somalia and Haiti, he shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news. 

Journalists often criticize the execution of US policy, but fail to offer critical analysis of the policy itself if actors inside the government have not challenged it. Mermin ultimately offers concrete evidence of outside-Washington perspectives that could have been reported in specific cases, and explains how the press could increase its independence of Washington in reporting foreign policy news. 

The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations, based on the observation that bipartisan support for US intervention is often best interpreted as a political phenomenon, not as evidence of the wisdom of US policy. Journalists should remember that domestic political factors often influence foreign policy debate. The media, Mermin argues, should not see a Washington consensus as justification for downplaying critical perspectives.