DUBAI: The Arab media should be doing more to fight hatred and discrimination, much of which is spread online, according to the organizer of a major industry event starting today in Dubai.
The 16th edition of the Arab Media Forum (AMF), to be held on May 1-2 at the Madinat Jumeirah, is being held around the theme “civil dialogue.”
Alia Al-Theeb, director of the Dubai Press Club (DPC), which last week unveiled the schedule for the AMF, said that the media industry has a responsibility to promote civil dialogue and is not currently doing enough.
“This year we thought that the most pressing issue was these hate messages we are seeing and a lot of discriminatory messages that people are exchanging, especially on social media,” she told Arab News.
“We thought that the Arab media should play a better role in terms of leading this dialogue and directing it toward a civil dialogue, which should be based on the pillars of tolerance, acceptance of the other, respect and coexistence.”
Many messages of hatred are spread by individuals via social media, Al-Theeb said. “Social media should be used to unite people rather than divide them,” she added.
But the problem is not just confined to hatred spread on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Some players of the established media are also sending out discriminatory messages, Al-Theeb said.
“In some media outlets, we did notice that they do slip into promoting hate messages, indirectly or directly, intentionally or unintentionally,” she said.
“There has been a lot of different hate messages: Discrimination between countries, between nationalities and even discrimination based on religion.” An example of this is when certain media cover a terror attack and put undue emphasis on a perpetrator’s religion or nationality, Al-Theeb said.
“Then you are kind of ‘programming’ people’s minds to think that all Muslims are terrorists, or all Christians are terrorists.”
This year’s AMF is expected to attract over 3,000 participants and experts in the media industry.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League secretary-general and the UAE’s Minister of State for Tolerance Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al-Qasimi will give the keynote addresses on the first and second days, respectively.
Al-Theeb said that the aim of the event is to open “the door for a clearer and open discussion, bringing different points of view.”
Noura Al-Kaabi, minister of state for Federal National Council Affairs and chairperson of the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority, will present a panel session on “Constructive Dialogue,” while Minister of State for Youth Affairs Shamma Al-Mazrui will be launching a media initiative for Arab youth.
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman of DP World, will speak at a panel discussion titled “The Silk Road.” The session — moderated by Nadine Hani, business news presenter at Al Arabiya News Channel — will address the role of business in enriching civil dialogue between nations.
International media figures will also be partaking in the annual event, including Richard Buangan, managing director for international media at the US Department of State, who will be talking during a session titled “Successful Political Dialogue.”
Alex Aiken, the UK executive director of government communications, will speak at AMF about the “Dialogue of Tolerance.”
Dubai Press Club
The program was announced last week by the DPC, of which Al-Theeb was named director late last year. She praised the leadership of Mona Al-Marri, who is president of the DPC and chairperson of the AMF Organizing Committee.
“It is a great opportunity for me to be part of (the) Dubai Press Club,” Al-Theeb said. “I think I have a big challenge to build on the success of this club, and add to it. Because it is already a very well-established club.”
Al-Theeb has experience working in the media, spending six years at the Gulf News daily in Dubai and having studied journalism at Zayed University.
“Working as a journalist is a different world in itself… You learn to work under pressure,” she said. “All these challenges are now helping me.”
She spoke to Arab News ahead of her latest, and biggest, deadline to date: Finalizing the plans for this week’s AMF.
“The deadline is a key issue. You have a lot of things to follow up at the same time and making sure that things are completed on time,” she said. “The Arab Media Forum is a big event and everyone’s expectations are very high.”