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6 essential tips for journalists at Ramadan

The holy month is a wonderful time but presents challenges for media

Life in Dubai goes on at a slower pace during the holy month and journalists must adjust their schedules accordingly Rumman Amin/Unsplash
Life in Dubai goes on at a slower pace during the holy month and journalists must adjust their schedules accordingly

As a non-Muslim living and working in the Middle East, I have come to look forward to the holy month of Ramadan.

The pace of life is slower and more relaxed, people seem more tolerant and friendly, and I can get a place in the DIFC car park even after 9.30am.

I did the journey from my home in Marina to the Dubai financial hub in 14 minutes the other day – an all-time record for a trip that has recently been taking most of an hour.

In fact, apart from the absence of daytime traffic congestion, you would hardly know it is the holy month.

The UAE has been progressively liberalising the strictures over the past decade or so, and now the daytime routine is hardly any different from that of the rest of the year.

Non-Muslims can eat and drink in public, restaurants and bars observe normal hours, and in theory work goes on almost as normal – albeit with shorter hours and afternoon naps.

Nonetheless, there are some challenges for non-Muslims, especially those working in the media. Here are some essential tips for navigating the holy month, and getting the most out of this unique, wonderful time.

1 Adopt nocturnal work patterns

It is possible to arrange meetings and interviews during the day, but fasting Muslims will probably not appreciate it. Use your days for research, emails, perhaps a phone call or two, but don’t expect an exclusive interview during daylight hours.

If your news schedule requires filing copy at normal non-Ramadan hours, have a handy set of excuses – “I can’t reach anyone for comment, they must be at prayer” – or take in PR copy. Some news organisations have a list of “Ramadan stories” that can be usefully trotted out year after year to fill seasonal demand.

2 Plan your evenings

The places where you will really get access, on an unprecedented level, are iftar and suhur social events. It is not unusual during Ramadan to find yourself offering greetings to a ruler, or C-suite executives of Dubai Inc, or at the very least an important PR or two.

Make the most of these opportunities – you will not get them so easily for the rest of the year.

3 Decide your priorities 1: newsbreaking?

Are you going to use these social occasions as opportunities for scoop-getting? Some journalists, especially the Western news agencies, decide access cannot be wasted, and crowd CEOs with a barrage of questions and interjections, notebooks out and recording devices on. You may get the odd soundbite, but this approach can be counterproductive when the poor fellow is really looking forward to tucking into his first bowl of lentil soup for 12 hours.

4 Decide your priorities 2: networking?

Far better, in my experience, is to use the access provided by Islamic social events to fill that contacts book and store up some networking capital. Some general chit-chat about how the month is going, followed by an exchange of business cards and a commitment to meet for a coffee at a later date is far more profitable than the hard-nosed hack always-on-the-news-hunt approach.

5 Set realistic goals

The big problem for journalists during Ramadan is that there are simply too many evening events – you have to be selective. Iftar with the president in Abu Dhabi followed by suhur with the ruler in Dubai may seem to tick all the boxes, but think of the effect of an hour-long car journey on the mixture of dates, fatoush and lentil soup in your stomach.

In my experience, one iftar followed by two suhurs is the limit, and even this must be planned with meticulous attention. On the other hand, if you’re lucky and the events are in one of the big Majlis venues as in DIFC and Madinat Dubai, the sky’s the limit. But beware…

6 Book yourself into a health spa over Eid

Many of my Muslim friends report that one of the biggest risks of the holy month, perversely, is short-term weight gain. You overeat at night-time, your metabolism is thrown out of kilter by daytime fasting and before you know it you’re racking up the Ramadan kilos. Eid celebrations also involve serious eating, so best to avoid that altogether and be at fighting weight for when things get really serious when the holidays are over.

And for what remains of it – Ramadan Kareem and Eid Mubarak.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia and is a media adviser to First Abu Dhabi Bank of the UAE

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