Has the Media Presented Public Debate Over Curricula Fairly?

9 November 2016

The question of amendments to school curricula has formed what can be described as a rolling snowball, which has turned into an important national public debate despite witnessing a rise in sharp rhetoric, accusations, and, sometimes, some deception. Accusations of backwardness and moral decadence have been traded during the debate, which reveals one facet of the cultural conflict in society and that over values.

Over two months, media outlets have been the main channel and public platform for this debate. It is useful to note that the role of media outlets in managing such a debate is highly important and necessary provided that these outlets abide by the standards of professionalism, mainly accuracy, balance, steering clear of deception, and giving an opportunity to all voices in order to serve the public good. We should take into consideration that professional standards do not conflict with the commitment of media outlets to common human and national values, such as commitment to human rights, democracy, the identity of society, or enforcing the law against everyone. This commitment is usually not classified as bias.

The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) followed items published in media outlets in relation to the question of school curricula during the period between 4 September and 4 October on social media networks; in four newspapers, which are Al Rai, Al Dustour, Al Ghad, and Al Sabeel; and on four electronic news sites, which are Ammon, Khaberni, Saraya, and Al Wakeel. The monitoring carried out a quick scan of the main discussions on social media. We should note here that this period witnessed a number of other issues that preoccupied public opinion. Yet, the question of curricula had a significant share. The outcome of this monitoring shows that traditional media had contributed to managing this national debate; however, they lacked depth and investigative reports, which such issues require. In general, the media got carried away by the strong debate on social media networks, which quickly turned the role of the media into classifying people on the basis of "for and against."

The monitoring confirmed that all views, with their contradictions and differences, were published. There were no cases of excluding or barring any position. However, this does not mean that every media outlet published all views as positions were clearly observable in accordance with the editorial policy of each outlet. This was clear in the headlines and through highlighting or suppressing one position and not the other.

Of course, as is the case in such disputed issues, media outlets varied in the level of their professionalism. This made the coverage look as if it were part of media campaigns (for or against). In practice, this has led to rare objective answers to the basic questions of the dispute, such as the type of the amendments that were introduced and their significance. Media outlets competed to carry pictures, comparing and contrasting pages of the old and new curricula. Each outlet selected what fits its position. A large part of the pages was taken from social media pages. In some cases, this allowed for publishing pictures that are not from Jordanian curricula, but none of the media outlets that carried wrong pictures offered a clear apology for gross errors.

The same thing was repeated in exchanged statements. Media outlets entered the battlefield by publishing statements. Each outlet presented the statements in a promotional manner (for or against) and used suggestive words in describing the statements (there is a difference, for example, between saying the minister explains and the minister claims).

Following are the results of the monitoring, which will be followed by some analytical observations:

Daily Press: Early Debate

It might be useful to refer to what preceded the last wave of debate over the question of curricula. It was observed that Al Ghad newspaper has raised this issue for a year and a half. Based on a quick monitoring of this period, we noticed that the newspaper published over 100 items on the curricula, which it started in June 2015. The newspaper covered a workshop organized by the Nissan Center for Political and Parliamentary Development and published it under the title Specialists: School Curricula "Daeshist" Denying the Other and Rejecting Women.

On 1 July 2015, the newspaper published an article titled Analytical Study: "Daeshism" in School Curricula and Books by educational expert Dhuqan Obeidat, who demanded the creation of a national commission for school curricula. He pointed out that the study aimed at identifying a number of common trends and values in school curricula and textbooks, such as bias in favor of a certain trend, not respecting the other, or not recognizing the other.   

This study generated broad reactions and was the first episode in a series of articles and analytical pieces by Obeidat, which exceeded 35 during this period. Others also contributed to the debate on the pages of the same newspaper, which was the first to place the question of curricula on the official and public agenda.

