TARGETED OUTREACH

UAE, Sharjah 2017 | CULTURE & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council, on better communicating with the public, reaching out to all segments of the population, and expanding the Sharjah Media City free zone.

Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi
BIOGRAPHY
Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Arkansas State University and a master of science in computer information systems from University of Detroit Mercy. A member of the Sharjah Executive Council since 2006, he heads a number of government and private sector organisations and entities.

Governments use the media as a conduit to reach out to people, express opinions, and change attitudes. How has Sharjah Government Media Bureau (formerly Sharjah Media Centre) been performing that function since its inception?

I usually ask journalists who work in Sharjah how they compare the situation from six years ago to what we enjoy today, and we receive positive feedback from these media outlets. Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB) has changed the perception of not just the people in general, but also the leaders of various government departments. In the past, many government entities here followed a closed-door strategy. This is not the case anymore. We have been showcasing this change in attitudes through International Government Communications Forum (IGCF), hosted by International Government Communication Centre, and other initiatives. Our most important role is to communicate, opening and maintaining channels for dialog. It is better for individuals and entities to speak about their own positive and even negative image, rather than let someone else talk about it. We used to lack this dialog in Sharjah. Not anymore. We are not just taking the lead in this respect, we are also sharing our experience with others.

What existing or new avenues are there that Sharjah Government Media Bureau can create or tap in to understand the public better?

Our annual forum is one way of finding out what people are thinking. We get many high-profile speakers and people who have a vast experience and knowledge that we can draw on and subsequently put to use in Sharjah. After every forum, we sincerely implement its recommendations. Over the past seven years, these recommendations have always been implemented without fail. For example, when a recommendation was made to introduce an award rewarding excellence in government communication sector. Today, it is one of the most coveted honors. We trust the people we bring to this event and benefit from their experience. We implement their ideas under our remit.

What are the challenges or differences between communicating and engaging with the local Emirati population and the expatriate community?

In 2017, our theme, Societal Participation Comprehensive Development, was about making society prosperous through inclusion. It is not possible to have a prosperous society unless everyone is included in the development. You have to include women, children, the younger generations, and disabled people. This is what we have in Sharjah and UAE. We have homed in on issues that relate to women, the disabled, young people, and children. We have had all these segments of society participating in the Forum so we can listen to them and find solutions to various communication issues. Sharjah Media City was recently given the status of a free zone.

What are your primary objectives for this free zone, and how do you plan to expand it?

The Sharjah Media City is a new entity that deals with all media opportunities, offering local and international players an unprecedented opportunity and freedom to set up shop in Sharjah all under one roof. Sharjah Media City or Shams is fast evolving. We have already started issuing licenses and businesses are fast coming up. We are targeting the SME media market, whereby a talented director who does not need an office can come here, shoot a movie, edit, and leave. This is just one example of how we can provide the facilities and services adding value to the industry. We are also trying to tie Shams to various universities so that students can come and train here, giving them a creative space to use their talents. The ambition is to allow these individuals to start their own business or project with the minimum amount of overheads, conduct their work from a creative space with a laptop, and grow from there. Sharjah Media Council forms an umbrella over Sharjah Media City, Sharjah Media Corporation -- Sharjah's television and radio services -- and Sharjah Government Media Bureau.