What were the reasons for the establishment of the Sharjah Media Centre, and how would you rate its success to this day?
The reason for the establishment of the Sharjah Media Centre was, ultimately, to promote Sharjah. We found that Sharjah's governmental entities were not communicating to the press as effectively as they should have, and regarded the center as a tool to ease communications between the government, media, and the public. Thus, the center was created in 2011 under the patronage of HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, who charged us to educate the employees of every government entity on government communication and equip them with all tools that would ease their work. I think the center has been very successful, since we have increased awareness for Sharjah and the importance of communication between the government and the public by more than 50%. Training the departments has also paid off, and they now work well together with media organizations. Our strategy is to be a role model for the departments in the sense that we implement every initiative in our own organization before exporting them to others. We opened our doors to all journalists who hold a healthy curiosity about Sharjah and want to obtain more information about its history. They can come here and get all the material they need at any given moment within the week.
How will the center's four-pronged strategic plan, which you unveiled in January of this year, strengthen the center going forward?
Our overarching aim is to ensure that Sharjah is put on the global map with the center as a focal point of contact for not only the global media, but all organizations and individuals interested in our Emirate. We want everything that comes out about Sharjah to go everywhere, and we will be utilizing the four-pronged strategic plan to achieve this. Firstly, we aim to focus on continuously developing ourselves and support other departments approaching us. By training government officials and educating them, we are increasing their understanding of government communications, which is resulting in significantly more interaction between government and media. The second aspect of our plan is to empower young nationals, especially women, by offering them a position at the center to show their creativity and prove their capabilities. Most of the people who work with us are fresh graduates with zero, or very little experience outside of the university. They have started their career with us, and are thus very loyal. We want to show that the best people are not necessarily the most experienced ones, though we do of course have experienced employees as pillars. Thirdly, we do a lot of research in government communication and get in touch with different entities locally and internationally to obtain international best practices for developing government communications locally and internationally. The fourth leg of the plan is focused on documentation. One of our initiatives is a virtual government communication library, which features and archives all presentations, speeches and educational material on government communications, and is open to the world wide community.
How significant is the annual International Government Communication Forum the center hosts for Sharjah's regional position as a nexus for culture and media?
The main reason for the forum was to develop our own team and our own Emirate into finding new ways of government communication and new best practices. However, it turned out that it is also a good opportunity to market ourselves. The forum has grown in scope, as well as in number of attendees, since we first hosted it. It has allowed us to become acquainted with numerous government communication experts, and we have been host to a number of high-profile speakers, such as Turkey's President Erdoğan and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to name a few. Apart from high-profile speakers, we focus on names that will help improve the forum and the Government Communication Library itself, such as academics. We prefer to focus on the content of the forum rather than just the show of it. Thus, we have workshops that serve to develop our communication tools. At the outset of each forum, we formulate recommendations and sometimes initiatives that will be discussed during that particular International Government Communication Forum, after which we implement the initiative in Sharjah. For example, our second Forum produced the Government Communication Award, which we have hosted since. This Award, which aims to incentivize departments to pursue the best government communication practices, has 11 categories and an independent committee selects the winners.
How are you overcoming the challenges that exist in the region facing efficient and effective government communication?
We face different challenges every year. When we started, our biggest challenge was to change popular perception of Sharjah and how the media was trying to, unsuccessfully, publicize Sharjah. We have overcome this through aforementioned initiatives and policies that we have undertaken since inception. The other challenge that we have to face is technology. It develops and changes so rapidly that it is hard to stay up to date. Government departments are lost if they are not up-to-date with the latest technology and latest advances in government communications. Most departments have adapted well to technological advances, and the majority of them are competing with one another to win our prestigious Government Communication Award
What are your organization's expectations for the coming year?
The media sector is growing very fast. It is progressing; just as technology is developing every year, this sector is developing fast as well, which requires us to stay up-to-date. A lot of tools will come out that will help us to be accessible for everyone. We need to communicate not just to a certain percentage of the population but to each individual. This year we launched Sharjah24.ae, which is an electronic newspaper that we think a large percentage of the youth will use. Sharjah24.ae is operated under the purview of Sharjah Media Centre, the media and communications arm of the Government of Sharjah and serves the public as a reliable reference for daily news consumption about events taking place in the United Arab Emirates and the Emirate of Sharjah in particular. We communicate through newspapers, TV programs, social media, and numerous other applications. We are also developing training programs for different departments in order to upgrade their way of communicating.