How can the UAE encourage more locals to enter the media industry?

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

The words of HH Sheikh Mohammad during the Emirati Media Forum. The country is looking to encourage more locals to enter the media industry

This month we’ve been treated to not one but two regional forums focusing on the media sector. First we had the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Not to be outdone, Dubai held the second edition of the Emirati Media Forum (EMF). The words above were the highlight of the event, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, spoke about the need for there to be more nationals in the media sector.

Reinforcing the message, UAE Minister for State and Chairman of Sky News Arabia Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber spoke on the need for the country’s media to, as Gulf Today put it, become proactive and anticipative, provide deep analysis and interpretation for the current events, carry its social and cultural responsibilities, deliver our message and voice to the world and reflects our sound peaceful culture.

“Over the past years, UAE media has registered many successes and achievements and we need to adopt a balanced and objective strategy that shall contribute in enhancing and bolstering UAE creditability regionally and internationally.”

“When I call for a proactive role, I do not mean exaggeration but rather I call upon our national media to be an icon for ethics and professionalism.”

As a former journalist in the UAE and someone who has dealt extensively with media across the Gulf, the country doesn’t lack for journalists or publications. However, the vast majority of journalists are expats. Even on the Arabic side, most of the media are from Egypt, Jordan or Lebanon.

Whilst it could be argued that the media industry in the Gulf isn’t respected or held in the same regard as in other geographies such as Europe or America, most of the countries in the region have a high percentage of nationals working as journalists – most of the Arabic-language journalists in Saudi are locals, while Bahraini journalists include the head of the local AP bureau. Kuwait has the most lively political publications, which are mostly fueled by local columnists and writers. If countries like Bahrain and Kuwait, two countries with national populations roughly the size of the UAE, how can the UAE promote media among their nationals? Here’s a couple of ideas to get nationals more engaged in the media:

1) Encourage critical thinking and debate – it’s probably no surprise that Kuwait and Saudi have the largest number of local writers, thanks in part to debates around issues such as governance, politics and other issues which matter to local communities. The greater the range of views and opinions that are on offer locally, the greater the public engagement with that media. Conversely, the greater the degree of monotony the less interest there is in the media.

2) Support an independent press – there’s some confusion in the region in terms of what the media is and what its job is. As many media outlets are government owned, they’re often seen as a voice for the authorities. Independent media are generally viewed as more credible, more likely to take on vested interests and promote investigative journalism. Independent media help to promote a strong civil society that in turn promotes transparency and ethics.

3) Engage nationals from a young age – there are some up-and-coming young Emiratis in the media sector who are producing great work. They’re the exception however. Most of the nationals in the media are older and occupy higher positions. We need young role-models for today’s Emirati students to follow, role-models who will tell of the long days, of the persistence on chasing a lead, and of the exhilaration in scoring a scoop.

As was touched upon at the Emirati Media Forum, the Internet is disrupting traditional media. In America dozens of newspapers have had to close shop due to our changing media consumption habits. In a world where stories are broken and shared virally online, many are arguing that traditional media is not needed as it has been for decades. I disagree. Good local analysis can put any news story in context. This is where a strong press plays a role.

For a country that wants to be the first in everything it does, the UAE needs to look again at the local media and ask where is the country’s Al Jazeera, and where are UAE journalists who can be compared to the likes Saudi presenter Turki Al Dakhil, Bahraini editor-in-chief Mansour Al-Jamri, and Kuwaiti journalist Mohammed Al-Sager, all of whom are well respected, famous figures in the media industries in their home countries and abroad.

If the UAE wants a strong media presence and aims to attract more UAE nationals into the sector, then there has to be a shift towards a strong, empowered media that can tell the country’s story through its own words. A mature media that can speak on its own behalf, that has a reputation for holding others to account, and which strengthens local communities can only be good for everyone in the country, most of all its nationals, and will help to attract young nationals who want to support their country’s development as well as be involved in what is one of the most exciting jobs anyone can do.

