How Dubai’s media captures city as an inclusive one rooted in Emirati values

Local media has developed its own voice over the decades, offering a distinctive outlook, says Mona Al Marri



by

Sahim Salim

Published: Tue 4 Oct 2022, 11:20 AM

Last updated: Tue 4 Oct 2022, 1:56 PM

As the UAE scaled one achievement after another, the country’s media has faithfully chronicled its history over the decades. From radio and TV channels to weekly news magazines in the 1960s to daily newspapers in the 70s, and now, pioneering social media influencers, the country’s media sector has come a long way.

The development of media in Dubai has mirrored the emirate’s rapid growth as a leading global metropolis, a top official has said.

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen media in Dubai increasingly developing its own voice, offering its audiences a distinctive outlook on global and regional developments. With Dubai becoming a major global newsmaker in tandem with its emergence as a pivotal international economic, trading and tourism hub, local media have shaped a unique perspective that represents the city’s character as a diverse and inclusive city rooted in Emirati values,” said Mona Al Marri, President of the Dubai Press Club and Chairperson of Arab Media Forum’s (AMF) Organising Committee.

She was talking to Khaleej Times ahead of the AMF’s milestone 20th edition that begins today, October 4.

In this wide-ranging interview, she talks about the evolution of media in Dubai, the emirate’s crisis communication preparedness 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 take us through its history — starting from the very first edition of the event?

The Arab Media Forum (AMF) was launched two decades ago in 2001, under the patronage 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 Dubai Press Club to foster dialogue on regional issues among Arab media thought leaders, decision-makers and professionals. Since its inception, the Forum has fostered constructive dialogue to accelerate the sector’s development and raise its capabilities. The Forum has facilitated an extensive exchange of knowledge, ideas and insights between professionals, contributing to the growth of the region’s media. The annual event has helped diverse stakeholders in the Arab world’s media gain a deeper understanding of global best practices and discover fresh approaches for addressing challenges that hinder the region’s progress. The Forum has also played a vital role in opening engagement channels between Arab media professionals and their global peers.

2. How has media in Dubai evolved in 20 years? Take us through a brief history.

Twenty years ago, the media was primarily dominated by print. Digital media was in a state of infancy. The rapid adoption of digital media technologies and the proliferation of social media over the last two decades has reshaped how we create and consume media content. Media in Dubai have embraced these changes, supported by the government’s vision to develop world-class infrastructure and regulatory framework for media to flourish.

Local media received a strong impetus to its growth with the launch of Dubai Media City over 20 years ago, one of the most transformational initiatives in the history of the Arab media sector. In the last two decades, Dubai has developed into a leading global media hub, driven by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to create a diversified knowledge-based economy in Dubai. A series of initiatives including Dubai Studio City and Dubai Production City has led to Dubai emerging as a major global focal point for media growth and innovation.

Furthermore, Dubai Press Club has launched several initiatives to foster industry excellence including the Arab Media Forum (AMF), the region’s largest media gathering; the Arab Media Award (AJA); and the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit (ASMIS), in addition to creating a training platform to build the capabilities of local media professionals.

Dubai was selected as the 'Capital of Arab Media' for 2020 and 2021 by the Council of Arab Information Ministers in recognition of its leadership role in Arab media growth.

3. Tell us about the agenda of the 20th edition. What are the key focus areas?

The 20th edition of the Arab Media Forum focuses on ways regional media can boost its future readiness amidst massive transformations in regional and global environments. The Forum seeks 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 necessary to become a force to reckon with in the global media landscape.

The discussions will explore various dimensions of the regional media landscape and key drivers of its development, including the political landscape, new technologies like the metaverse, social media trends and trust in the media. A series of interactive workshops will be held on the sidelines of the Forum in partnership with leading global media organisations, including CNN Arabia, Agence France-Presse (AFP), CCTV Middle East, and Meta. Prominent industry experts will demonstrate how newsrooms can use technologies to enhance the impact of news content and quality.

4. One thing that stands out about the media sector in Dubai is just how proactive the Government of Dubai Media Office is when it comes to crises. Information about emergencies or Covid safety updates is posted in real-time. How do you ensure this and how does it help?

The Government of Dubai Media Office has developed extensive crisis communication preparedness plans based on scenario planning to support the government and key frontline organisations in combating crises. For example, during the recent pandemic, we launched diverse strategic campaigns to keep people informed in real-time about the authorities’ preventive and safety measures as the Covid-19 situation developed. Our communication plans are underpinned by strong coordination with frontline organisations and guided by the objectives of the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) and the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management. We also prioritise ensuring our campaigns take into account Dubai’s diverse cultures and audiences and their unique sociocultural, economic and psychological backgrounds.

5. How do you see media and its role changing over the next few years?

I see the homegrown media in Dubai becoming increasingly more assured in delivering locally relevant content, catering to its audience’s needs and preferences and providing uniquely local perspectives. With the continued development of data and AI technologies, media will increasingly become more ‘hyperlocal’, offering tailored, interactive content for targeted audiences and individuals.

Further, as we begin to embrace new technologies like the metaverse, more individuals will start to become content creators, accelerating a trend that is gaining ground today. Digital users will have the capabilities to share experiences and engage in a virtual world.

6. How can traditional media become partners in combating fake news that go viral on social media?

Major traditional media have mounted a strong response to the scourge of fake news by reinforcing their commitment to journalistic values of accuracy and fact-checking. However, some sections of the media have compromised on the ethical standards necessary to uphold the principles of truth, fairness and objectivity. Unfortunately, even isolated instances of fake news can shatter audience trust in the entire industry.

Media stakeholders need to work collectively to rebuild lost trust. Firstly, they need to deeply instil strong professional and ethical values in their organisations to ensure news is sourced from authentic, official and credible sources. Secondly, there is a need to educate the public on distinguishing between fake and real news. Further, the media needs to explore more effective artificial intelligence tools to authenticate and fact-check news stories emerging out of social media. There have been a lot of breakthroughs in this regard, but more resources need to be invested in exploring better technologies that can detect fake news, fake accounts, rumours and misleading stories.

7. In the age of social media influencers, what role must journalists play?

Before the advent of social media and the term ‘influencers’ became popular, journalists played the role of influencers. There is an opportunity to reinvent that role in today’s digital environment. However, to do that, they need to blend an influencer’s personal, informal touch with a journalist’s high ethical standards and professional rigour. This is an evolving role. Beyond their responsibility to deliver accurate and reliable news, journalists should seek to stimulate a conversation around vital issues by providing informed perspectives.

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