x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

As the nation races ahead, the media needs more Emiratis

It is the media's function and duty to seek out imperfections, bringing them to the attention of the government and public. Who better to do so than citizens who have so much to gain from the nation's success?

From the earliest cave paintings to the fall of Hosni Mubarak, media have been an essential tool in the progress of civilisations. Historically, we have looked to the media to defend our rights, promote our freedoms and encourage transparency and fair governance.

Hacked phones and paparazzi aside, most journalists answer to a noble calling as protectors of the public, sharing truths and ideas. It is arguably one of the most significant positions in any society.

In any great movement, from civil rights and liberation to anti-corruption and governance, the media have a role as communicators. This cannot be achieved without the passion of journalists to correct wrongs and to bring to light faults or injustices for the sake of uncovering the truth.

There is always room for improvement even in our society, which serves as a model for many others. It is the media's function and duty to seek out imperfections, bringing them to the attention of the government and public. Who better to do so than citizens who have so much to gain from the nation's success?

A few good articles have recently discussed the importance of Emiratis working in media. There are new Emiratisation recruitment strategies for media organisations, but it is important to identify the reasons why there are relatively few Emirati journalists, aside from the conditions in the profession generally, including long work hours, relatively low pay, cranky colleagues and editors, and a lot of pressure.

There were good journalism programmes launched in UAE universities in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Going against the herd and choosing a field that is shunned by many in this society, these young Emiratis recognised from an early age the need to represent the public through communication.

But there exists a huge gap between what was taught to these graduates in their academic studies and what actually awaits them in the UAE media sphere. Courses and curricula are mostly based on the ideals of western journalism, which do not prepare graduates for the real world of journalism in this region. Many young journalists have lost interest and moved on to other opportunities.

Those who remain, fighting the good fight and willing to chip away at the system until change arrives, are often confronted with cultural obstacles. As the academic and journalist Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan so eloquently put it in an interview last year, in Arab culture there is an absence of the critical spirit and self-reflection.

We require information-hungry, determined Emirati journalists who will stop at nothing to uncover the facts in the interest of the public and who will not be easily turned away. This not only needs to be taught to students but also accepted by officials and governing bodies.

Out of experience, I can tell you that UAE traditions and customs of respect and honour are often used to dissuade Emirati journalists from following a potential story, again motivating them to look elsewhere, to any other industry other than media.

Another factor which turns off Emiratis from media jobs is the lack of respect for journalists that exists in many government and private-sector entities. Regardless of how this came to be, many Emirati journalists have sacrificed much to be in this selfless position, yet are rewarded with the insolence of officials who consider journalists to be a waste of space.

This is because of the lack of understanding of the vital importance journalism plays in society. One way to resolve this is to have leaders in our community openly recognise its importance.

The media have been instrumental in the growth of the country. The progress over the past few decades can be compared to what other countries have achieved over centuries. But this is not reason enough for us to be content with where we stand and settle for what has been accomplished.

In truth, the progress of other industries in the UAE has raced ahead, outrunning developed countries around the globe. The media need to pick up the pace. This can be done by not only encouraging Emiratis to enter the field, but also by retaining them and continuously motivating them with the promise of change and the recognition of their efforts as they represent the voice of the people.

 

Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications