A strong believer in New Media
| By Mona Ahmed Al-Hammoudi |
September 01, 2011
Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan was invited to give a guest lecture to the Young Media Leaders. Following a very interesting and animated discussion, Mona Ahmed Al Hammoudi from UAE University had the opportunity to interview Dr Al Hattlan.
|Photo courtesy of ADMAF |
- Who is Sulaiman Al Hattlan?
He’s a man always trying to learn from his own mistakes and from the mistakes of those around him. He believes in criticism as a constructive way of shaping civil societies. He is certain that New Media will free the Arab man from the dullness of the ‘old media’ discourse. He knows well that the future belongs to those who think about it and plan for it, and not to those who dwell in the past and imprison themselves in the labyrinth and the legends of history. He loves the UAE which opened doors for him into the professional and creative world. He also loves the UAE people who have always showed him love, praised him and offered him support.
- What made you choose a career in media?
A person’s life and career are always governed by a series of circumstances and coincidences. In my case, my passion for writing and journalism started one day when - while still a student - I sent a message to the readers’ page of the Saudi-based Jazeera newspaper. In my letter I was asking for some necessary services for my own town - such as electricity, a hospital and some roads.
When my message got published in the newspaper, I was surprised by the amount of positive responses to it. I felt very happy and I realised the importance of what I had done. This was my start as a journalist. Journalism is a very laborious profession in the Arab world, and in order to succeed one has to take into account the importance and the moral responsibility of this profession.
- Can you tell us about one of your toughest experiences as a journalist?
Covering an event will always have its difficulties and complications. I still remember the time when I was reporting on the war in Afghanistan in the late eighties, just after graduating from university. While covering the war, I discovered first-hand the importance of documentation and checking the facts, as well as the importance of being as objective as possible about the events. I also realised the importance of speaking and understanding multiple foreign languages, in order to be able to address and communicate with others.
- In your opinion, what is the main role of media in the UAE, and how does this relate to the decrease in importance of traditional media?
There are many factors that facilitate the development of media in the UAE – one of the most important one being, of course, an excellent infrastructure ranging from services to telecommunications, from roads to airports. So, for example, if you present a TV programme - as I happen to do - you won’t worry about your guest being late for the TV show, because of the variety of transportation options. The media cities and media zones in the UAE are currently at the forefront of modern technology. On top of this as a journalist based in the UAE, you don’t feel restricted and nobody interferes with your work. This is why the UAE manages to attract some of the most prominent international and Arabic media organisations, and having these organisations here offers fantastic opportunities to the UAE-based journalists.
- You have gathered extensive media experience both within the West and the Arab world. What did you learn from this experience and how do you view the Arabic media landscape?
One has to admit that the media landscape in the Arab region is quite different from the Western one. In the West, media is practically the forth power, sharing its authority with the other three powers: the legislative, the judicial and the executive ones. There, media is the eye of the society, a keen observant of the other three powers within the state, analysing their performance and, at the same time, scrutinising the society itself.
In the Arab world, however, journalism started as a party voice or as an official voice to governments. Hence we have various issues. First, we can’t differentiate properly between media and advertising, between propaganda and reporting, between public relations and journalism, between opinion and news, or between news and analysis.
Second, there is a lack of independence in many Arabic media corporations, which were originally attached to governments or influential personalities in their societies, and that continue to serve political or commercial interests. Moreover, there is an important cultural matter, namely the absence of critical spirit and self- criticism in our culture.
Finally, with the arrival of New Media and citizen journalism, that allows for all to express and to have their input in building the general public opinion, we are witnessing such a mixture of criticism and blunt accusations, that the reader has difficulty in discerning between the actual responsible and constructive criticism and the one based on rumours and lies.
So, in a climate like this, the challenges within the media sector are increasing. It is my sincere wish that we should somehow try to accelerate our steps towards building a civil society based on the concepts of polite conversation, the respect of others’ opinions and the importance of accurate information.
- Why did you choose Al Hurra to present your TV programme?
The actual media platform plays a great role in the way a journalist can work, so any journalist will always look for a place that gives him independence and freedom of movement. Unfortunately, there are still media alliances and monopolies that would exclude those who make them uncomfortable. So I looked for a platform that would give me the freedom to host a programme free of censorship and exclusion. In my weekly programme on Al Hurra TV, I manage my guests and no one from within the channel or from the outside can interfere with my work or impose a guest.
- Currently the Arab world is witnessing major changes - I am referring to the new ways of expression through New Media. Do you think the Arabic media corporations will be able to cope with this change?
I am a firm believer in the future of New Media. If our 'traditional' media corporations want to survive, they must understand and take into account these major changes. The ones who are now creating this new discourse, the ones who are able to use these new platforms have now the most influential public opinion voices – and the young generation is fully proficient in using these new media tools.
- Any words of wisdom to the Young Media Leaders and the readers of MY NEWS magazine?
I am very grateful for being invited to meet and talk to the Young Media Leaders. The YML programme is yet another way to position Abu Dhabi as one of the most important media centres - a very active centre - continuously focusing on enhancing media performance in the Arab world, while building upon the new platforms of New Media and social media. It is through initiatives like these that Abu Dhabi is able to take care of the young media voices of the UAE and the Middle East, offering them the chance to become part of the next generation of well-qualified journalists.
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