Table No. 1: Volume of Press Coverage of Question of Curricula

Percentage Number Newspaper
23.626Al Rai
27.330Al Dustour
22.725Al Ghad
26.429Al Sabeel
100110Total

The newspapers published around 100 items on the changes that were made to the curricula during the research period (4 September to 4 October). According to the table, the numbers and percentages between the newspapers are not that different. On average, each newspaper published one press item per day on the curricula.

Table No. 2: Press Format

Total

ArticleReportNews Story Newspaper
% Number%Number%Number
2619.2523.1657.715Al Rai
3030913.3456.717Al Dustour
252461646015Al Ghad
2917.2513.846920Al Sabeel
100%23.62516.4186167Total

News stories made up around 67% of published press material. A large number of them relied on press releases issued by the parties concerned with the issue and ready-to-use press statements, besides some short exclusive statements and news that came from the Jordan News Agency (Petra).

Press articles had a significant place among published press material in the daily newspapers by 23%. This is a large percentage compared to other press formats. No doubt, press articles played an important role in fueling the debate over curricula and increasing its intensity. For example, the period that preceded the monitoring witnessed some angry reactions on social media to articles by writer Zulaikha Aburisha.

Press reports made up around 16% of the items that discussed the changes made to the curricula. Some of them were in one direction and lacked balance, while some other reports observed the standards of the profession and the journalistic traditions of neutrality and credibility.

The most important observation was the lack of features on this issue, particularly expanded and investigative features. Most of what was presented in the press was conveying the efforts of "concerned" persons who were mostly motivated by their own leanings and intellectual background.

Here, we have to note that most of the press items conveyed to the public half the truth, according to the view of the source who volunteered to speak. They also presented partial facts that do not reveal the full picture about these curricula, including all the details that they contain and the changes that took place.

Table No. 3: Function of Content of Published Material  

NewspaperNewsAnalytical       Follow-UpTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Al Rai1142.9934.6623.126
Al Dustour9301343.3826.730
Al Ghad114493652525
Al Sabeel1551.7931517.329
Total4641.84036.42421.8100

Newspapers were mainly interested in news stories by 41%, while giving sufficient room for analysis, especially in the published articles, which mostly reveal the attitude of the newspaper, while press follow-up accounted for 22%.  In general, there is not much separation between news and follow-up on this question as all news stories related to curricula follow each other like a falling row of dominoes. The next story is a reply to a previous story or exchange of positions and statements between activists on social media, and also between the Teachers Association, Ministry of Education, and curricula committees.

News generates news, intensively, and this is what the press dealt with by publishing actions and reactions at the expense of the quality of what is published. This becomes clear when reading some news, which does not add or explain anything new.

Table No. 4: Sources (Identified or Vague)

Newspaper Identified Sources Unidentified Sources Total
Number%Number%
Al Rai1986.4313.622
Al Dustour1460.9939.123
Al Ghad1894.715.319
Al Sabeel228831225
 7382%1618%100

Reliable and identified sources are a prominent feature of news that has credibility and that enjoys the confidence of the public. In this part of the monitoring, articles have been excluded from the standard of the availability of sources, although attributing information to its original sources is important even in articles to increase the confidence of the public in the information that it reads as it largely helps it to distinguish information from opinions.

Most of the news items relied on identified sources. It is a natural outcome of the debate between supporters and opponents of the changes that happened to the curricula. Everybody is trying to raise ideas clearly and adopt them to record his position vis-à-vis this issue.

It is noticeable that when some outlets cite social media, they use the expression "activists on social media," which weakens the credibility of news stories. There is nothing that prevents naming those activists. Besides, reporting news on sit-ins and demonstrations, especially in the governorates, uses generalizations: "Citizens, demonstrators, participants in sit-ins." Relying on statements by people taking part in an event and their explicit names boosts the credibility and confidence of the public in the press item.

Table No. 5: Active Group

NewspaperGovernment Sources and CommitteesAssociationOther EntitiesTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Al Rai934.6415.4135026
Al Dustour1033.3413.31653.430
Al Ghad135231293625
Al Sabeel724.1724.11551.829
Total3935.41816.45348.2100%

Government sources, especially the committees assigned the study of amending the curricula, accounted for one third of the active sources of information and statements on the question of curricula, while the Teachers Association accounted for 16%. Other sources, represented by popular entities and figures, were a source for producing half of the news, especially since the debate over the curricula was accompanied by sit-ins in many governorates.

Table No. 6: Trends of Media Content  

NewspaperNeutralFor      Amendments Against AmendmentsTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Al Rai830.81124.3726.926
Al Dustour1240826.81033.330
Al Ghad1144104041625
Al Sabeel827.8517.41655.229
Total3935.43430.13733.5100%

The above table shows that the content of press items in general was divided into three parts, which were close: 35% neutral, 30% for, and 33% against the amendments.

News Sites: Echo of Press and Social Media

Table No. 7: Number of Published Items

SiteNumber%
Ammon3528
Saraya3830.4
Al Wakeel2314.4
Khaberni2923.2
Total125100

News sites published around 125 items during the monitoring period on the curricula, the different positions toward it, and the public debate that accompanied it on various levels. Saraya was number one in terms of the number of published items. The variation in the number of published items is due to the fact that some sites are interested in press articles, while other sites are not interested in them.

Table No. 8: Press Format

SiteNews Story ReportArticle Total
Number%Number%Number%
Ammon216038.61131.435
Saraya3181.6410.537.938
Al Wakeel20873130023
Khaberni2378.6310.7310.729
Total95761310.41713.6100

News sites have remained faithful to their traditions by primarily showing interest in news by almost 76% of the published items. This agrees with competition between sites over scoops. It is noticed that features are completely absent and there is weak interest in press reports in the published items.

Function of Content in Published Items

Table No. 9

SiteNews Analytical       Follow-UpTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Ammon1748.61542.938.535
Saraya2771.1718.4410.538
Al Wakeel1878.331328.723
Khaberni1758.6827.6413.829
Total7963.23326.41310.4100%

The news function was the highest among the interests of electronic sites, followed by analysis, and then follow-up. News stories in general were replies to previous stories, but in most cases indirectly.

Sources: Identified or Vague 

Table No. 10

SiteIdentified SourcesUnidentifiedTotal
Number%Number%
Ammon2083.3416.724
Saraya2262.81337.335
Al Wakeel1982.6417.423
Khaberni208731323
 8177.12432.9100%

Unidentified sources accounted for 32%, which affects the confidence of the public in media outlets and the credibility of the source of information. In contrast, unidentified sources in the newspapers were 18%.

Active Group

Table No. 11

SiteGovt and Curricula CommitteeAssociationOther EntitiesTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Ammon1028.6411.4216035
Saraya1231.6513.22156.238
Al Wakeel939.1521.8939.123
Khaberni621.4621.41728.229
Total3729.620166854.4100

The government and the committees assigned the study of curricula accounted for almost 35% of actors in news making, while popular entities and students accounted for 34%. They are classified in the table under "other entities." They exceeded the Association, which was a source for 16% of the news.

Media Content

Table No. 12

SiteNeutralFor AmendmentsAgainst AmendmentsTotal
Number%Number%Number%
Ammon1337.1822.9144035
Saraya1026.8718.42155.338
Al Wakeel626.1626.11147.823
Khaberni724.1620.71655.229
Total3628.82721.67257.6100

The items that opposed amendments to the curricula accounted for almost 57% of published items on the pages of electronic sites, while neutral items accounted for almost 30%. Around one quarter of the items was for the amendments. This shows the nature of positions taken by press establishments.

Social Media Leading Polarization

Social media pages were the main battleground for amending the curricula. Even the sites of newspapers and electronic sites relied on their pages on social media. After publishing a news item or sharing it from the website to a page on social media, comments start appearing. However, the fiercer battles take place when activists publish links of media items on amending the curricula or place a comment or tweet with the link. This touches off endless campaigns of successive replies.  

