Dubai: The pandemic of misinformation, fake news and hate speech — these can only be combated through collective efforts, Dr Mostafa Madbouly, the Prime Minister of Egypt, emphasised during his keynote address at the 19th Arab Media Forum held virtually on Wednesday.
Dr Madbouly noted: “Social media has played a substantial role in the spread of misinformation and fake news, with some media organisations also contributing to the widespread phenomena, intentionally or unintentionally.”
“Combating this kind of pandemic requires a collective effort to disseminate accurate facts. It also requires an enhancement of the overall media system,” he underlined. Dr Madbouly observed “the world has become a small ‘electronic village’ as a result of the information and communication revolution. Media have played a highly influential role in the political process and the relationship between states and their societies. The media must promote positivity and raise awareness on the importance of knowledge and education among the youth. Media organisations must also keep pace with technological advancements and use them for the benefit of Arab citizens.”
He also said that technology alone is not enough to create a powerful media. “Human creativity and innovation are crucial pillars in achieving excellence in the industry,” he pointed out. “Many terrorist groups have exploited digital media platforms to promote their discourses. It is crucial to combat these groups and their malicious objectives, which aim to undermine the safety, stability and progress of nations,” he further explained.
According to Dubai Press Club (DPC), the 19th edition of Arab Media Forum, being held only virtually for the first time, saw an online attendance of more than 10,000 people who tuned in to the forum’s sessions that were broadcast live on a special platform set up for the purpose through the DPC’s official social media accounts.
Carrying the theme, ‘Arab Media: The Future is Digital’, AMF gathered virtually prominent regional and international media personalities and industry leaders to discuss the outlook for the region’s media sector.
During her opening speech, DPC president Mona Ghanem Al Marri said: “The keenness of media figures to participate in this annual event, despite the exceptional circumstances, has sent an important message on the need to continue working to develop the media sector in the Arab world.”
She said: “The current crisis has been a real test for media around the world. It pushed us to think differently on how to create a better Arab media industry. Many media organisations in the region have been affected by the global crisis due to the declining advertising market, which is the main source of revenue.
“However, media content not only continued to be delivered during these difficult times, it also evolved, particularly across digital platforms. There is no doubt that today the stakes are higher for content, digital tools and platforms that offer Arab audiences a more impactful and engaging media experience,” she continued.
Al Marri added the biggest challenge for Arab media lies in terms of trust deficit among large segments of the public, especially the youth. “Arab media institutions do not satisfy the needs of the youth who are set to bring profound transformations in the future. The youth need to be given more attention,” she underlined.
Evolution of news media
Reuters president Michael Friedenberg has called on media leaders and professionals to come up with a set of proactive strategies to help the industry come out of the pandemic even stronger.
“Fair, independent and high-quality journalism is even more critical in times like these,” said Friedenberg, adding: “COVID-19 has profoundly impacted our lives and our businesses and the changing customer behaviour plus geopolitical upheaval and technological advancements present the news media with both existential threats and incredible opportunities.” He said news organisations must avoid becoming “relics of an analogue age”. He said: “First we have to build trust. Fair, independent and high-quality journalism is even more critical in times like these. We should double down on helping the world share reliable information. We will look back on this year 20 years from now and say it was a pivotal moment for our industry, in the maturation of how content is ingested and digested,” he emphasised.
Digital catalyst to development
Dr Nayef Al Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), said Arab media should utilise digital tools to catalyse development. He said: “Arab media should use digital age tools to catalyse development, strengthen their influence, raise their credibility and objectivity, and embrace technology as the way forward.”
Arab media strategy
Dr Osama Heikal, Egypt’s Minister of State for Information, also called for urgently developing an integrated media strategy in the Arab world that will help strengthen unity and enhance prosperity in the region. He said: “The rise of new technologies and the digital revolution are two of the most critical developments creating large-scale change in the world. The digital space is overcrowded with digital channels and apps that are capable of significantly impacting the decision-making processes of countries.”