The Arab Forum, as part of the World Press Freedom Day 2021 yesterday, highlighted the importance of equipping journalists with the right tools and skills in fighting disinformation and hate speech, particularly in the Covid-19 pandemic era.
Described as the ‘Arab Forum/25 years After the Sana’a Declaration: Viability of Media in Arab Countries’, the online discussion saw the participation of veteran reporters and media practitioners in the region who shared their views on press freedom and responsibility.
“The (Covid-19) pandemic of course has exacerbated disinformation… it's very important to address and fight disinformation during the pandemic,” said Ahmad Abu Hamad, editor and trainer at Al Jazeera Media Institute.
He noted that the Institute has different programmes and activities that deal with these kinds of challenges amid a global health crisis.
Hamad said organising a series of webinars and virtual forums for journalists, covering an array of topics, helped participants to be prepared in covering the (Covid-19) pandemic broadly and “fill the scientific gap” during its onslaught.
More than 1,000 journalists took part in a three-day forum, in addition to a number of training sessions related to fact-checking and how to avoid hate speech on social media. During the onset of the outbreak, Hamad said many reporters had difficulties accessing sources of information as misleading reports and data have spread online.
“This impacted the situation and it was essential to train journalists to face this challenge. There are also other media trainings conducted in many countries where hundreds of journalists participated, some of them related to fact-checking,” he said.
A scientific journalist manual/guide was also produced from the trainings for journalists who want to have a more accurate coverage of scientific issues, specifically Covid-19, Hamad added.
Other panelists like Nibal Mohamad Ahmad Thawabteh, director of the Media Development Centre of Birzeit University, echoed Hamad’s view stressing the importance of media literacy and working with the different sectors of the society to unravel the truth. She underscored the need for the strengthening of journalists’ capacity to create solid media contents and reports to combat disinformation.
In countering hate speech and disinformation (discussed in the first segment of the forum), Shaima al-Mehdhar, project co-ordinator for Manasati30 project, said they organised a training for young and senior journalists to develop their skills and capabilities in providing balanced coverage and conveying neutral information. ‘Manasati30’ is one of the biggest online independent media platforms in Yemen.
Roula Mikhael, founder and executive director of Maharat Foundation, stressed that journalists and their works must be protected from being copied and reproduced with permission. The Foundation operates Maharat News, an independent, online, multimedia platform whose model of in-depth journalism on key issues of government accountability amplifies policy news.
Mikhael noted that revenues of media organisations and institutions plummeted during the pandemic and many journalists lost their jobs while others have contracted the virus. A series of panel discussions, presentations, and workshop will continue until May 3 to mark World Press Freedom Day, being held virtually and in-presence in Windhoek, Namibia.
The five-day event, hosted by UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.