Under the patronage of HH 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 first GCC Media Education Congress (GMEC): Education for Employment Realizing Youth Potential in the Arab Media, today, February 19, 2014. The conference was opened by Sheikh Sultan Bin Ahmed Al Qassimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Corporation.
This important regional event featured some of the GCC media industry's thought leaders, media academics, industry professionals, students and working AUS graduates who shared their insights and ideas about the state of media education curriculum development and its relevance to industry needs.
In synch with the university's strategic mission to engage and explore issues that play an important role in society, the event is envisaged as an ideal platform to create yearly thought leadership content and to help build and deepen region-wide media relationships. Towards this aim, the congress included traditional and digital media practitioners as well as academics in media education.
"In today's world, where communicating effectively is of paramount importance, the dynamism and vitality prevalent in the media industry is not surprising to see," said Dr. Thomas Hochstettler, Acting Chancellor of AUS, during his opening remarks. "Media outlets play an extremely important role in helping convey ideas, transfer knowledge and help bring about change. Institutions of higher learning across the region have responded to this reality by bolstering their departments of mass communication and by fostering programs that provide students with access to the latest industry trends and methodologies," he added.
"We are very proud to have assembled a truly distinguished panel of academic experts and media practitioners to discuss and debate a wide array of issues including education development, youth potential, and employment opportunities in the media industry," concluded Dr. Hochstettler.
The region has seen an increase in the number of mass communication programs being offered at institutions of higher education, reflecting the interest of students in the discipline. One of the main aims of this congress, therefore, was to highlight the role that media plays in the region and to discuss the vibrant and popular nature of its growth.
In his keynote address delivered at the opening ceremony, Philip Seib, Professor of Journalism, Public Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Southern California, stressed the importance of devising a curriculum that has strong roots in the Arabic language. There were very few books in the field that addressed issues relevant to Arab society, he said. "I cannot believe that anyone starting out in this field can do so without reading Edward Said's Orientalism," he stated.
Professor Seib noted that there was a need for an increasing emphasis on scholarship in the Arab world. "We see that training of students in the �mechanics' of the trade is prevalent in the region. We need to approach Arab media with a courageously broad outlook and create the analytical skills that media officials should possess. The only way to end reliance on outside scholars is to create your own. In the best universities in the US, faculty balance teaching and research. Expectations of productivity should be geared toward this. There is no reason that Arab media and its students should not be among the world's best," he said.
"We are training media students how to report news without understanding what they are reporting. A wider range of courses should be mandatory for students including international studies or political science. Special courses should be created for media students like economics for journalists or ethics for media managers. You must able to function on multiple platforms," he added.
The first panel following the keynote address was entitled Bridging the Gap Between Academia and Industry and was moderated by Caroline Faraj, CNN Arabic Digital Services' Director and CNN Dubai Chief Operations Director. Addressing the panel, Ibrahim Al Abed, Director General of National Media Council (NMC), said that it was essential for media and academia to engage and that internships and on-the-job training for students was extremely important to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
Speaking on the occasion, Ali Jaber, Group TV Director of MBC Group and Dean, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Communication, American University in Dubai, said: "media industry is full of technicians and not enough thinkers and these technicians become redundant when technology evolves. Media executives should have a breadth of knowledge." He observed that most of the educational institutions in the region train their students in English. This is good for western media, he said, but we need to train media students in Arabic so that they are competent and have a professional command of the Arabic Language. They need to know how to cover Arabic stories, to do research in Arabic, and access news in the language it happens in, he stated.
"You students are lucky as you are at the forefront of major changes in the industry and it is us who are now becoming obsolete and increasingly irrelevant. It is in our own interest to bring fresh minds into the media industry in order to bring changes," he said addressing the students.
In a subsequent session entitled The Media Personality of Tomorrow, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Commentator on Arab Affairs and Social Media Influencer, spoke about the various factors that play a role in the �creation' of a brand name on social media. Al Qassemi said that it needed passion, technical skills, lots of hard work but also a lot of luck to achieve that aim. He stated that there was no magic formula and that consistent hard work was the best preparation for making one's own luck.
As the print or traditional media continues to enjoy better credibility than social media, it still has great influence in the creation of a �media personality,' opined Mohammed Fahad Alharthi, Editor-in-Chief of Sayidaty, Al-Jamila Magazine and Arab News, Saudi Research and Publishing Company (SRPC), during the session.
The congress included a number of other panels which focused on a wide range of topics, including Arabic as a language in media education and production; digital media opportunities and challenges; and the role of talk shows in the Arab media.
Other prominent media personalities who spoke at the event included: Osama Samra, Director, Sharjah Media Centre; David Butorac, Chief Executive Officer, Orbit Showtime Network (OSN); Ahmed Salem, Board Member of Sharjah Media Corporation; Kamal Dimachkie, Executive Regional Managing Director, Leo Burnett; Ihsan Jawad, Founder of Zawya.com and Partner, Honeybee Tech Ventures; Rania Barghout, Senior TV Presenter, MBC Group; and Ahmad Mustafa, Chief Editor-Digital, Sky News Arabia, among other prominent names.
The day-long congress was also attended by senior government and industry representatives, AUS officials, faculty, students and members of the public.