As the debate over the preservation of the Emirati national identity continues, the role of the various parties seen responsible for it is being highlighted, with government institutions and the media specifically coming under the spotlight.

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development's primary task is to develop the UAE national, "which is impossible without instilling a national identity," said Bilal Al Budoor, Assistant Under Secretary for Cultural Affairs at the ministry.

The ministry, stressed Al Budoor, actively tries to preserve and promote national identity. "We have a number of programmes that include researching our traditions and heritage and coordinating with the Ministry of Education and the National Media Council to incorporate it in the school syllabi and television programming," he said.

One of the ministry's central objectives was to promote national identity, and most of its budget goes into doing so, added Al Budoor.

Have the promotional programmes been successful? "Certainly," said Al Budoor. "We have stirred a debate through the national identity conference and we meet annually on national day to discuss the issues. This makes way for the debate to be extended to schools and other entities. It's a long term plan. The problems won't be solved in a three-day conference".

Al Budoor noted that language protection programmes were essential in preserving the national identity, and that officials were making note of similar programmes adopted in other countries "such as France, Japan and China".

Young Emiratis, he said, often prefer to read English than Arabic. "Our culture, traditions and values are all locked in our language. If we lose the language, it will not be passed on to future generations," he said.

Parents who exceedingly rely on foreign domestic helpers were also responsible for the lack of cultural and Arabic language awareness among the younger generation of Emiratis, he said. "In some cases, the domestic helpers take over the child's responsibilities entirely, helping with their homework and even taking them to school," he said.

The solution is not to force Emiratis to appreciate their identity but give them a sense of responsibility towards their national identity and that of their children. "We can't tell people to stop getting domestic help, but we can convince mothers to spend more time with their children," said Al Budoor.

"It's not too late though," he added. "We can save our national identity".

Al Budoor added that media too had a responsibility in preserving the Arabic language. "We have asked television networks to stop importing programming many times," he said, adding that the growing dominance of English language programming was leading Emirati youth to be more aware of foreign cultures than their own.

Najla Al Awadi, member of the Federal National Council and CEO of Dubai Media Incorporated (DMI) under which Dubai TV and Dubai One fall, said that although the media had a responsibility towards preserving the national identity, it was not alone.

Media, she said, cannot replace the parents in child rearing. "It is dangerous to look at television as a sole tool to teach morals, values and ethics. Upbringing has to come from the home and the parents".

She said however that the role of television cannot be underestimated. Television channels in the region that are commercially driven tend to overlook their social responsibility and air programmes that have high ratings, whether socially acceptable or not. DMI, she said, tried to achieve a balance between entertainment and socially responsible and local programming.

"The media industry unfortunately does not have the social responsibility psyche," she said. While dismissing the idea of a pan-Arab media regulator, she advocated setting up an advisory body that would monitor the media and assess its impact on society.

Tomorrow: Economic factors

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