Ruler of Sharjah Inaugurates International Government Communication Forum 2015

SHARJAH, 22nd February, 2015 (WAM)–H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, today inaugurated the fourth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2015) in the presence of guest of honour General Michel Sleiman, former President of the Republic of Lebanon (2008-2014).

In his opening speech, Sheikh Sultan said, “Public communication, particularly those represented by live radio and television programmes, known as ‘direct line programme’, where people call in with their concerns on important social issues, are crucial for the exchange of information and messages between the government and the people. Such initiatives help the public to better understand the aspirations of the government. They are also vital in engaging citizens and society and introducing government policies, legislations and services to the public.” He observed that such programmes have led to an improvement in the dialogue between citizens and officials, and also resulted in changing social behaviour.

During his speech at the forum, Sheikh Sultan stressed that “Public programmes are important tools to engage stakeholders including citizens, civil society, and the media in the nation-building process.” He added that such communication activates the process of democracy through informing the people about government policies and triggering a healthy debate on their effectiveness. They also consequently help drive government policy and shape public opinion.

The Ruler of Sharjah stressed on the importance of internal communication and follow up to ensure smooth progress of operations and processes in all government departments. In addition, he continued, the role of external communication in engaging citizens, consolidating a spirit of national responsibility and supporting national initiatives at all levels and in all domains was also highlighted.

In his keynote address, General Michel Sleiman, 12th President of the Republic of Lebanon, said, “The development in the areas of information and communication technologies has effectively impacted the lifestyle, mind-set and values of people. Today, direct and indirect media have penetrated the minds of men, homes, offices, factories, barracks and trenches. The public can now hear and see officials addressing them directly, eliminating the role of the mediator.” He added, “If a government is to convince the public of its goals, the public must prompt the government to hear its concerns and aspirations, and meet its growing demands. Despite the fact that the media is still a successful channel of persuasion. It only flows in a single direction, especially if the media lacks freedom and objectivity. Effective communication, on the other hand, is richer and more humane for it allows the exchange of thoughts, measures reaction, and encourages participation. Furthermore, communication today is no longer limited to public speaking and includes modern technologies and governance techniques as well.” Cautioning governments about their inadequate channels of communication, General Sleiman said leaders and governments that hesitate to communicate with the public will eventually create barriers and cause bureaucracy in administration and institutions. He further pointed out that for communication to be based on trust and efficiency, it must not only answer the needs of the public, but also be characterised by precision, transparency and objectivity. More importantly, it must be understandable, sustainable, comprehensive, and timely.

On the steps needed to ensure a better relationship between the government and the public, General Sleiman said, “We must spread the culture of communication between officials and the public and create the right environment for its dissemination in a way that is independent of any influences from legislative, executive and judicial authorities. We need to enact laws that protect communication from any political arrogance. We must fight strict media censorship, and not restrain the media with dictatorship. Last but not least, officials need to leave their ivory towers and get closer to the public.” The opening session of IGCF 2015 began with an address by Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Centre (SMC), who pointed out that the current economic and geopolitical developments, which have cast their shadow on the entire world, place greater responsibility on global and regional governments to explain their internal and external policies openly and transparently. He said the time when the type and sources of information were controlled by governments is long gone, and is now replaced by an era of interaction and dialogue in which the public has the ability to express its opinion about events in home countries and countries around the world.

He stressed the speed for delivering information and influencing the public is creating a challenge for some governments due to their administrative nature. However, the emirate of Sharjah looks at this challenge as an opportunity to develop this aspect of government work, as effective government communication that is based on transparency and objectivity has become one of the main factors that characterise effective governance.

Sleiman added, “Today we are in a time of freedom in sharing information and opinion, thus the knowledge of citizens and their ability to communicate are important, being a measure for the strength of a country’s army or economy. No one can deny the power of armies in resolving conflicts, but governments around the world realise that an army may withhold a story or impose an opinion for some time, but it will not be able to limit the spread of a counter-story or restrain impressions and ideas all the time.” He also stressed that SMC, under the directives of the Ruler of Sharjah, has taken upon itself the task of developing and empowering government communication departments in the emirate of Sharjah, and sharing this experience with the other emirates and across the region and the world. He said such efforts are designed to help government communication departments reassess their important strategic role and adapt their scope of work to fit with modern and world-class government communication matrixes.

On his part, SMC Chairman identified four necessary steps that must be taken to improve the performance of government communication departments. First, realising and promoting the new strategic role of government communication among government officers and officials. Second, conducting a professional and objective self-assessment to measure the administration’s ability to apply the principles of government communication in daily operations. Thirdly, the application of a comprehensive and ongoing training plan, and finally, hiring appropriate persona for appropriate positions.

Concluding his speech, Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi thanked the forum’s strategic partners and sponsors, which include Emirates Airlines (Airline Partner), Arabian Gulf Mechanical Centre – BMW (Official Car), Getty Images, twofour54 and Microsoft (Content Partners), Sky News Arabia (Regional Media Partner), The New York Times (International Media Partner), Thomson Foundation (Training Partner), National Media Council, Al Khaleej newspaper, Al Bayan newspaper and Dubai Radio (Media Partners), National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA), as well as Pink Caravan, Tim Hortons and Expo Centre Sharjah (Partners).

The opening session was also attended by H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Salem Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia (2010-2013), Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Aiser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations (2004-2005), Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (2004-2014) and Prime Minister of Portugal (2002-2004) and James Rubin, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs under President Clinton (1997–2000), in addition to a number of political figures, media representatives, academicians, thought leaders, and local, regional and international government communication professionals.

Held under the theme “Specific Actions…Better Results”, IGCF 2015 discusses the immediate actions needed today to ensure a better relationship between the government and the public using effective and clear government communication mechanisms. The forum hosts a group of global experts in the field of government communication to identify the actions required on the international and local levels to further activate the role of government communication.