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Media Literacy Courses Help Students Question What They Read and Watch

After a media literacy workshop that Al-Fanar Media conducted over four days in January at Egypt’s Misr International University, a student told the organisers that she had now developed the habit of questioning everything she saw or watched. That was “one of the most gratifying moments for me,” Nadia El-Gowely, executive director of Al Fanar Media, told a recent panel discussing the challenges of teaching media literacy at Arab universities.

El-Gowely was joined on the panel by Nagwa El-Gazzar, associate dean for research and postgraduate studies at Misr International University’s Faculty of Languages and Mass Communication, and Ehab Hamdi Megahed, an assistant professor of television and radio production at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University. Mohamed El-Hawary, Al-Fanar Media’s editor-in-chief, moderated the discussion, which was streamed live on 29 March. You can listen to a replay of the discussion (in Arabic) on Al-Fanar Media’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Defining the Issue

Hamdi said the best definition of media literacy education was to produce individuals capable of critically engaging with media content.

El-Gazzar said Egyptian universities often ignored the fact that many digital streaming services have values and concepts that are unfamiliar to Arab society, yet Arab children and young adults frequently interact with such services without adequate awareness or guidance. 

El-Gowely said teaching media literacy at universities was crucial because “we are witnessing a widespread dissemination of misinformation at an almost epidemic level. Social media usage is pervasive, yet little effort is made to verify information accuracy. We are faced with numerous concepts deeply rooted in our Arab reality that demand scrutiny, as they aim to distort or mislead awareness.” 

She mentioned that Al-Fanar Media is  collaborating  with the Ford Foundation on a project that aims to eradicate media illiteracy by introducing university students to essential skills like fact checking, critical media analysis, and news evaluation before sharing material on social platforms. The January workshop at Misr International University was the first conducted in that project.  “We began in Egypt and will expand to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco, aiming to extend our reach to as many Arab countries as possible,” El-Gowely  said.

She added that even media professionals sometimes find it difficult to identify deep fakes. “What about those who are not experts?” she wondered. “I hope that our initiative will raise awareness among university students about the significance of questioning information instead of accepting it blindly.” She gave an example from the Israeli war on Hamas in Gaza, highlighting how a single false piece of information aired by Israeli media had intentionally influenced perceptions and decisions in the West regarding the conflict.

Approaches to Teaching Media Literacy

Asked about Oman’s approach to teaching media literacy courses in universities, Hamdi replied that there was no one model that should be universally applied.

“In fact, diversity is what leads to the success of media literacy education,” Hamdi said. “The advanced state of media literacy in universities across Western Europe contrasts with that in the United States, where media awareness often stems from civil society initiatives and organisations.” Certain countries, like Britain, excelled by trying to promote media literacy in both academic and civil society, he added.

“Ultimately, each institution should have the freedom to adopt the most effective approach to teaching media literacy. I believe that media literacy should not be confined to universities and schools alone. It’s equally crucial to educate government officials in various countries. Such officials may encounter individuals posing as journalists to extract specific information.”

“How should they handle such situations? What are their rights and responsibilities before and after media interviews?” he asked. “Therefore, teaching media literacy to diverse sectors beyond educational institutions is paramount.”

Also see: Media Literacy in the Arab World: the ‘Media Literacy of the Oppressed’?

El-Gazzar, who was involved with the workshop at Misr International University, commended Al-Fanar Media’s support for media literacy education.  She said the workshop was exceptional and that students had participated enthusiastically.

She highlighted three aspects of media literacy training that she believes are key: collaborating with like-minded institutions, partnering with governments, and ensuring sustainability.

“We need to adopt a sustainable mind-set because many projects we undertake, although initially well-funded, tend to fade away once they conclude,” El-Gazzar said. “There must be a comprehensive website to archive and share resources, enabling institutions and others  to build upon previous efforts, carry forward unfinished initiatives, and commence where predecessors left off.”

El-Gowely said the initiative that Al-Fanar Media is conducting with the Ford Foundation prioritises sustainability. It encourages partner universities to incorporate workshop training material into their curricula, and has a “training of trainers” component so selected faculty members can become specialised trainers certified in media literacy. Trainers also have access to media education resources on Al-Fanar Media’s website, which are continuously updated. 

El-Hawary added that two episodes of the “Al-Fanar Media Podcast” series had focused on media literacy and information authentication

El-Gowely said that In the Arab world, there’s a tendency to quickly disseminate information without verifying its accuracy, which places a significant responsibility on us to enhance awareness.”

The conversation was the most recent in Al-Fanar Media’s series of panel discussions on issues of concern to Arab higher education and scientific research. In previous episodes, experts have delved into issues like the Arab brain drain, how Arab academics can show support for the Palestinian cause, job prospects and skills gaps, the impact of artificial intelligence on higher education, and guidance on scholarship applications.



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