Training days

Being a relatively new regional industry the Middle East broadcast sector has previously relied on bringing in talent from overseas to handle the day-to-day running of the business. However, an increasing number of colleges are now offering broadcast training as part of their curriculum. ITP.net goes back to school to investigate the training of tomorrow’s broadcast professionals.

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By  Marcus Webb Published  September 30, 2002

I|~||~||~|The storage room of the Communications and Media department in Dubai Women's College (DWC) is an Aladdin's cave of broadcast goodies. A row of brand new Sony DSR-PD150P DV/DVCam Pro cameras sits next to the latest wireless microphones and USB or firewire connected computer peripherals.

Elsewhere in the building is an audio recording studio fully equipped with Pro-Tools, a non-linear editing suite capable of running twelve, twin-monitor Apple Mac's equipped with Final Cut Pro 3 and a fully-equipped TV studio, with three professional Ikegami cameras and a full lighting rig. It is impressive stuff, but what is even more astounding is that the three young students who are guiding me around the facility, Noora Al Abbar, Mona Bin Kalli and Maitha Mohammed Al Qader, seem comfortable with every gadget contained in DWC's hospital-like walls.

"It is important for us to understand all aspects of production," explains Noora, who studies journalism at the college. "If we are producing a TV report and we do not know how to use a camera or direct a report then we won’t be able to judge what goes on around us.

“When you are aware of what is happening you can produce an image in your mind and capture that on film. I think that is a privilege."

A woman’s place

The Middle East has a number of students such as Noora and her fellows: bright, articulate, ambitious and female. "Most of our students are women," says Rama M.N. of Gulf Design Institute and Technology (GDIT), which trains over 150 people a year in video editing and 3D animation. "They are very interested in the technology and they are quick learners as well."

"Being national women we are still getting a lot of ‘but you're a woman’ type comments and dealing with tradition," says Noora back at DWC. "However, we do have the sheikhs on our side so it is getting easier, but we need to encourage more national women to get into the industry. The TV stations and radio stations are not quite there yet, because there is not the voice that we need. Don't believe anyone who tells you there is no support. The Government is behind us 100 per cent, so there are no excuses. Perhaps some families and parents are having reservations but we are trying to change things."

The interest and ambition to "change things" shown among young Arabs in recent times has been reflected in the number of courses now available. Alongside the classes offered by GDIT and the Higher College of Technology, of which DWC is a part, there are also successful training programmes running across the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon and Morocco. The sheer number of new graduates entering the industry over the coming years looks set to have a profound impact on both the form and content of Middle Eastern productions.
"Not many people know what the area is about," observes Maitha Mohammed Al Qader, "we need to get the reality into the spotlight."

Dubai Women's College offers a three-year higher diploma in general media studies. On completion of the foundation year, students major in one area of communication technology: journalism; electronic media production; or graphic design. Arabic, English and Multimedia courses run throughout the three years. Diploma graduates undertake an eight-week work placement following the successful completion of their fourth academic semester.

"The diploma is all coursework-based," explains Alexandra Wake, who teaches journalism at the college. "Because we have such small classes (the third year journalism class consists of just three students) we can tailor the programme to meet the students’ interests. For the final semester the journalism finalists will write, produce and edit the college magazine, Desert Dawn, generate a radio programme and produce a television programme of their choice.

"The second years are currently working on a Middle Eastern version of Oprah," continues Wake. "What the third year students do is up to them, as long as it contains a strong journalism element. Last year it was an Arabic version of 60 Minutes, but this year it could be a talk show, a documentary, whatever."

According to Wake, training in all aspects of production is essential in preparing students for a career in the media. "What we teach reflects the convergence in the mediums," she enthuses. "A reporter is not just going to write for a newspaper anymore. That reporter may be expected to post articles on-line and take a digital image to accompany the piece. Equally, a television reporter may be expected to do a rough edit on the field. So it is important to teach people what the rules of the media are so people can move between them."

Cutting edge

Wake believes that Dubai Women's College's investment in the latest technology will pay dividends when students enter the workplace. "The equipment we use for training should be the same as the professionals use. So that when our girls enter work they should be able to hit the ground, if not running, at least jogging."

