Lebanese media review counter-terror coverage

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Reporter and news anchor Yazbek Wehbe of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation leads a media training session at al-Rabita el-Sakafia in Tripoli. [Photo courtesy of Yazbek Wehbe]

Reporter and news anchor Yazbek Wehbe of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation leads a media training session at al-Rabita el-Sakafia in Tripoli. [Photo courtesy of Yazbek Wehbe]

Members of the Lebanese media recently gathered in Beirut to look at ways to improve their coverage of extremism and terrorism by raising professional standards and refusing to provide the perpetrators of violence a platform.

Media professionals attending the two-day conference in Beirut (March 20th and 21st) organised by the National News Agency (NNA) told Al-Mashareq they are key partners in the war against terrorism.

Security leaders attending the event stressed the importance of co-operation between the security services and the media in the fight against terrorism.

Journalists and media outlets must focus on creating a media landscape that is inhospitable to exploitation or the infiltration of extremist propaganda, said Brig. Gen. Ali Qansou, the Lebanese army’s director of guidance.

The media need to operate in an environment "that would safeguard public opinion from terrorism campaigns and allow for confident and capable confrontation of this danger", he said.

This would primarily take the form of awareness programmes that expose the dangers of terrorism, he said.

Need for security training

Brig. Gen. Nabil Hanoun, who heads the General Directorate of General Security's public information office, stressed the need for news anchors to receive media training on security issues.

This should focus on the need to verify information from security sources and the procedures for doing so, he said, and on how to report on acts of terrorism in such a way that they do not become free publicity for terror groups.

The Lebanese media must be vigilant and must distance itself from hearsay and fake news, said reporter and news anchor Yazbek Wehbe of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.

It is important to verify information received from all sources, he told Al-Mashareq, especially from within political factions, to ensure it is accurate.

The media can serve as a valuable source of information for the security services, he said, adding that they "take into consideration the information we give them, based on the mutual trust and credibility that underpin our relationship".

Professional standards

NNA director Laure Sleiman Saab told Al-Mashareq the agency "deals with and follows events according to professional criteria as well as ethical, humanitarian and objective standards".

In addition to covering official and social events, the agency offers extensive coverage of security and counter-terrorism issues, she said.

"We are a key partner in this war by broadcasting the latest news on counter-terrorism," she said, stressing that "we do not release statements by any terrorist groups".

Before running a story, she said, the NNA "closely examines all the information it receives, including those of a security nature that come from unofficial sources or from groups that claim to be the perpetrators of certain security incidents".

Information provided by groups claiming the attacks is not broadcast, she said, as it is mendacious in nature and often is found to be inaccurate.

The agency maintains its credibility by "regularly conducting workshops for editors on the ethics of the profession and how to address dangerous and inaccurate news", Saab said.

New media training

"We are responsible for producing new media professionals that espouse the principles and ethics of their profession," said Lebanese University faculty of information director Hani Safi.

New programmes at the university take into consideration the development of social media and its role as a fast and effective tool, he told Al-Mashareq.

Terror groups often rely on social media to promote their ideology, he said, adding that youth of this generation are highly influenced by social media.

"In a small-scale survey we conducted, we found that only 10% of youths turn to traditional media outlets -- television, radio and newspapers -- for their news consumption, while 90% rely on information they receive from social media."

"The big question we raise is, how can we limit and fight extremism and terrorism on social media?" he said, adding that the university is producing journalists who are able to combat terrorism using their own media channels.

Lebanese and international media are doing their part to combat terrorism and extremism around the world, he said, "although such a mission is far from easy".

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