Interview: Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi

What efforts are being undertaken to increase Sharjah’s visibility in international media?

SHEIKH SULTAN BIN AHMED AL QASIMI: Despite its many unique qualities, Sharjah is still underrepresented in the global media, especially compared to some of its neighbours. This is something that needs to change, not only because it would likely result in economic benefits in the form of increased investment flows and business activity, but also because we want more people to come and see why Sharjah is known as the cultural and educational centre of the UAE.

In order to facilitate such a change, we are pursuing two primary goals. First, we are working to foster more effective communication among government entities, the people of Sharjah and the outside world. Second, we are encouraging those same entities to communicate a uniform message about the emirate to local, regional and international communities.

How are government agencies working to improve their communication skills?

SHEIKH SULTAN: Before the Sharjah Media Centre was formed in 2011, each government entity handled its own communication activities. While some were more effective than others, their efforts largely lacked the sophistication necessary to satisfy the needs of the emirate’s increasingly interconnected and technologically savvy population. Indeed, Sharjah’s youth in particular were neglected. Agencies also lacked the most up-to-date tools required for working with modern media organisations, both domestically and internationally.

As a result, significant amounts of information that could have been useful to the local or international press went unreported. In fact, more than 90% of communicable information and data effectively evaporated due to these shortcomings.

To ameliorate the situation, the government has tasked us with bringing these individual communication departments in line with best practices in the sector by instituting a common education and training programme for staff members. Various departments are also being staffed with fresh university graduates familiar with the most recent mediums and practices used by global media organisations, including a very high number of Emirati citizens and, in particular, Emirati women.

These efforts have already had a marked influence on the communicative abilities of agencies. Entities such as the Sharjah Police Department and Sharjah Municipality, for instance, have received praise for their recent public outreach activities.

These improvements are part of a broader drive to implement e-services across the government, which will make it much easier for businesses to set up operations in Sharjah and for foreign investors to invest in the emirate.

Whether a new factory is working to get an electricity connection or an investor is applying for a permit to obtain a piece of land, the implementation of such services is essential to the attractiveness of Sharjah as a business destination.

What can Sharjah add to the current global conversation about the role of media and public sector communication?

SHEIKH SULTAN: Not only are we trying to improve the general level of communication within the emirate, but we are also attempting to make a meaningful contribution to this very conversation. To this end, we have conducted a great deal of research on best practices in government communication and have reached out to many organisations across the world to share findings. There is also an initiative to create a virtual government communications library — featuring presentations, educational materials and speeches related to the area — and make this information available to anyone with internet access.