A great deal of the equipment at the college is digital, including the Sony DV cameras. "In the first year we started off with analogue cameras recording onto VHS, because they wanted us to learn from scratch," explains Mona Bin Kalli, "but in the second year we started to use digital cameras, which are much easier and lighter. It is much easier to transfer from digital onto the editing software and easier to manage, the quality is much better than when we were using tape."

Mona's enthusiasm for the digital format is reassuring to Ghassan Bendali of Arab Business Machine. "Filming and editing in this region is slowly but surely moving away from analogue towards digital," observes Bendali. "If students are to find employment they must know how to use digitally based equipment."

Arabian Business Machine supplies a great deal of equipment to local education institutions and Bendali believes that investing in education is crucial to establishing a developed regional industry. "There is a lack of editors in the region and as a result you see a lot of work being shipped abroad, particularly to South Africa. Obviously this takes time and costs money, especially when you consider that authorities in the region will examine all tapes coming into the area to ensure the content is suitable, adding weeks to a project," he says. "What we hope to establish is a pool of local talent so the editing can be carried out in the area where it was produced."

"The right training is extremely important," continues Bendali. "We have a great relationship with the universities in the area. The nice thing about universities is that you have a lot of talent that can teach high-end software engineering. Video editing is not an easy task, it is a complicated process and video editors are highly-skilled people and those skills are gained through training." Bendali argues that the tools used are complicated professional programmes and people need instruction in order to get the best results. "In Final Cut Pro, for example, there are a lot of features that can only be unlocked once you understand how the software works. Once people learn about the shortcuts, learn how to add effects to the package and learn how to use the programme I believe both the quality and quantity of work produced in this area will increase."

Of course, as an independent marketing consultant for Apple in the Middle East, Arab Business Machine has a vested interest in ensuring Apple products are as widely used as possible. "One of the reasons Final Cut Pro for education is about 30 percent of the cost of the retail price is that we believe that people trained on the product will like and stick with it," says Bendali. "Once they graduate and move into a studio we obviously hope they will insist on using Final Cut Pro."

No language barriers

An impressive attribute to regional students is the incredible language skills they possess. Of the three students I met at Dubai Women's College, two are tri-lingual: Noora speaks English, Arabic and French and Maitha English, Arabic and Lebanese, whilst Mona speaks perfect English alongside her native Arabic. Rama at GDIT also sees an impressive array of linguists. "Our students speak a number of languages," she says. "Arabic, Hindi, French, but it is the skills in English that are essential. All our programming is carried out in English so it is an essential skill." Bendali agrees that English is important. "People have to know English to use editing software as there is not a complete Arabic interface yet. Most students in the Arabic world have highly-developed language skills, so it tends not to be a problem. Final Cut Pro also has Arabic character generators included in Final Cut Pro and it obviously makes sense that the operator is fluent."

Tomorrow's regional broadcast graduates are going to be armed with a wide array of skills. Alongside the comprehensive technical and language abilities instilled throughout their education, they will also bring knowledge of the society in which they were raised and that the industry wishes to serve. It is this cultural awareness that has the real potential to revolutionise the region and is attractive to employers in the region.

"We actively encourage the employment of nationals," said a representative of a prominent local broadcaster who asked not to be named. "Apart from the obvious language benefits local people have a far better understanding of the community we work in. The quality of graduates keeps getting better and better and I think you will see more nationals being employed and that will probably be at the expense of expatriates."

"I think, as a young national woman, I can present something that foreigners cannot," agrees Noora, "we are from this society so we know what is acceptable and how to get around it. If we want to say something daring we should say it in the right way and people accept it. We don't want to directly insult people, that is not the change we are looking for."

Over the next few years the Middle East broadcast industry will begin to see exactly what change Noora and her contemporaries are looking for. As today's students graduate to tomorrow's professionals the regional scene cannot help but be affected, and with technical, language and knowledge skills now commonplace it seems assured that it will be a change for the better.
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