Building peace in the minds of men and women

Academics reflect on UNESCO research

20 July 2017


Panellists: G. Khiabani; A. Salawu; D. Frau-Meigs; M. Knight; M. Pathak-Shelat; R. Mansell; S. Waisbord and K. Coyer.

A panel of eight academics commended UNESCO for recent research into key challenges facing freedom of expression, in a session at the 2017 conference of the International Association for Media and Communications Research, in Cartagena, Colombia this week.

The panel was headlined: “Media and social media meet the issues of terrorism and violent extremism”.

Divina Frau-Meigs of University of Sorbonne, France, previewed findings of soon-to-be published research commissioned by UNESCO, titled “Social media and the radicalization of youth leading to violent extremism”.

Responding, Robin Mansell (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK) said a new paradigm was needed to show that direct causality was hard to find, and yet policy makers needed “something to use”.

Kate Coyer (Central European University, Hungary) commented that a human-rights centred approach was needed. She signalled that the role of social media in regard to radicalization for violent extremism would vary depending on the press freedom situation in different countries.

Discussing the UNESCO publication “Countering Hate Speech Online”, Silvio Waisbord (George Washington University, USA) noted that the study responded to the mainstreaming of hate speech in recent times which was “poisoning the well of civic discourse”.  He called for recognition of the difference between individual expressions of hatred and those by organised groups and elites.

Gholam Khiabani (University of London, UK) cautioned that hate speech should be treated as a social issue linked to state policies about inequality and discrimination, and not as a purely individual or online phenomenon. He signalled the complexity of boundaries between critical speech and hate speech, and proposed Media and Information Literacy (MIL) for states around this issue.

While social media is a key site for hate speech, many news media are also culpable such as in tabloid discourse around immigration, said Khiabani.

Manisha Pathak-Shelat (MICA, India) praised the publication “Media and Information Literacy: reinforcing human rights, countering radicalization and extremism” for including contributions from the global South. She advised that mapping who is influential and who is vulnerable on social media is essential for the design of MIL interventions.

Abiodun Salawu (North West University, South Africa) said this publication dealt with the emotive issues of division and identity, and showed well that audiences needed to be educated.

Also discussed on the IAMCR panel was the book “Terrorism and the Media: a handbook for journalists”.

Megan Knight, (University of Hertfordshire, UK) said the book provided journalists with tools and arguments to do professional coverage of terror attacks.  She cautioned against overestimating the extent to which journalists are able to act independently of commercial and political pressures at such times.