Wednesday 9, March 2016

Sharjah – MENA Herald: Speaking on government communications at a panel discussion ahead of Sharjah Media Centre’s fifth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2016), Dr. Mohammed Al Hammadi, Editor-in-Chief of Al Ittihad Newspaper, Raed Barqawi, Executive Editor-in-Chief of Al Khaleej Newspaper, and Mustafa Al Zarouni, Managing Editor of Khaleej Times, addressed the current and developing relationships between the media, public relations agencies, government entities and the public.
Discussing the evolution of government communications in the UAE, the panelists highlighted the importance of strengthening relationships between the government and the media and encouraging a complementary partnership between the media and public relation agencies. Hoping for increased cooperation, the media experts urged for greater harmony among the key players and stakeholders.
For his part, Al Zarouni said that even though public relations has matured over the years, agencies continue to fall short in meeting the media industry’s standards, often failing to draft adequate content. However, he commended the cooperation between the media, public relations and government entities, citing it as the distinguishing factor between the UAE and the rest of the region. The relationship, he said, is stable and mature with all parties willing to work in harmony and committed to providing compelling and reliable information to the public.
With regards to the partnership between public relations representatives and the government, Barqawi said agencies should assume the role of consultants when dealing with government officials and act as an advisor, rather than a middleman, to the media. As media experts, agencies have a responsibility to advise governments on the right methods of communication and take a proactive course of action, rather than succumb to the dictates of their clients.
Barqawi added that public relations is weakening the professionalism of journalists, whom he accused of being no longer capable or willing to show innovation or an appetite for an investigation. The media, he said, has also gotten comfortable with waiting and receiving information from agencies.
Al Hammadi pushed the point further and said that PR professionals get comfortable with their role as the middleman between the media and the government and therefore continue to block government officials from directly speaking to the media or the public. He urged government officials to be more open to the media and respond to pressing questions that arise from the public. He said with closer relations with the media, governments can foster harmony and effectively communicate with the public for the wider benefit of the community. He asserted that a one-way communication between the two entities would no longer suffice and that the relationship must undergo a transformation.
In addition to this, the panelists discussed the importance of media in mobilising societies. With a more conscious and knowledgeable society, the speakers concurred that the media must serve as a bridge between the government and the public. With wide coverage, the media has a responsibility to reach out to the public and provide the best possible information, refraining from censoring information from the public. The panelists agreed that it was up to governments to foster better communication between them and the media. Al Hammadi finally drew the conversation to a close with his observation that the media should no longer drop everything to place a story that has government relevance but little news value.
The International Government Communication Forum serves as a transparent platform for participants to raise important issues and discuss communication-specific trends towards developing recommendations that help governments and professionals in government communication to enhance their performance. The fifth edition is set to run from March 20-21, 2016 at Expo Centre Sharjah.