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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Making media relevant to youths in social media age

National Media Council's youth forum aims to bridge the gap between traditional and new media

How do young people get news that is relevant to them? And how do media organisations produce news that young people want to consume and can trust?

These two essential questions for the future of the media, not just in the UAE but worldwide, will be addressed by a new youth forum being set up by the National Media Council, the Government’s media regulatory and advisory organisation.

The creation of the forum follows research by the NMC and UAE University earlier this year.

After surveying more than 3,300 young people from all nationalities across all seven Emirates, the results were perhaps not entirely unexpected, but no less challenging.

“We are living in a digital age and a majority of young people are very much into social media as a platform for news,” says Jaber Al Lamki, acting Executive Director, Media and Strategic Communications at the National Media Council.

“With all the challenges we are seeing today, we are moving from the traditional sources of news, whether it’s print or TV or radio. They are more on Twitter and Facebook and so forth.”

The survey showed video was the preferred medium among young people looking for news.

“We need to change the way we develop our stories and content,” said Mr Al Lamki.

A nationwide call for young people between 18 and 30 to join the new forum produced more than 150 applicants, followed by an invitation for interview in Abu Dhabi on Saturday by a panel that included NMC officials and selected UAE journalists.

The announcement of the final 12 who will make up the forum is expected on Sunday.

The majority of applicants are UAE nationals, whilst around a quarter were from other nationalities, including India, Egypt and Iraq.

The Youth Forum will meet with the NMC four times a year. Mr Al Lamki is expecting the forum to act as a "sounding board" for the senior council.

“We in the industry, and as regulators - need to be able to keep up with youth trends, think about how we produce our news and how we are engaging with young people.

"We should also listen to what is of interest to them.”

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Amina Al Hosani, a recent communications and media graduate from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi is one those hoping to be chosen.

"The forum is a great opportunity for youth to put their ideas forward,” she said.

Like many of her generation, consumption of news comes mainly from social media.

The UAE/NMC survey found that Facebook and Twitter were the preferred outlets for news, with other social media platforms, like Snapchat, reserved for personal use.

Although aware that not all news is trustworthy, Ms Al Hosani insists she always follows links on posts to the original source.

“I know these are accurate and they come from people who can analyse the news as it is happening,” she said.

Almost all the prospective youth forum members interviewed by The National rely on social media for their news, rarely opening a newspaper or turning on radio and TV.

Dana Othman, a student at Abu Dhabi University, said she got all her news directly from feeds into her social media channels, or in messages from friends.

“I need references that show they are from trusted websites." she said.

The interviews with candidates for the forum, showed young people were generally aware of the dangers of “fake news” said Mr Al Lamki.

“This is a major challenge that we need to raise awareness of, not just among the youth but with their senior,” he said.

At the same time, the fact that so many were aware of the problem, challenges that Idea that young people are naive and easily fooled, he said.

“It was very promising. That kind of awareness changed a little bit our perception of them.”