The local media has amplified its voice for decades, giving a different perspective, says Mona Al Marri.
While the UAE has racked up one success after another, the country’s media has faithfully documented its history for decades. From radio and TV stations to newsweeklies in the 1960s to daily newspapers in the 70s, and now, the influential pioneers of social media, the country’s media industry has come a long way.
Media development in Dubai has reflected the emirate’s rapid growth as a global metropolis, a senior official said.
“Over the past 20 years, we have seen the media in Dubai increasingly amplify its voice, giving its audience a different perspective on global and regional developments. With Dubai becoming a major global news broadcaster in tandem with its emergence as an important hub international economy, trade and tourism, the local media has created a unique perspective that represents the character of the city as a diverse city that embodies Emirati values,” said Mona Al. Marri, President of the Dubai Press Club and Chairman of the Arab Media Forums (AMF) Organizing Committee.
He was talking to Times of Khaleej before the milestone of the 20th edition of the AMF which will start today, October 4.
In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about media reform in Dubai, the kingdom’s preparedness for crisis communications and how journalists can reclaim their role as influencers in the digital age.
1. This is the 20th edition of the Arab Media Forum. Can you tell us about its history – from the very first version of the event?
The Arab Media Forum (AMF) was launched two decades ago in 2001, under the supervision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, as a flagship project of the Media Agency of Dubai. A club to promote dialogue on regional issues between Arab media thought leaders, decision makers and experts. Since its inception, the Forum has promoted constructive dialogue to accelerate the development of the sector and raise its potential. The platform has enabled a great exchange of knowledge, ideas and understanding between professionals, and contributed to the growth of the media in the region. The annual event has helped various stakeholders in the media of the Arab world to gain a deeper understanding of international best practices and to discover new methods to address the challenges that hinder the development of the region. The forum has also played an important role in opening channels of communication between Arab media professionals and their international counterparts.
2. How has the media in Dubai changed in 20 years? Let’s go through a brief history.
Twenty years ago, the media was dominated by print. Digital media was in its infancy. The rapid adoption of digital media technologies and the spread of social media over the past two decades have reshaped the way we create and consume media content. The media in Dubai has embraced these changes, supported by the government’s vision to develop a world-class infrastructure and regulatory framework for the media to thrive.
Local media received a major boost to its growth with the launch of Dubai Media City more than 20 years ago, one of the most revolutionary initiatives in the history of the Arab media industry. Over the past two decades, Dubai has developed into a major global media hub, driven by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to create a diversified education economy in Dubai. A series of initiatives including Dubai Studio City and Dubai Production City have seen Dubai emerge as a major hub for media growth and innovation.
Additionally, the Dubai Press Club has launched several initiatives to promote industry excellence including the Arab Media Forum (AMF), the region’s largest media conglomerate; the Arab Media Award (AJA); and the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit (ASMIS), as well as creating a training platform to build the capacity of local media professionals.
Dubai was chosen as the ‘Arab Media Capital’ for 2020 and 2021 by the Arab Council of Ministers of Information in recognition of its leadership role in the growth of Arab media.
3. Tell us about the agenda for issue 20. What are the key areas of focus?
The 20th edition of the Arab Media Forum focuses on ways the regional media can strengthen its future readiness amid major changes in the regional and global environment. The forum aims to articulate clear objectives to strengthen the competitiveness of Arab media at a time when digital technologies are shaping the future. Stakeholders will come together to discuss how Arab media can innovate, strive for excellence, and develop the talent needed to become a force to reckon with in the global media landscape.
The discussion will explore various aspects of the regional media landscape and key drivers of its development, including the political climate, new technologies such as change, social media trends and trust in the media. A series of interactive workshops will be held alongside the Forum in collaboration with international media organizations, including CNN Arabia, Agence France-Presse (AFP), CCTV Middle East, and Meta. Leading industry experts will demonstrate how newsrooms can use technology to increase news content impact and quality.
4. One thing that is known about the media industry in Dubai is how the Dubai Government Media Office works when it comes to conflict. Information about emergencies or Covid safety updates are published in real time. How do you ensure this and how does it help?
The Dubai Government Media Office has developed extensive emergency communications plans based on environmental planning to support governments and key frontline organizations in combating conflict. For example, during the recent pandemic, we launched various strategic campaigns to inform people in real time about the prevention and security measures of the authorities as the Covid-19 situation continues. Our communication plans are supported by strong coordination with frontline agencies and guided by the objectives of the National Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) and the Central Crisis and Disaster Management Committee. We also prioritize ensuring that our campaigns take into account the diverse cultures and audiences of Dubai and their unique cultural, economic and psychological backgrounds.
5. How do you see the media and its role changing in the next few years?
I see local media in Dubai becoming more and more confident in producing locally relevant content, meeting the needs and preferences of its audience and providing unique local perspectives. With the continued development of data technology and AI, media will become more and more ‘hyperlocal’, providing targeted, interactive content to individual target audiences.
Additionally, as we begin to embrace new technologies such as the metaverse, more individuals will become content creators, accelerating the trend that is gaining momentum today. Digital users will be able to share experiences and participate in the virtual world.
6. How can traditional media be partners in fighting fake news that spreads on social networks?
The mainstream media has mounted a strong response to the fake news epidemic by strengthening their commitment to the journalistic values of accuracy and fact-checking. However, some sections of the media have violated the ethical standards required to uphold the principles of truth, justice and equality. Unfortunately, even isolated instances of fake news can destroy audience confidence in an entire industry.
Media stakeholders need to work together to rebuild lost trust. First, they need to deeply emphasize strong professional and ethical values in their organizations to ensure that information is provided from authentic, official and reliable sources. Second, there is a need to educate the public on the difference between fake news and real news. In addition, the media needs to explore the best artificial intelligence tools to verify and check the facts coming from social media. There has been a lot of progress in this regard, but more resources need to be invested in researching better technologies that can detect fake news, fake accounts, rumors and misleading stories.
7. In the age of social media influencers, what role should journalists play?
Before the advent of social media and the word ‘influencer’ became popular, journalists played the role of influencers. There is an opportunity to reinvent that role in today’s digital environment. However, to do so, they need to combine the personal, informal touch of a journalist with high ethical standards and professional rigor. This is an ongoing role. Beyond their responsibility to provide accurate and reliable information, journalists should seek to stimulate conversation about important issues by providing accurate perspectives.