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Dubai launches media offensive to rebuild image

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of the Dubai, has created a Dubai Government Media Office to handle PR for the emirate. The move follows strong criticism of the handling of the Dubai World debt crisis.

Dubai has created a media office to handle the emirate’s PR as it seeks to repair the reputational damage suffered following the debt crisis of state-owed ports and real estate conglomerate Dubai World.
 
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of the Dubai, formed the Dubai Government Media Office this week, installing his personal media escort, Ahmed Abdullah al-Sheikh, as director general of the new department. The office is effectively an amalgamation of existing government-controlled media organisations Dubai Press Club, Falcon and Associates and the Dubai Media Affairs Office. 
 

Dubai was fairly picked on and blasted by foreign media during the last year. There is a need to handle things a bit professionally.

Emirati political scientist Abdul-Khaleq Abdullah

Effective immediately, the office will be responsible for all media relations for the ruler himself, the crown prince and all Dubai government officials.

According to market sources, by consolidating these Dubai media-facing departments, the emirate is attempting to avoid a repeat of the public relations disaster in November, when Dubai World announced it would request a standstill on large parts of its debt obligation. To compound  matters, within days, the government announced there was no sovereign guarantee for the conglomerate, sending stock markets worldwide in freefall and pushing up the cost of insuring UAE debt.
 
“Dubai was fairly picked on and blasted by foreign media during the last year. There is a need to handle things a bit professionally,” Emirati political scientist Abdul-Khaleq Abdullah, told Reuters in reaction.
 
The Dubai government was heavily criticised over the timing of the announcement regarding Dubai World's need for a debt standstill. Gulf Business described the three weeks that followed the announcement as “the worst in Dubai's recent history” and a “masterclass in how not to do things”. One major bone of contention was that Dubai announced the news after stock markets had closed and on the eve of the Eid holidays.
 
According to some, however, the emirate is learning lessons as seen by the way in which it announced the $10 billion funding package supplied by neighbouring emirate, Abu Dhabi, on 14 December before markets opened for business. 
 
PERE is currently in the Middle East gauging market sentiment in the aftermath of the crisis. The response to yesterday's news was welcome but expected. Paul Jarvis, partner of law firm Denton Wilde Sapte said: “There is no good timing for bad news but perhaps there have been lessons learned with the benefit of hindsight.”
 
“Dubai has had unprecedented good press for 10 years. Now that has taken a bit of a dip. So it is making arrangements to ensure that news that is reported to the international community is done so in a timely manner. I'm not surprised they are doing it.”
 
Read more PERE coverage from the Middle East in the March issue of the magazine.