A strong relationship between media and government is vital

As traditional models struggle, the media landscape is changing at a rapid pace, but innovation and the nurturing of talent will lead the industry into the future

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 01 JULY 2017. General image of The National newspaper's news room at their new offices in TwoFour54. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) ID: None. Journalist: None. Section: National.
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The relationship between media and government has a profound impact on the information to which the public has access. Historically, governments have relied on media to communicate with citizens, and stakeholders around the world, ensuring that they receive the information that will shape their day-to-day decisions, from what to buy, where to live, which school to attend to issues surrounding their health, safety and political views.

In turn, a strong media assesses this information, analyses and instigates stimulating discussions that ensure a nation’s identity is always evolving in a positive and insightful way, and never stifled. It also helps an economy grow by creating confidence in the market through the dissemination of knowledge that is objective and information that is accurate, things that form a key foundation for investment decisions. For example, the economic contribution of the twofour54 community reached Dh1.5 billion in 2016.

So, it's clear that for a nation and a country to grow, they must have a strong and responsible media. Yet that is under threat in so many markets around the world, due to diminished capacity. World leaders, representatives of international organisations, thinkers, and experts from more than 150 countries gathered in Dubai this week for the World Government Summit, presenting the perfect opportunity to open a debate on what can be done to rectify this.

One of the factors of change within the industry has been digital transformation, which has led to the creation of innovative new companies, such as Vice and TechRadar, both which have bases in Abu Dhabi. However, it has also challenged traditional business models through new technology and trends, such as consumers exercising greater choice about what content to consume and how. Equally, the ease of disseminating fake news has been a severe blow to the level of trust that people have in what they read, watch or hear.

What we are seeing as a result is a shift towards quantity over quality, which is driving more and more media away from a “gatekeeper” role to a more narrative-driven approach. As such, those stimulating discussions are getting fewer and fewer.

This is particularly concerning in the Arab world, where the volume of content being created is already small compared to the size of the population and the opportunity. We need more Arabic content if we are to educate the world about our values, our culture and our history, as well as preserve them for our own communities. But if we want to generate more quality content, we need a sustainable media sector. This requires three things: nurturing a talent pool by developing local talent and attracting regional and international expertise; investing in an infrastructure, soft and hard, that will enable content creators to collaborate and create; and building an ecosystem that encourages partnerships and collaboration.

The country's youth are our future, so we must empower them to collaborate, innovate, and create.

Governments have an important role in ensuring these goals are achieved. For example, they must build an environment that allows media to thrive, something you can see in action in the UAE, through initiatives such as the development of a new, purpose-built home for media on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi by twofour54.

They must also openly engage in issues that threaten such an environment, such as fake news or extremism. We can see through initiatives such as The Year of Zayed and the Year of Tolerance how the UAE is ensuring that its core values of tolerance and respect are instilled in media along with the rest of the nation. For their part, media firms must adhere to their own self-regulation to uphold such values, ensuring that what they produce is accurate, tolerant and legally compliant. At the Media Zone – Abu Dhabi, we encourage such self-regulation through our Content Code, which sets out the editorial standards that should be maintained.

Education is also an important factor. Governments can help foster the skills needed for a strong media, from creativity and entrepreneurship to the importance of ethics and fact-checking, through relevant academic and vocational education. This encourages innovation within the industry, which in turn ensures it has the flexibility to evolve with changing trends and technology. A good example of this is the Young Arab Media Leaders programme, which each year helps rising media talents improve their knowledge of the sector and sharpen their skills. The country’s youth are our future, so we must empower them to collaborate, innovate, and create. We must encourage them to dream big. Media as a career allows them to follow their passion and fulfil their potential.

So, it is clear that without a strong relationship between the government and media, public dialogue, social inclusion, and political participation are all impacted. Of course, transparency is key – government involvement in media can be misconstrued, so it is important that public clearly understands the difference between support and supervision.

These are all challenging issues, and there are no easy answers. However, where better to look for them than at a meeting of the brightest minds, such as the World Government Summit.

About the author: Her Excellency Maryam Eid AlMheiri is Director General of Abu Dhabi Government Media Office and Chief Executive Officer, Media Zone Authority – Abu Dhabi and twofour54