I’m going to end this piece with a quote from the Columbia School of Journalism, of what media can do for a country.

Journalism exposes corruption, draws attention to injustice, holds politicians and businesses accountable for their promises and duties. It informs citizens and consumers, helps organize public opinion, explains complex issues and clarifies essential disagreements. Journalism plays an irreplaceable role in both democratic politics and market economies.

For those in the industry, I’d love to hear your feedback.

The Sheikh Mohammed School of Communication

I’m no posterboy for Dubai I’ll admit. But I do admire how the Emirate’s ruler communicates with the media. The BBC aired an interview with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum this week and the piece made headlines the world over. Sheikh Mo as he’s known here shared his thoughts on everything from Iran, Syria and Egypt to horse doping and human rights in the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed talks plainly, he gets to the point, and he admits when things go wrong; asked about the jailing of a number of young men for a spoof video Sheikh Mohammed says:

“We try to change it. We are not perfect and we try to change it. Any mistakes, we go in and try to change it. We’re not perfect, but we are doing our best.”

What’s fascinated me the most has been how the media industry has taken its pick of quotes to build headlines around. For the UAE’s media the key talking points were Sheikh Mohammed’s call to lift sanctions on Iran and his views on Syria and the need for Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad to step down. His views on Egypt’s General El-Sisi dominated the Egyptian papers.

If you want to watch and learn from Sheikh Mohammed School of Communication and see a leader who is unique in terms of how he interacts with the media then watch the interview on the BBC on the 17 January at 04:30 GMT & 09:30 GMT and read the article by the BBC’s Jon Sopel here. You can watch a teaser below from the original airing of the interview yesterday.

I wish there were more leaders in the Gulf who’d talk to and with the media.

Twitter and politics in the Middle East – Arab political figures on Twitter

Following on from a previous post on the top religious figures in Saudi Arabia using Twitter I’m profiling a couple of the most prolific political and governmental officials and rulers in the Gulf.

If you’re looking for a good resource on global political movers and shakers then check out the Twiplomacy report by global PR agency Burson-Marsteller. There’s some interesting insights here, though I hope the below snapshot will give you a little more information on the Middle East region in particular.

So here’s the top five six countdown. I could add a lot more and I hopefully will do over time.

1. Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

Jordan’s Queen Rania is the most popular political figure in the region with over two million followers.

The most popular political figure on Twitter is not based in the Gulf, but rather on the Arabian Peninsula’s periphery. Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah is without a doubt the most popular government-related figure in the Middle East (I saw government as her husband King Abdullah II is the head of state). To date she has amassed two and a quarter million Twitter followers. The Queen usually tweets about charitable issues which she is involved in or supports, such as education, healthcare, and youth-related schemes. Queen Rania also has a YouTube channel and Facebook site as well as her own website at

Queen Rania has used social media to engage in conversation. The best known example is a campaign launched in 2008 entitled Send me your Stereotypes. The Queen asked people to send her their questions about Islam and the Arab world. She talked about topics such as honour killings, terrorism and women in the Middle East.

Queen Rania started using Twitter in the Spring of 2009 and she has occasionally used the site to answer questions from followers. She is not a prolific user of Twitter (having sent 845 tweets her account averages less than a tweet a day), and her engagement and communications are spread across all of her social media channels. Queen Rania messages in English primarily rather than Arabic.

2. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammed passed the one million mark on Twitter at the end of July 2012

The ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has a large following on Twitter through which he disseminates information on Dubai’s economic development, charitable initiatives, and (sometimes) religion.

Sheikh Mohammed often writes in Arabic to address issues which are important to UAE nationals. In addition to his twitter feed there’s a Facebook site which was set up in June 2009 and has over 600k likes and a more recent Youtube page which was set up in February of this year but which already has 580 thousand video views.

Sheikh Mohammed tweets on average less than once a day (he posts at approximately the same rate as Queen Rania and has posted to date 862 tweets) but he does retweet fairly often (once every 9.1 Tweets). An avid horse racer, the Sheikh does talk about his passion for racing as well as the environment.

3. Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud

Abdul Aziz Bin Fahad is an avid user of Twitter and has written just under 5,500 tweets in 10 months.

The claimed twitter account of the youngest (and it’s always claimed the favourite) son of Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud has only been active since November of last year but already has 637 thousand followers. The account, which hasn’t been verified by Twitter, is supposedly owned by Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud (the account is his initials followed by his birth year).

While not in government, as a son of Saudi Arabia’s previous king Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud wields considerable influence in the Kingdom both through his family as well as his various assets. He owns half of MBC, the Middle East’s largest broadcaster, as well as other investments both regionally and globally. Abdul Aziz was previously head of the Diwan of the Council of Ministers in the Saudi government.

Tweeting exclusively in Arabic Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud talks about both the mundane (for example sending holiday greetings to followers) to voicing his support for the Saudi King (and his uncle) Abdullah. Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud has written about controversial topics such as trying to stop the broadcasting of MBC’s latest Ramadan blockbuster Omar, which was based on the life of the Prophet’s companion Omar Bin Al-Khattab, as well as allegations of excess leveled against him by others using Twitter.

On average Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd Al Saud writes twenty tweets a day and regularly engages with followers.

4. Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan

Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan engages more with followers on Twitter on a daily basis than any other minister in the region

The UAE’s Foreign Minister is another avid Twitterer. Despite only having joined the social media site in November 2011 Sheikh Abdullah ibn Zayed Al Nahayan has written over 7,600 tweets at a rate of 24 a day.

Writing in Arabic Sheikh Abdullah focuses on national and regional issues related to the UAE such as the Abu Mousa island dispute between the UAE and Iran as well as more general topics such as religion and culture.

Sheikh Abdullah often engages with his audience which is mainly UAE and GCC nationals and retweets every 2.5 tweets. Over half of Sheikh Abdullah’s tweets are replies to followers.

5. Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai

Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai is a controversial figure in Kuwaiti politics both for his views as well as his use of Twitter

One of Kuwait’s most colourful politicians, Doctor Walid Al-Tabtabai is a conservative Islamist (Salafist) member of parliament who has attracted controversy for many of his views (which he frequently expresses via his unverified Twitter account). Dr Al-Tabtabai talks most frequently about Kuwaiti and regional politics with his 227 thousand plus followers which he has built up since joining Twitter in November 2010.

Dr Al-Tabtabai was at the center of a legal case when he posted screenshots of a Kuwaiti national’s Twitter page and demanded the man be arrested for what were described as “insulting tweets of the Sunni sect and severe criticism and insults to the Saudi and Bahraini regimes for their stand against the Bahraini protests.”

The case was one of the first in the Gulf to see someone being prosecuted for airing their views on Twitter. However, as a parliamentarian Dr Al-Tabtabai enjoys immunity from public prosecution.

On average Dr Al-Tabtabai writes 7.3 tweets per day in Arabic and retweets every 2.2 Tweets.

6. Khalid ibn Ahmed Al Khalifa

Diplomat, Ambassador, Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Bon Vivant… Khalid Al khalifa is many things on Twitter

With possibly the best Twitter bio of any politician in the Middle East and over nine thousand tweets sent it’s maybe no surprise that Bahrain’s Foreign Minister has been so active on Twitter. Khalid Al Khalifa has had to contend with the diplomatic consequences of Bahrain’s security policies following a year and a half of demonstrations against the government.

The Foreign Minister is one of Bahrain’s most outspoken figures online and uses his Twitter feed to talk about government policy as well as to promote the Bahraini government’s point of view overseas as well as at home.

Khalid Al Khalifa also tweets on issues not related to Bahrain such as regional politics, and frequently talks about his travels and his meetings with other politicians. He also frequently uploads pictures to his Twitter account. The Minister retweets every 5.4 tweets and writes in both English and Arabic.