Over forty delegates, including representatives of youth organizations and TV broadcasters from the Middle East & North Africa and programme-makers from Europe, gathered in Amman on 20 and 21 April to discuss how to enhance youth's presence in the media in the MENA region. Among the key issues addressed were the media consumption habits and the needs of young audiences, as well as the representation of young people in mainstream media and possibilities of collaboration of civil society organizations and media for the benefit of youth.
The occasion bringing this lively mix together was the kick-off conference for “Youth on Screen”, a collaborative initiative framed under two projects funded by the European Union, NET-MED Youth and MedMedia, which are being implemented, respectively, by UNESCO and by a consortium led by BBC Media Action. “Youth on Screen” also enjoys support from the Jordan Media Institute, and the European Broadcasting Union. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency contributed to its launch event as well.
Young civil society representatives argued that they currently find insufficient space for the reflection of their views in traditional media. Among them was Imane Bounjara, a Moroccan project coordinator at e-joussour online radio.
“Youth have been born in a digital world, are no longer just passive recipients but also active producers of content…. The information society has changed, and civil society has understood this… Television has to integrate itself into this new dynamic, in order to reposition itself and catch up with the rhythm of youth”, Bounjara stated.
Also serving to stimulate debate was the presentation of preliminary findings of media monitoring efforts focused on the presence and image of youth in mainstream television in Tunisia and Morocco, which is being facilitated under the NET-MED Youth project in partnership with MENA Media Monitoring.
In turn, participants working in mainstream media called attention to the challenges they face when developing youth-focused programmes. Ideas were shared on how to capture the attention of young audiences and engage them, through cross-media products and interaction through social media, as was done through the Generation Quoi? project in France, for example. Moreover, a specific session focused on examining the financial implications of producing this type of programmes, including possible funding sources and marketing strategies.
Another panel was dedicated to exploring how media and civil society organizations can productively work together despite a lack of trust often existing between them, their diverse agendas and notions of what is considered “newsworthy”. The conclusion was that strengthened linkages can bring rewarding results for both: CSOs can help media access certain groups and provide content to generate captivating human interest stories, while media can be instrumental in expanding the reach and appeal of their messages. However, a fruitful collaboration implies investing time in relationship building, setting ground rules, sharing information and understanding their respective needs, among other key aspects.
The overall mood was one of enthusiasm and willingness to work together, as reflected in the words of May Marei, the young Palestinian coordinator of the Voices from Gaza project.
“I think that this can be the start of new unique TV programs and experiences. I cannot wait to see the result that could come up of gathering such efforts and different backgrounds with rich experience,” said Marei.
Ameni Mabrouk, from Taabir inTunisia, added that the launch conference had been very helpful. “There were creative ideas that have inspired me, and it was a good opportunity for networking”.
The “Youth on Screen” initiative aims precisely at fostering experience sharing, the strengthening of capacities and enhanced cooperation within and across countries. It is expected to lead to the development of TV programmes and multimedia projects that better respond to the needs and aspirations of youth, and that further enable them to connect with each other and exchange their views on topics that concern them.
You can follow NET-MED youth activity online through #netmedyouth and Like the project’s official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/netmedyouth.