x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Hacking scandal holds lessons

UAE media faculties plan to incorporate stronger elements of law and ethics into their courses.

Rupert Murdoch is driven to his appearance before a British parliamentary committee in London last Tuesday.
Rupert Murdoch is driven to his appearance before a British parliamentary committee in London last Tuesday.

ABU DHABI // The British parliamentary committee investigating the News Corporation scandal may be 5,500km away, but the UAE's universities are keen to ensure their students learn from the saga.

Institutions offering journalism and mass communications degrees say the accusations of phone hacking and police bribery engulfing Rupert Murdoch's media empire will be high on the agenda when studies resume in October.

Ethics and law, which had been minor parts of the media curriculums at federal and private universities, will be given new priority and strengthened, with students urged to realise the importance of working within the law.

At Middlesex University in Dubai, which uses the same curriculum as its UK home campus, lecturers say the scandal makes it even more important for journalism students to learn from media law experts.

"It's important the curriculum responds to these current-affairs events," said Evelyn Stubbs, a journalism lecturer at the Dubai Middlesex campus.

"Ethics and law must take a more central role in what the students are learning. They're operating in the real world and you have to make them aware of what's going on in the world around them.

"We're planning on bringing in media lawyers to speak to the students and explain the nuances. They must match the theory and practice."

Dr Howard Reed, the director of the Dubai Women's College, which is part of the federal Higher Colleges of Technology, said events would influence its curriculum.

"Students are encouraged to view the world they live in with critical eyes," Dr Reed said. "The ease with which the Murdoch empire moved in the world of global politics will make for an interesting case study."

Mr Murdoch, who on Tuesday was questioned by the UK parliamentary select committee about his knowledge of events leading to the closure of the world's most widely read English-language newspaper, the News of the World, last year announced plans to expand his empire into Abu Dhabi.

Sky News Arabia is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp, a private investment company, and British Sky Broadcasting, which is 40 per cent owned by News Corporation.

Professor Samy Mahmoud, the chancellor of the University of Sharjah, said the phone-hacking fallout would be discussed not only in the college of communication, but in others including the college of business administration.

"We teach ethics and professional practice as core material in every academic programme, and we strive to explain that ethics form the foundation of all professional disciplines," Prof Mahmoud said. "If there is any redeeming value in the raging debate about this appalling behaviour, it may be in that it provides substance for teaching future generations of aspiring journalists about how things can go wrong, and that professions require self-policing as well as public scrutiny and legal framework in order to avoid such excesses." Prof Rory Hume, the provost of UAE University in Al Ain, said the events in Britain would have a strong influence on what the university's aspiring journalists were taught.

"Our mass communications curriculum already includes strong consideration of ethical behaviour in journalism, and these recent examples of highly questionable practices will be valuable for our students as they learn to find the right balance between the public's right to know and respecting the rights of individuals and their families," Prof Hume said.

The University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) will include elements of the News Corp furore in the media and mass communications master's degree it plans to launch in January. Its curriculum will have a core course on ethics and the law.

"Such courses should be part of every serious journalism programme at undergraduate as well as graduate levels," said the university's director, Prof Rob Whelan.

"The situation with News Corp in the UK will make a very interesting case study for whoever will teach the ethics course at UOWD when the programme gets under way."

mswan@thenational.ae