CAIRO – 30 April 2019: Media experts and practitioners from different Arab and Mediterranean countries gathered this month in Cairo to discuss and evaluate the need for Media Literacy in their countries amid an international outcry over fake news.
The seventh edition of the Alexandria Media Forum (AMF) was hosted in Cairo for the first time, in partnership with the American University in Cairo, represented by the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism.
Attendees during a seminar at the 7th round of the Alexandria Media Forum - Courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
Titled “Media Information Literacy and Sustainable Development,” the forum explores means of supporting critical thinking among media practitioners and consumers in a sustainable way by creating thoroughly fact-checked and credible content.
For his part, Minister of Education Tareq Shawky allocated his opening speech to addressing the problems of fake news predominance in our society, blaming journalists for the spread of false information, as they resort to sourcing social media for “non-credible news items” instead of doing their job in research and fact-checking, according to him.
Minister of Education Tareq Shawky giving opening speech at Alexandria Media Forum - courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
“The Ministry of Education has been ranked the first in being the subject of fake news in Egypt for the past year,” said Shawky, adding that “unfortunately, rumors gain more credibility than documented news.”
Shawky further spoke about improper content aired on TV without recognizing the importance of distilling out any content that is not children-friendly by content labeling or rating system.
Internet harassment, information failure and the spread of rumors and false news are among a long list of internet-related issues that the forum was trying to address in its seventh round, said Ahmed Esmat, the executive manager of the Alexandria Media Forum (AMF).
Comedian and TV presenter Ahmed Amin during a panel at the Alexandria Media Forum - Courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
“Although the media is not part of the 17 SDGs listed by the UN, but it is still tacitly addressed in the goals,” Esmat told Egypt Today on the sidelines of the forum. “People usually limit the understanding of sustainable development to environment affairs only, although electronic bullying, Article 19, digitalization, IP address, freedom of press and access of information are also categorized as sustainable development goals.”
He explained the importance of having a media forum held every year “to support principles of developing media content in a professional way among practitioners.”
“Merging between academic and practical media is the future, because we need to understand and stop living on remote islands away from each other,” Esmat added.
Hussein Amin is the director of the Kamal Adham Center ensured the need for incorporating media literacy into school curricula to “prepare our children to confront such flood of fake news and improper media messages that affect their traditions and thoughts, since the media plays a great role in establishing public awareness and personal thought of youth and children.”
The forum hosted around 30 workshops tackling the relationship between sustainable development and media; content creation, and the use of modern technology in teaching media, guaranteeing credibility and data journalism.
Around 250 participants from Arab countries attended the forum, in addition to 52 trainers, speakers and lecturers came from four different countries: France, Sweden, Jordan and Yemen, as well as Egypt.
AMF participants at a lab session during the Alexandria Media Forum - Courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
The Alexandria Media Forum was established in 2012, aiming to raise the level of proficiency of media practitioners in different fields: journalism, TV, radio and digital media.
AMF was awarded the Arab Media Innovation Award by the Arab Thought Foundation in 2016, as well as an award from the Arab Academy for Science and Technology for their role in promoting media innovation at the university.
Reporting in Age of Disinformation
A lot of concern is going in many countries regarding disinformation, which is often backed by images and videos that give strength to the disinformation message, Denis Teyssou, AFP Medialab R&D editorial manager told Egypt Today.
“This phenomenon is less worldwide, but it is very much linked to the election of Donald Trump in the United states and Brexit in England,” Teyssou said.
Denis Teyssou, AFP Medialab R&D editorial manager during a lab session at the Alexandria Media Forum - Courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
He explained that manipulation of information and false news vessel in the Middle East and Asia and everywhere, which requires “the practice of social responsibility by the media to collaborate with civil society through media literacy, and to educate people that not all what they see is necessarily true and that they have to be careful about videos and images screened on the internet.”
Teyssou believes that media literacy is a way to re-gain a better of level trust in journalists and media institutions by showing evidence and more understanding to information disseminated.
“It also helps have better informed societies, which enable individuals to make political decisions more wisely rather than being overwhelmed by manipulations or fake news,” he added.
Media content production in Arab world
Head of Creative content department at the award-winning digital advertising agency Kigamii Omar Shoeb said - during a seminar in the forum - that the Arab region lacks systematic media content production, “there is no media literacy adopted inside media institutions in the country.”
Amid fake news, Shoeb said, there is a desperate need for media literacy to be publicly introduced.
Panel discussing media content production in Arab World, Omar Shoeb (far right) - Courtesy of Alexandria Media Forum
“The media scene in Egypt is blurry, and all attention has been on how to gain money through the media, and how to attract more likes and shares, rather than fact-checking,” Shoeb explained.
He cited a study showing that fake news is mostly shared on social media by users aged above 60 years old, as a proof of lack of both media literacy.
“Media literacy should become a national interest, targeting the audience, journalists and even families at home,” Shoeib said.
Some media practitioners argued the lack of press freedom status in the region has greatly affected the quality of the media message, while others referred to the lack of good Arabic content online.
They saw that the first step towards incorporating media literacy and stopping the spread of fake news should start from the people themselves and self-censorship.
“Especially when you have many followers…this require sense of responsibility from individuals,” digital marketing director Aliaa el-Shabrawy said, ruling out any regulation bid by the government to be effective in controlling social media content.
However, Shoeib noted a positive move by Facebook after signing a deal with Snopes as part of the social network’s fact-checking initiative.
Adopting media literacy at schools and in curriculum has been among the proposed steps by attendees of the forum. Shoeib has also listed a number of further steps like: producing TV campaigns that raise public awareness to media literacy, creating a credible and real indexing, and investing in successful digital content, citing a good example of indirect media literacy in “El-Daheeh” or [The Nerd] online science show aired by AJ+.
Screenshot of El-Daheeh or [The Nerd] online science show aired by AJ+