Competing Media Motivations in the UAE’s Press (and what this means for communicators)

Communicators need to understand the competing agendas in the UAE’s press scene (image source: freepress.net)

I was once told, “to really understand a thing, you must know the reason for its purpose.” I don’t usually begin my posts so philosophically, but this quote seemed a fitting place to start when writing about the media in the United Arab Emirates.

An event caught my eye last month. The UAE’s National Media Council held a one day seminar, primarily for Emirati media professionals and communicators in the government sector. The event was entitled “The Future of Emirati Media”, and the below tweet from the National Media Council’s Chairman summarized a distinctly national view of the UAE media.

I’ve paraphrased below the key points from the above Arabic-language tweets and other material shared on the day:

  1. Work through the media to promote the national agenda.
  2. The media has a shared responsibility to work alongside state institutions and those present on social media to develop the sector.
  3. The media will contribute to the strengthening of the State’s leadership of the regional and global information sector.

The Foreign Perspective

In much of the West and East, the media is called the “fourth estate”, a group that is independent from government and which wields influence over society. Media seeks to report on issues of interest to its stakeholders (readers as well as owners), and will hold individuals, organizations and governments to account.

Essentially, the media has a number of roles, including to inform and by extension educate citizens on issues of importance, to act as a platform for different viewpoints and societal groups to share their own viewpoints and narratives, and to hold those in power to account.

In a country like the UAE, much of the English-language media consists of foreigners who have worked in other countries. Their view-point on what constitutes the media is often different to the national perspective.

What this means for Communicators

It goes without saying that for those working in communications, understanding both perspectives is vital for us to be able to engage effectively with different stakeholders. Media which are aligned with the first viewpoint are focused on the national perspective, especially as it relates to development and leadership. The media which is aligned to the second perspective is focused on sharing news that seeks to inform without the national development frame of reference.

These two viewpoints are also influencing where people work; many UAE nationals will explain that they’ve chosen to work in government communications as they believe it’s part of their contribution to the country’s development. Many foreigners in the media, particularly foreign outlets based in the UAE, will argue that sharing an independent perspective is important to truly understand what is happening in the country (and the wider region).

As always, context is key. Communicators and media need to understand each other’s motivations if we are to be in a position to engage and inform. Communicators and media need to understand these two basic perspectives and what it means for our work, be it talking within a national framework or sharing unique insights that are set within a governmental context. What’s essential here is that communicators appreciate both motivations, and they’re able to adapt as necessary to be able to interact with both media groups (and their respective audiences).

As always, I love to hear your inputs. Please do share!

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