Report on Dubai Media Summit

Dubai has developed an interest in all aspects of the media, and an organisation called Dubai Media City has an aim of developing the emirate into a global media hub by creating an infrastructure, environment and attitude that enables technology- and media-focused enterprises to operate locally, regionally and globally. There are 780 media companies and 260 freelance media professionals who belong to the Dubai Media City enterprise. From this, the Dubai Press Club was established in 1999, organising an annual Media Summit.

This year was the third event and it certainly attracted high-profile figures from the media world. It was attended by at least 500 people, including delegates, the press, media students, academics, politicians and speakers.

The title this year was adventurous because it attracted media persons from all viewpoints on war, and it was probably the first time that such professionals had the chance to openly debate their differences since the Iraq war.

From the British media there were several big names, including Tim Sebastian of BBC Hardtalk, BBC reporters Jacky Rowland and Clive Myrie (Rowland reported the Afghan war, Myrie was an embedded journalist in the Iraq war), Peter Arnett previously of CNN who wrote several articles on the Iraq war for the Daily Mirror, BBC TV presenter Gavin Estler, Chris Cramer previously from the BBC who now heads CNN, Janine Di Giovanni of The Times and Martin Woollacott of The Guardian, among others.

Chris Doyle of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) was also there. I had the impression that the British contingent was probably the biggest non-Arab representation.

The conference was jointly opened by Dubai Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder. Hanan Ashrawi was meant to be a speaker but unfortunately she was unable to get to Dubai.

About two thirds of the representatives were from Arab and Middle East media outlets. Both Western and Arab representatives included pro- and anti-war opinions. Because of this mix and the subject matter, it could be expected that the discussions were extremely lively and they were.

Interestingly, in my opinion some of the most thoughtful and sensible discussion was from a group of media students from the American University of Sharjah, who certainly added a great deal to the conference.

Arab Media Watch has already posted a copy of the Agence France Presse (AFP) report of the conference here, which I think is accurate. The differing views which were expressed were all based on emotion and very subjective, and not on analysis or monitoring. There was a temptation for journalists to take the view that this is how "we" or "I" did it, and you are wrong for this reason, and for politicians and some academics in general to accuse the media on both "sides" of "stoking up" the conflict.

The most critical discussion was between the pro- and anti-war Arab media correspondents. The deaths of journalists was briefly mentioned, and this was an area on which media workers of all viewpoints could have agreed and come forward with a concrete proposal, but it was not followed up constructively.

I was given the opportunity to speak from the floor and stated that arguments needed to be based on facts rather than emotions. I mentioned AMW and other sources of objective research. My comments were applauded and from this I believe that the audience agreed and would have liked more objective evidence.

This was my first media conference and I learned a great deal. A lot of journalists appeared to really enjoy the event because they met old friends – one speaker joked that that was the reason he had agreed to attend.

My view was that the media workers from all viewpoints did not learn much about how to do their job, and no one went away with new information. For example, when it was suggested to Myrie that the BBC had a pro-Western bias, he immediately responded that the BBC was totally objective and I think he genuinely believes that this is the case.

Also, there was no acknowledgement of the wide range of media coverage in the West and East. Janine Di Giovanni, for example, was upset because she felt the excellence, sympathy and accuracy of some media reporting in the West was not acknowledged, and that all Western reporting was written off as inaccurate and biased against Arabs.

A journalist in the audience from Al-Jazeera was upset because he was told his station was causing Arabs to feel angry, and he in turn asked if it was felt that he should not record events such as the deaths of ordinary Iraqis.

Altogether, the dynamics of Orientalism and Occidentalism which underlie all of the accusations were not brought to the fore at all, and the opportunity for journalists on all sides to go away with an understanding of where their coverage could be improved by understanding the viewpoint of "the other" was lost. Everyone came with a view, expressed it, and went away with the same view. There was no real meeting of minds and seeking solutions, which is the expressed objective of the media summit. This maybe is a challenge for next year.