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Weekly Wrap – Arvind Salwan, director, New Media Corp

The power of words has never been more important than during these past weeks. The Iranian government’s decision to censor media reports, to sever Internet connections, to block texting and international calls and to cut access to social networking sites backfired completely. These steps were meant to make a strong statement that all was well and that it was in control. These misplaced actions, in the wake of the disputed vote that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power, have reiterated the lack of support from the masses. If the public is supportive of your policies, there is no need for a blackout through the closing down of media and telecommunications networks.

However, within hours of the state’s ill-advised efforts to control the flow of information, there slowly began a drip-feed of reports alleging that government forces were entering universities in Tehran and of arrests, civil unrest, beatings and killings. Since then and, on a regular basis, the drip-feed has meandered into a steady stream of video and pictures delivered via Internet proxy servers on sites such as YouTube and Flickr and a flood of SMS by way of Twitter, confined by the conventional 140 character limit.

Never before have such an insignificant number of words been able to convey such crucial and significant news, in live time. Social-networking tools have come of age and have demonstrated the power to relay information – effectively and instantaneously – through the power of citizen journalism.

Public relations – relations with your public – combined with social media is a powerful communication and engagement tool.

Arvind Salwan, director, New Media Corp

Citizen journalism allows the public to hold on to freedom of the press, particularly in times of oppression and, in this instance, the proliferation of technology and social media have proven to be a force for good. Historical events have also shown the will and determination of the public and foreign correspondents, even when the technology didn’t exist; Morse code, with its (equally) limited but highly effective range, may one day even be considered a forerunner to Twitter.

The subject of Twitter and social networks takes me to the broader issue of the creative industries. On the domestic front, the past week has also been significant for all together different reasons. The issue of the faltering economy, record high unemployment levels, negative impact on retail and consumerism and the promise of a digital Britain by 2012. Hang on a minute, some good news?

Last week signalled a clear future for a truly digital Britain, with the long-awaited publication of Lord Carter’s 86-page report (Digital Britain interim report). The report does not tackle some of the more specific challenges facing some of creative industries, which may yet prove to be more resilient to the recession than other industries and that its innovative business and trading models may help it to even grow. Recent research from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) suggests that the sector will grow by 4% between 2009 and 2013, which is double the estimate for the rest of the economy.

Although there are parts of this sector that have felt the effects of recession, such as advertising, others such as the video games industry are fairing the storm. However, there is a clear skills shortage, particularly in Scotland, although there are initiatives to counter this.

Last week, I attended an event by TransMedia Scotland, at The Hub, part of the Digital Media Quarter, at which RealTime Worlds, hot-footing it from a major Stateside tradeshow, premiered graphic visuals from APB, it’s new, interactive online game.

However, this week, company boss Dave Jones admitted that he is having to look abroad for employees, despite the fact that university courses on video games technology are over-subscribed. If this is this the case, why not enter into collaboration with a couple of universities, given their commercialisation priorities, and aim to get professionals to come and work in Scotland on an exchange programme; this is something that would work particularly well in those creative industries underpinned by savvy technology. Scotland is already punching well above its weight on the international stage in terms of video gaming and companies like RealTime Worlds need help and support which, in turn, will help our economy’s recovery.

Scottish Enterprise has identified the creative industries as one of its six priority sectors and, along with establishing the Digital Media Quarter, its digital media industry advisory group is on schedule to publish a digital media strategy this autumn. It is also contributing to the Scottish Government’s Economic Strategy framework and is closely hard-wired into the skills and training networks.

At a UK level, the creative industries will employ 1.3 million people by 2013, with projected wealth generation at £85 billion. It may just be that this cohort of the (new) creative industries can help to get the wider economy out of recession, allowing the traditional broadcasters and publishers to adapt their operating models and to future-proof them in line the increasing advent of new technologies and applications and consumer trends.

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