Al Dhafra, UAE:– As part of the cultural programme at Al Dhafra Book Festival 2023, the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC) organised a seminar titled ‘Cultural Journalism and Building Awareness with Culture’, featuring veteran journalists Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, and renowned writer and media figure Ali Obeid Al Hamli, who held various positions across multiple media organisations.

The seminar saw the two journalists discuss the current state of cultural journalism, in light of the decline of print journalism and the widespread use of social media. The open dialogue with the audience was moderated by Dr. Berlant Qabeel, Head of Programmes at the ALC.

The seminar was held at the theatre of the Public Park in Zayed City, providing valuable information about the history of cultural journalism and its prominent figures in the Arab world, in addition to exploring how cultural journalism contributed to raising awareness among readers.

Abdul Hamid Ahmad highlighted the historical role of editors-in-chief, who were once literary figures shaping news content. He cited examples from renowned Arab newspapers that had literary figures serving as editors-in-chief, with culture at the core of their thought and personality. “With that in mind, it became essential to establish cultural pages, supplements, and magazines, in order to give cultural news its important place,” he said. “The second generation of editors-in-chief inherited this focus on culture, even if they were not from the cultural community themselves. This has all changed now.”

Commenting on the decline of cultural standards on social media, the Gulf News editor-in-chief pointed to the diminished output of major literary figures who prefer traditional publishing. He urged authors and cultural institutions to have a strong presence on these platforms, in order to reach out to a wider audience and make culture more appealing to them. Abdul Hamid Ahmad underlined the positive role book fairs currently play in promoting culture on a large scale, attracting children and young people, and encouraging them to enjoy books and reading. He went on to highlight book exhibitions, which have proven to be a great success in the West.

For his part, Ali Obeid Al Hamli spoke about the impact of cultural journalism on his professional life, saying: “We, writers, began our journey with cultural journalism. The biggest motivator for our generation was for our names to appear in newspapers, and although these papers were not specialised in culture, they covered it as much as they did politics and economics. We have seen renowned figures establish cultural magazines; for them, culture was more of a calling than a job.”

“Does cultural journalism still hold the same value for the new generation?” he asked. “Every young author today has a personal platform where they present whatever they want. And this creates a problem, because there are no longer any role models for newcomers and no more standards for writing. We have seen many writers who do not have the talent for writing or the mastery of its techniques and language.”

Al Hamli went on to note that cultural journalism is currently facing a major problem, where despite the widespread availability of means of communication, it has not created a generation of writers capable of contributing to the literary landscape, which, in turn, has produced a crisis in writing across the Arab world. “Perhaps we need to set standards for writing,” he explained. “We cannot control social media, but we can set standards and promote literary criticism through these platforms so that we can evaluate literature and drive it forward.”

In conclusion, Al Hamli explained that there are many writers who have their own means of print publishing, and these are the ones who enrich the scene. “Publishing through social media harms the culture more than it serves it,” he said, pointing to the need for the old cultural supplements, even if published online. “The only way to do that is for cultural centres and institutions, such as the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, to play an active role on social media platforms, in order to create balance between social media content and our vision of what culture should be in our present era.”