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Journalism deserves a higher status in the UAE

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Since the Dubai debt crisis last autumn there has been much soul searching by the local press as to what went wrong with local coverage of the crisis and how things might be improved in future.

Some media have even gone as far as to admit that errors were made in largely ignoring the situation and leaving it to the global media to do its worst. The head-in-the-sand does not work when you have the eyes-of-the-world upon you and are working as a journalist.

However, the most recent calls are for greater ’emiratisation’ of the media. In other words, to somehow – and it not very clear how – accelerate the employment of the holders of UAE citizenship within the media, presumably to the detriment of expatriate journalists.

Tough profession

Is this really practical? Can such talented and motivated persons be quickly trained up to assume demanding media jobs that take years of training and experience to fill in Western media companies?

This solution does at least acknowledge that journalism deserves a higher status in the UAE, if only to compete with the foreign news agencies that are otherwise only too happy to fill this gap and provide news copy for payment.

Local journalists are not paid enough, and the results are obvious to any reader. The quality of the local press is clearly inferior, except where such investment has been forthcoming, most notably at The National newspaper, for example.

To attract more UAE nationals into the profession the general level of salaries for journalists will have to go up. But it is not as though there is anything to prevent a UAE national signing up with Bloomberg in London, for instance, to get the necessary training – indeed Bloomberg would probably welcome such an applicant.

The trouble is the actual job. The Western media is used to having the pick of talented graduates and that has made journalism highly competitive. It is a demanding profession, hard work and there are no easy options. If you go into this field that is what you face.

The UAE local media has to compete with the global media. The Dubai debt crisis last year showed that it has no choice if the UAE is to remain the globalized country that it has become. The National newspaper has already shown that this can be done with the right investment.

CEO at 21?

But the role of the UAE national graduate trainee in this process should not be overstated. Over promoting staff at too young an age, or experience level is not fair on their colleagues or actually to the individuals concerned who will quickly come unstuck in the fast moving world of the media.

Besides the UAE is a multi-cultural society and its press needs to fairly reflect the social balance within the local population and not give undue weight to what are in fact minority interests. This is not the way to a harmonious and progressive future, or how to attract readers or listeners for that matter.

A few years ago the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum reprimanded the Labour Ministry for the sudden emiratisation of secretaries.

Trying to create a core of Emirati expertise in the media overnight runs a similar risk of being highly impractical and would further damage the local media which has been shown up as weak by the recent crisis.

The best solution is to employ the best of global expertise in the local media, as The National newspaper has done, while giving every available assistance to nationals who genuinely want a world-class career in journalism.

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Written by Peter Cooper

March 4, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Culture

2 Responses

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  1. Wonderful article Peter. During the golden years Arab society was masterful at preserving and translating foreign works of literature and science.

    The current policy of censorship and state-controlled journalism does no justice to this distinguished history.

    Jacques

    March 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

  2. You are very correct in the general tone of this blog, I would, however, say The National is as guilty as other UAE English language papers in their coverage.

    Early in 2009 one of their correspondents was as guilty of “ostrich syndrome” and his articles were published.

    All the facts of the upcoming catastrophe were available, yet they were ignored as the hyping of Dubai continued, for which all journalists should hang their heads in shame, irrespective of Nationality, but with respect to their training!

    With the move of The National Editor and Business Editor “upstairs” the quality of coverage has diminished, the Business section on Friday and Saturday is evidence of that.

    I see the quality continuing down this execrable path!

    Rupert Neil Bumfrey

    March 4, 2010 at 3:09 pm


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