Since April 2007, the American University of Beirut offers professional training programmes to journalists from the Arab world. The courses cover a large variety of topics, from online journalism to war reporting. APN spoke to Magda Abu-Fadil who is in charge of the programme.
APN: Could you describe the training programme that the AUB offers to Arab journalists?
MAF: The Journalism Training Programme is part of our Regional External Programs, which provide a range of non-academic activities aimed at an audience other than university students. The journalism courses started in July and include subjects such as newsroom management, investigative and online journalism, as well as coverage of elections, war and public health. These courses are open only to professional journalists.
APN: How is the programme funded?
MAP: Up to now we've been able to organise the workshops thanks to support from the Dutch embassy in Beirut, and the Washington-based NGO IFES, but I'm currently looking for new sponsors. Initial seed money for five years of operation came from a Saudi-American lawyer, Sarah Alfadl. We need funding to conduct the workshops and help Arab journalists make headway. Our programme does not reimburse travel and accommodation expenses for journalists who do not live in Lebanon.
I'm also trying to secure a budget to implement a fully converged newsroom comparable to those of news organisations such as CNN, but on a smaller scale, so that Arab journalists can be trained in the proper environment and work in real-time conditions. Of course this requires a lot of money.
APN: How would you characterize the quality of journalism in the Arab world?
MAF: Everyone in the region needs constant education and training in for example online journalism as well as coverage of elections and wars. There is also a need for training in investigative journalism. Furthermore, they all need grounding in the basics, like accuracy. Some Arab journalists take rumours as verifiable sources. They also lack knowledge of foreign languages. You can't report based on sources you don't understand. There are varying standards of journalism in the Arab world. You also need to remember that press freedom doesn't exist in this part of the world. In certain countries, someone who holds a press card may also belong to an intelligence service. He may participate in events to monitor his colleagues.
Many media in the Arab world lack both resources and ethics. They are in need of much improvement. But Western media aren't perfect either. They also face a lot of problems, especially in the United States, with for example, the controversy over journalists embedded in the US army who have come out and admitted they were being used by the administration.
APN: What is your opinion of the situation in Lebanon?
MAF: In Lebanon, there is no sense of responsibility among journalists. We're also lagging in the field of computer technology. A fair amount of journalists, even editors-in-chief, are not at ease with using the Internet, and this is unacceptable. We need to change this by offering training opportunities to young journalists. It's a question of adjusting to the reality and needs of the 21st century. Within the Arab world, however, Lebanon does have the best journalists.
Before joining the American University of Beirut, Abu-Fadil spent 25 years as a journalist for international agencies such as Agence France-Presse (AFP) and United Press International (UPI). She worked in Washington and Cyprus before returning to Lebanon.