The sower of hatred owns the day, so goes the Arab saying.
In Jordan’s capital of Amman, some of the biggest names in Arab media gathered on Monday for the Media Against Hate conference organised by the UAE’s Muslim Council of Elders in partnership with the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media.
Working under a broad topic, speakers and delegates discussed challenges in fair reporting in the Arab world.
“We reject the mobilisation of the media to serve narrow personal interests,” said Father Rifaat Bader, general director of the Catholic centre, in his opening speech.
Acknowledging that good practices by media professionals in daily reporting do exist, the council’s secretary general Sultan Al Rumaithi also pointed out the need for further progress.
“We have plenty of room to improve [the media landscape] and this is something we aim to do by providing the required resources and training for journalists and organisations,” he said.
From there, the conversation focused on the role every journalist can play in creating a more peaceful and respectful environment.
Questions including "what constitutes hate speech?" proved divisive among the audience during the first session though all agreed on eliminating personal insults and attacks based on race, religion or sect from public discourse.
“When I call out the oppressor for his oppression, am I spreading hate?” asked Al Arabiya anchor Mohammad Abu Obaid.
Panellist Emadeddin Hussein, an Egyptian MP and editor-in-chief of Al Shorouq, explained how the issue could fall under the realm of subjectivity.
“There are clear and clear issues. As an Arab, talking about the crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people is undeniably justified," he said.
“What is viewed as a clear-cut issue to an Arab may not be seen the same way to those in the west who equate anti-Israel speech with terrorism.”
The real struggle lies when it came to what Mr Hussein referred to as “ambiguous” issues.
“Conversations about Arab-on-Arab conflicts may appear to one community as righteous and to another as hateful,” he said.
Removing inflammatory discourse begins with the self, most speakers agreed.
“Putting legislations and punishments that make offensive language punishable is important, but will still allow transgressions to take place,” said Lebanese journalist and politician Yolanda Khoury.
The most effective method, she said, was for journalists to question their motive when interviewing a person or addressing a topic.
“Practising ethical and conscious self-monitoring is the right course of action in this case," she said. "We need to inspect our interviewees for their qualifications to provide answers and ask whether we are simply giving them airtime because it would help our ratings.”
Hamad Al Kaabi, editor-in-chief of the UAE’s Al-Ittihad newspaper, however, argued that impartiality and offensive media coverage were not necessarily related.
“We need to distinguish in objectivity and hatred. Journalists often write about the topics they care about whether in health, sports, education or crime – these are their specialities,” he said.
“I write about the UAE because of my passion and love for it. Absolute objectivity is non-existent and unattainable. But this is unrelated to the type of hateful speech we are discussing today which centres on provocation and systematic campaigns, often launched on social media, against a certain cause or individual.”
These intellectual discussions sparked further conversations on the sidelines of the conference that could be heard outside the conference halls, in corridors and over lunch.
As the first day of the Media Against Hate conference ends and preparations begin for the second and final day of the event, journalists from diverse backgrounds, experiences and qualifications, will continue to share their thoughts on-stage and off-camera.