Who should own the media in MENA?
Saad Al Rubaiaan (Chart. PR), Managing Director of CYLKA in Dubai, reflects of the ways in which MENA governments are responding to the shift in the media environment.
Government communicators across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are currently struggling to capture the attention of the public in the news media.
Understating the context
During the pre-social media era, the mainstream media across the MENA region were dominated by state-owned/affiliated media (including newswires, TV, radios and newspapers). Having such a clear landscape attracted foreign governments to have their own voices in Arabic as well (for example: the UK’s BBC, USA’s Radio Sawa, Russia’s RT, France’s Monte Carlo among few others).
Fast forward to the Arab Spring (2011 onwards), social media platforms changed the landscape completely and can be considered gamechangers in that context. Since then, we have noticed the closure of leading media outlets, both state- and privately-owned, due to lack of viewership/readership and funds. The downfall of many foreign media, targeting the region swiftly followed. The changing media landscape has raised concerns in terms of the penetration of regulated media. Governments previously dominated information flow, through their diverse portfolio of media channels. Now they were being forced to enter a new game with much less control.
Change of game = change of rules
As a result, MENA governments have established central communication units to create appealing stories to the world using creative campaigning and storytelling techniques. Moreover, the governments are more open to working with celebrities and influencers to maximize the reach of its voice. However, such a practice comes with a challenge about the reliability of those influencers as a medium. For example, a celebrity’s star can fall at any moment, either a result of changing agenda or backlash. Not to mention the conflict of interest which may arise from their relationship with the government in itself.
Point of View: Elon Musk
Elon Musk – as the new owner of Twitter - shared some insights during a recent panel at the 2023 World Government Summit (WGS), which took place in Dubai. Musk encouraged government spokespeople to speak openly on Twitter, bearing in mind its fast-paced nature and to be comfortable in using their own words and style to maximize the engagement. He also acknowledged the risk of receiving negative feedback directly on Twitter, but he said, they should welcome all kinds of feedback; he referenced himself – as the owner of the platform - as no exception to this rule.
Finally, musk confirmed that Twitter is working very hard to elevate the reliability and the credibility of the content on the platform, to allow people to express their opinions, without violating their national laws. Moreover, Twitter through the new verification scheme, now allows users to recognize not only official accounts but also affiliated ones, which belong to individuals with an agenda, including journalists and members of parliament among others.
It's worth noting that Musk also recognizes the power of Twitter in shaping public opinion, hence he asked Twitter engineers to tweak the algorithm to favor his tweets to the top of users’ feeds.
Taking back the driver’s seat
And so the question rises again: in a such complex and fragmented media scene, who should own the media? One might answer that the people should.
However, for governments to truly achieve engagement, they need to adapt their approach to news creation: establish active, owned media platforms, using algorithms, SEO and multiple languages; produce multimedia, bite-sized content for media, with sharing options; manage the content through an editorial calendar/grid; and finally, capture and analyze data and translate it into insights.