By Leen Issa
Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassimi, Member of the Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah and President of American University of Sharjah (AUS), the university held the GCC Media Education Congress on Wednesday, February 19, 2014 on its campus.
Themed “Education for Employment—Realizing Youth Potential in the Arab Media,” the event was organized by the university’s Department of Mass Communication and its Strategic Communications and Media Department. The congress featured traditional and digital media practitioners from the region alongside AUS students, graduates and media academics.
Organizers said the event was meant to be an ideal platform to create leadership content and to help build and deepen region-wide media relationships.
The opening of the conference by His Excellency Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qassimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Corporation, included a welcome and introduction by AUS Acting Chancellor Dr. Thomas Hochstettler and a keynote speech by Dr. Philip Seib, Professor of Journalism and Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.
The bulk of the event proceedings, which were simultaneously translated by professional translators between Arabic and English, consisted of four main panel discussions. The first was entitled “Bridging the Gap between Academia and Industry.” Caroline Faraj, CNN Arabic Digital Services Director and CNN Dubai Chief Operations Director, moderated the panel. Panelists included Ibrahim Al Abed, Director General of the National Media Council; Kamal Dimachkie, Executive Regional Managing Director of Leo Burnett; Ali Jaber, Director of MBC TV Group and Dean of the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Communication at the American University in Dubai; AUS Assistant Professor of Mass Communication Dr. Hania Nashef; and Nadia Saleem, an AUS alumna and business writer for Thomson Reuters in Dubai.
Several panelists observed that students are being trained in English, which is good for English-speaking media, but students lack media training in Arabic. They said students also need to know how to cover and research stories in Arabic.
Dr. Ralph Berenger, Associate Professor in the AUS Department of Mass Communication, moderated the second panel, entitled “The Media Personality of Tomorrow.” Panelists included Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a commentator and blogger on Arab affairs; Mohammed Fahad Alharthi, Editor-in-Chief of Sayidaty, Al-Jamila, and Arab News of the Saudi Research and Publishing Company; Orbit Showtime Network (OSN) Chief Executive Officer David Butorac; and AUS mass communication student Mina Zuberi, President of Power Hit Radio.
According to Al Qassemi, media personalities have to have “a lot of passion, technical skills, and to be hardworking.” When Zuberi discussed the media personalities of tomorrow, she noted that youth are “hungry to go out there and go viral.” Commenting on this, Butorac said “People used to be famous for doing something and now they are just famous for being someone.” He cited Kim Kardashian as an example.
All panelists also advised students to be careful about what they post on social media because, in Al Qassemi’s words, it can “jeopardize” their future careers. Butorac agreed to this statement and said posts are like a “tattoo on your face.”
The third session featured two concurrent panels. One, entitled “Digital Media Opportunities and Challenges,” was moderated by Department of Mass Communication Associate Professor Dr. Ilhem Allagui. The panelists included y2d CEO Dr. Ammar Bakkar; Mediaquest Corp. Digital Business Developer Manager Iman Fawaz (an AUS alumna); Zawya.com founder and Honeybee and Tech ventures partner Ihsan Jawad; and Sky News Arabia Chief Digital Editor Ahmad Mustafa.
Jawad said he believed that digital media is finally breaking through the Arab World. Similarly Bakkar said, “The Arab World is behind in technology but we can be optimistic since digital media is growing fast.”
The second simultaneous panel, entitled “Arabic as a Language of Media Production and Education,” was moderated by Caroline Faraj of CNN Arabic. The panelists included Dr. Nabil Al Khatib, Executive Editor of Al-Arabiya news channel; Sky News Arabia Social Media Coordinator Bedoor Khalil; blogger on literature, journalism and photography Youssef Rakha; and Sharjah Media Centre Director Osama Samra.
TV5 MONDE Chief Editor and Diplomatic Columnist Slimane Zeghidou moderated the day’s last panel, “Talk Shows’ Role in Arab Media.” The panelists included AUS alumnus Saud Al Kaabi, Anchor at Dubai Media Incorporated; MBC Group Senior TV Presenter Rania Barghout; AUS Professor of Mass Communication Dr. Mahboub Hashem; and Ahmed Salem, board member of Sharjah Media Corporation.
As translated into English for participants, Barghout discussed limitations of Arab TV shows and said (via the translator) “If you think outside the box in the Arab world, the viewers will see it negatively because we are brought up respecting taboos.”
Al Kaabi disagreed, saying “You can’t change the viewers’ culture but our society is growing and slowly accepting taboos, but presenting taboos should be done step-by-step, not directly.”
At the end of the panel, Al-Kaabi remarked that AUS students have high expectations when they graduate, but need to know what to expect in the workforce, and need to be prepared.