Media and Digital Literacy

By Sally Farhat

“Challenging, exciting, and informative” are the three words used by Naila Hamdy, Associate Professor at the American University of Cairo and faculty participant from Egypt, to describe her experience in the first week of the fifth edition of the Media and Digital Literacy Academy of Beirut (MDLAB).

More than 70 participants from 34 institutions and 16 countries came together on August 7 to mark the launch of MDLAB at the Lebanese American University’s Beirut campus.  Sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy, organized by the Institute of Media Research and Training (IMRT) at LAU, and co-sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), DW Akademie, and the European Union, MDLAB has so far covered varying topics, among which were fake news, digital security, and fighting radicalization.

During the first two days of the academy, Dr. Paul Mihailidis, Associate Professor in the School of Communication at Emerson College, presented his first keynote lecture, in which he highlighted the various ways media literate civic engagement can work to counter fake news, a phenomenon which he called “specific … to the technological age,” whereas Dr. Moses Shomow, (PhD, University of Miami) an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, lectured about the political economic constraints of news in the United States and the Arab world.

The third day of the academy was dedicated to educate the participants on digital security. After a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Claudia Kozman, Assistant Professor of Multimedia Journalism at LAU, and that hosted Arab digital security experts from Social Media Exchange, HarassTracker, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, and the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, Dr. Shumow gave a keynote lecture about the particular dilemma of privacy in an increasingly virtual age. He argued that “our ideas of privacy have fundamentally changed. We don’t think about it as much as we used to.”

The week also contained a workshop on media remixing by Georgetown University professors Jennifer Rosales, Amanda Phillips, and JR Osborn, where participants learned to use and make memes to enhance critical thinking. In addition, the academy screened Tele Liban talk show host and activist Maya Majzoub’s taboo-breaking documentary on Lebanon’s sectarian television landscape, “Fallen Television.” The documentary was followed by a lively discussion with the director.

Two lectures marked the end of the first week. The first was Dr. Kozman’s lecture that discussed how framing conflict in the digital age can highlight certain aspects of an issue while ignoring others. Her lecture was followed by Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Communication Arts Dr. Melki’s keynote lecture “The Communication Design of Modern Terrorism: The ISIS Media Strategy.” Dr. Melki spoke about ISIS’ adept and unique use of digital tools and social media.

Most of the speakers are really entertaining by doing their lectures and I think this was the main thing that captured my attention from the very start. Not only were they giving me very useful input but I was really enjoying the lectures,” said Karina Nikolova, a Bulgarian participant coming from the Free Berlin University. 

For its second week, the academy is proud to announce two keynote lectures by Dr. Sut Jhally, professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, on August 15 and 16.  Dr. Jhally will first discuss the state of media education in an increasingly addictive digital age. He will later address the advertising industry’s propagandist effort to infiltrate consumer culture into the hearts and minds of individuals.

Dr. Jhally will also screen The Media Education Foundation-produced documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s PR Wars in the U.S” on August 17. The documentary is an analysis of Israel’s decades-long battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American people. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with him and pro-Palestine narrator and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters.

During the same week, and as part of its agenda to address gender equality and women empowerment, the academy will dedicate several panels about women’s accomplishments across different media, war female journalists, and representation of women, sexuality, and marginalized communities. The panels will feature Newsroom Nomad’s Nadine Mazloum, HOME Magazine Editor-in-Chief and PiDRAYA CEO Patricia Cherfan, TV personality Karen Boustany, dance professional and LAU professor Dr. Nadra Assaf, breakout singer Faia Younan, war journalists Youmna Fawaz, Alia Ibrahim, and Luna Safwan, journalist and novelist Sahar Mandour, Dr. Anna Antonakis, Heather Jaber, and Ghinwa Samhat.

To mark the last day of the academy on August 18, participants will present their final projects, which will combine all the skills and knowledge they’d learned throughout the academy. The presentations will be followed by the distribution of certificates and a closing ceremony, which will feature a performance by Faia Younan.  

“I’ve been coming to MDLAB since [it] began,” said Raghda El Zein, a participant and instructor at the American University of Science and Technology. “I always get new information that I contribute to my classrooms at AUST where I teach.”

Since its launch in 2010, MDLAB returns each year in a 2-week summer academy to battle radicalization, extremist ideologies, human rights injustice, gender inequality, and to empower the media education scene in the region. MDLAB has helped in developing media literacy in the region in general and in the region’s universities and schools specifically through bringing together Arab academics, international experts, students, journalists, and activists, providing them with training, research, and curricula, and giving them the opportunity to study media literacy and expand critical thinking. Today over 36 universities and a huge number of schools incorporate media literacy into their curricula in comparison to none before 2010. Consequently, and in recognition of all the achievements of the academy, its founder Dr. Jad Melki received the 2015 UNESCO-UNAoC International Media and Information Literacy Award.