Inaugural Saudi Media Forum highlights comms challenges in the region

Fake news, enemies and allies in the region, and the importance of prioritising digital education, were among key topics discussed at the first-ever forum organised by the Saudi Journalists Association.

Communication houses, online platforms and news agencies have a joint responsibility to expose fake news, while there is a pressing need to prioritise digital education to regulate the flow of information circulating on social media, the inaugural Saudi Media Forum heard.

The forum, held under the theme 'Media Industry: Opportunities and Challenges', is an initiative launched by the Saudi Journalists Association and aims to bring together intellectual, cultural and media leaders to address the challenges and constraints faced by the media industry, while also highlighting the opportunities presented by the information revolution and rapid digital development.

During a panel discussion entitled 'The War Against Fake News', panellists agreed the issue remains a current and consistent threat to the media and communications industry, and leading communication figures across the region agreed to come together to uncover falsified information circulated through online news platforms and social media sites.

There is also a need to teach a new generation about the damage falsified and misleading information can cause to society and the skills they need to block the widespread leak of less and disinformation, representatives from leading regional news outlets – including the South China Morning Post and Arab News – said.

Meanwhile, Mansour Al Mansouri, director-general of the UAE's National Media Council (NMC), spoke at the forum to highlight the importance of prioritising digital education to regulating the flow of information circulating on social media and promoting positive content.

While technological developments are accelerating, media and communications organisations should take the lead, as they have the technical and human capabilities to promote, adapt and optimise the benefits of social media, Al Mansouri said.

During the forum, Sunil John, founder of ASDA'A BCW, presented the findings from its recent award-winning Arab Youth Survey 2019, leading on the statistics that youths in the Middle East overwhelmingly view Saudi Arabia as a stronger ally than Iran.

The survey was based on 3,300 face-to-face interviews conducted by international research firm PSB during 2019 with young Arab nationals aged 18-24 in 15 states in the Middle East and North Africa, with a 50:50 male-female split.

In total, 80 per cent of Arab youth considered Saudi Arabia as an ally to their country, while only 32 per cent considered the same of Iran. When asked which Arab state had increased its influence in the Middle East the most in the past five years, 37 per cent of Arab youths chose Saudi Arabia as their top choice. The survey also revealed that almost half of young Saudis (45 per cent) placed the rising influence of Iran among their top three concerns.

The findings, including fresh insights about Saudi youth, gleaned from the 2019 Survey data, were presented by Sunil John, Founder, ASDA’A BCW and President, Middle East BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) at the forum.

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