The "debate" on social media included a lot of mudslinging and exchange of acrimonious and hate-filled words. Numerous forms of mutual classifications were used.  The main hashtags on Twitter include the following: "#amending_curricula," "#Hayil_Dawoud #Jordan #curricula," "#Dhneibat #education#curricula," "Jordan_recognizes #Solomon"s Temple #Aqsa Mosque_No_to_Jordanian_Secular_Curricula," "#Jordan_Muslim_state," "Jordan_new_curricula."

In fact, Facebook was used the most in the debate, given that its users exceed 4 million, while Twitter has around one quarter of a million. It was used on the widest scale, even between official entities, which sometimes dealt with Facebook posts as an official notification or statement of their position. This appeared, for example, in the discussions between the Teachers Association and the Ministry.

The key conclusions of monitoring the coverage of media outlets of the debate over curricula are the following:

First, social media is currently leading traditional media and greatly influencing it. It leads public opinion clearly and very influentially.

Second, ideological differences are quickly turning into hate speech simply because of differences in opinions and accusations of betrayal. We see this on social media pages.

Third, professional media (press and sites) has not played its role by revealing facts through features and investigative reports and simply conveyed events, views, and information based on the wish of the entity that defends its viewpoint.

Fourth, the opinions and comments that are sometimes attributed to some experts and specialists occasionally greatly conflict with what those experts and specialists state to other media outlets at the same time and under the same circumstances. The defect could be linked to the preparation of the press material or the person who made the statement. Such examples include a statement by former Education Minister Dr. Faiz Sa"udi, in which he told Al Rai that the broader aim of changing the curricula was the concern of the state about students to prevent any motives for extremism. Sa"udi had made a statement on the same issue a few days before to a news site under a different headline: "Former Education Minister Sa"udi: Our Curricula Do Not Contain Terrorist Ideas; Dhneibat Destroyed Them." 

Fifth, some news stories relied on anonymous sources, which lacked accuracy, including a story headlined "Education Minister Angry and Dissatisfied With Changing Curricula; He Formed Committee To Reconsider Them." It is clear from other statements by Dhneibat in all relevant news that the statements attributed to him were inaccurate.

Sixth, there was a third news story on a denial by Walid Jallad, press spokesman for the Ministry of Education, that Dr. Mohammed Dhneibat, deputy prime minister and minister of education, had received death threats against the background of curricular amendments. The story was titled "Education Ministry Denies Death Threats Against Dhneibat." Other sites published a completely contradictory news item titled "Dhneibat Receives Threats Over Curricular Amendments." It said: Dr. Mohammed Dhneibat, deputy prime minister and education minister, received threats from anonymous persons over amendments to school curricula and textbooks. He submitted an official notification to the competent security agencies of these threats.

PS: For those who wish to learn more about how the issue was handled in the media, the following are links to the main headlines that were published during the monitoring period:  

Khatib Explains Justifications for Deleting Koranic Verses and Hadith From Curricula

Education Ministry: Those Who Did Not Read New Curricula Were Satisfied With Rumors and Prejudgments To Let Objectives of People Saying This Pass

Maan Residents Burn "New Curricula" To Protest Amendment

Look at Controversial Curricular Amendments

Amendments to School Curricula: Rumors Feeding Negativity and Do Not Lead to Reform

Education Ministry Denies Truth of This Photo

Teachers (Association): This Is Our Detailed Reply to Claims of Education (Ministry)

Dhneibat: Lamees Is a Companion (of the Prophet)

Government Speaks About Foreign Agendas…and Left Gets Involved in Crisis of Amending Curricula

Aqaba Resident Returns Son"s Textbooks to Education (Ministry) To Protest Changing Curricula

New Curricula: Removed "Incitement to Terrorism" from Old Curricula and Alluded to Alleged Solomon"s Temple

Khatib: We Deleted Koranic Verses and Hadith From Curricula To Strengthen Values in Society

According to Mulki"s Government: Prayer Before Entering Restroom Incites to Terrorism "Photos"

Khatib: For This Reason We Deleted Koranic Verses and Hadith From Curricula

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