Event Reports

“What do they think about us?”

by Rahma Janetzke

Sharaka Workshop on Enhancing Understanding and Cooperation in Media and Higher Education

The workshop “Dialogue on Opportunities for Enhancing Understanding and Cooperation in Media and Communications in Higher Education and Scientific Research in EU–GCC relations” took place 26 March 2013 in Muscat, Oman. After the presentation of two research papers, the attendants participated in a feedback session. The following focus groups discussed ways to strengthen the cooperation in Higher Education as well as in Media and Communication. The workshop was attended by diplomats and policy-makers from both the GCC and the EU along with scientists from various research institutions.

The research for the workshop was conducted and presented by education expert Ahmed Al Mukhani and journalist Fatma Al Araimi. Al Mukhaini, who is an independent researcher and consultant on strategic studies for the Omani think tank and Sharaka partner Tawasul, lectured on “EU-GCC Cooperation in the fields of Higher Education and Scientific Research - Proposals for the Way Forward with focus on Higher Education”. In addition to highlighting the importance of concentrating on small steps, Mr Al Mukhaimi pointed out that adopting a result-oriented instead of an effort-oriented approach along with monitoring and evaluation would make it easier to track the milestones reached during the process.

Afterwards, Ms Fatma Al Araimi, Assistant Editor of Alam Al Iktisad Wal Amal magazine, presented her paper “The image of the GCC in the EU media and vice versa - Research paper on perspectives of Media practitioners from the GCC & the EU about the other region and the way forward”. She applied quantitative research on how both regions’ media showcase each other, concluding a knowledge gap on the mutual perception. According to Al Araimi, bridging this gap would lead to more accurate news coverage of EU respectively GCC nations and hence better cooperation between them.

The subsequent feedback session was chaired by Dr Jan Keulen, Director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. The renowed journalist suggested establishing an International Task Force of academics, journalists and media professionals to both discuss journalistic ethics and influence international policy makers. A suggestion arouse, that - when conducting surveys similar to the one presented by Ms Al Araimi - the sample of interview partners should not be chosen randomly but based on their occupation, assuming that journalists in the Gulf have a distinctive perception, since many of them are expatriates with an academic background in international affairs. Also, doubts were expressed whether Gulf journalists are equally interested in Europe as the other way around, since the continuous stream of journalists from Europe to the Gulf region indicates otherwise. The participants also addressed the availability and quality of journalism training, access to information in the Gulf and the effectiveness of existing but underfunded exchange programmes.

After discussing the research papers, the participants split up into two focus groups: The first one dealing with education had a lively debate on the aspirations and needs in scientific and educational cooperation. Main objectives were increasing the budget for higher education and launching joint publications of universities from EU and GCC. The participants expressed the need of acquiring data about students who remain abroad and those who return to their countries of origin after completing their studies. A recurring issue was the lack of a strong political will in developing higher education policies despite obvious necessities in the field.

The controversial discussion in the second focus group on Media and Culture demonstrated both the relevancy of the topic and the determination of the participants to specify the objectives and mechanisms mentioned by Ms Araimi. Critical voices demanded to distinguish between short and long-term goals: In the short term, cooperation should focus on technical assistance and reforming the GCC media landscape through dialogue. Sensitive issues like press freedom were rather to be treated as long term goals among with the implementation of international standards. A step towards achieving them could be the creation of a Media Task Force, in which members of GCC journalist associations should discuss challenges for the media landscape in the region.

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