London, Asharq Al-Awsat – While campaigning for his first term as US President, Bill Clinton made headlines when he made a guest appearance on MTV in 1992 in an effort to court the American youth vote.
The appearance was regarded as a historical landmark in the relationship between politicians and the media.
Clinton, who won the presidency twice, seemed to realize the impact of his MTV appearance on American youth and appeared on the network several additional times.
With today’s technology, Clinton would likely also have had his own blog, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Such revolutionary applications have developed the Internet into a primary democratic medium, allowing audiences to instantly and directly communicate with leaders without any geographical or time barriers.
In recent months, the Internet has been used by leaders from US presidential candidates to launch online campaign strategies to Queen Elizabeth II, who broadcast her annual Christmas message on YouTube last December.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently launched the interactive “Ask the PM” service on the official No. 10 Downing Street’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/downingst as a guest of honor at the Google Zeitgeist Conference, which was held at The Grove Hotel just outside London in mid-June.
Brown asked individuals to post video questions to the forum, which he will answer shortly after the first question session ending on June 21. “I am here to answer your questions,” he says in his opening online post.
The Prime Minister’s latest outreach initiative comes a few weeks after another world leader, Queen Rania of Jordan, who was also a guest of honor at the recent Google event, launched her own YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/queenrania last April.
Queen Rania’s YouTube endeavor is a conscious effort to promote dialogue and understanding between the Arab and Muslim world and the West.
“Arabs and Muslims struggle daily with how the world sees us: our reality, history, and way of thinking. We must break down these stereotypes and speak up for ourselves so that everyone understands who we are, and what we value,” explains Queen Rania in an exclusive statement via email to Asharq Al Awsat.
“Dialogue is the best way to achieve this, and YouTube fosters much needed conversations on tolerance, compassion, and understanding. And what I’m seeing on YouTube today is exactly that desired dialogue which at its best dispels old suspicions by forming new communities,” she adds.
The Queen will be receiving questions and comments on her channel, which currently has over 5000 subscribers, until International Youth Day on August 12.
She emphasizes the need to focus on youth to Asharq Al Awsat, stating “The YouTube, Facebook and Ikbis generation is fluent in uploading, tagging, and instant messaging, and we must be too. Youth today are the main source of energy and innovation in our region; not only will they erode negative stereotypes, but they will create new companies, new jobs, and new opportunities for Jordan, and the Arab world.”
Various commentators on the Queen’s YouTube channel have expressed harsh language toward Islam and its symbols. Others, however, have attempted to correct inaccuracies and build bridges, including the Queen herself, who has posted a number of videos.
In a recent video, Queen Rania replies to one user’s comment, saying that although she was always good at maths, one doesn’t need such skills to know that the equations “Arab = Muslim =Terror = War” and “Arabs are Muslims and Muslims = Violence” (posted by a particular user) are inaccurate.
Queen Rania calls for “getting the facts straight” before making assumptions, explaining to Asharq Al Awsat that: “With every line written and video posted, we share our experiences and knowledge which dismantles barriers and brings us together.”
Yasmina Brihi, Marketing Manager of Google (which owns YouTube) for the Middle East and North Africa, says ” We are delighted to see this engagement online and eagerly anticipate direct dialogue about politics and issues that matter to people around the world.”
This “engagement” has been evident in the recent coverage of the US Presidential elections. The first CNN/YouTube candidate debates took place this year and displayed the significant potential in the combined use of television and the Internet.
Those debates allowed potential voters to send their questions and comments directly to the candidates. Many questions were played live on air for the candidates to answer.
CNN senior vice president and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman tells Asharq Al Awsat in an email that he believes the CNN/YouTube debates were “Innovative and represented the most democratic of all possible debate structures. Everyone had a chance of posing a question to someone who very possibly could be the next American president.”
Bohrman adds that the debates “really worked and were a success,” and “CNN will continue to experiment with new technologies for the upcoming political conventions and Election Night 2008.”
Brihi explains that YouTube “Helps voters be part of the political debate in ways that were not possible before the emergence of online video. People can express their views to those in power, ask questions and be heard, while those in office can use the immediacy of video to highlight their priorities and engage with people on the issues that matter most to them.”