The first day of the 2nd Al Jazeera Forum has come to an end with a nice gala dinner. It was the first time for me to attend such event, so, as I said before, it was all a little bit overwhelming, but I think that I have survived. In general, the first day was active and filled with different kinds of discussions, and a big emphasize on blogging. Let me try to take a look on how this day went.
The first panel on the role of world media in this era was interesting due to the weird diversity of opinions in it. For me, it was an awkward moment when Moneer Shafik said that Western media is not free as we we think. Actually, he tried to give the impression that Western media is not free at all. “Many Western intellectuals complain that their media do not open the door for them,” he added. It could be true that MSM can be selective when they decide what to publish, but I think that in today’s world of web, and weblogs in particular, it is becoming much easier for anyone to speak his mind. If you got something interesting to say, just put it on the web, and people will come; you don’t need MSM. One of the other weird comments by Mr. Shafik was saying that the problem with Arab journalists is that they believe they should work like Westerners, which I thought was funny.
Defining the ethics of journalism was the title of the second panel. At the beginning of the panel, Abdul Wahab Badrakhan asked a really good question. “If the state is unethical with its people, how can we set a code of ethics for the profession?” he asked. Another good point was made by Alain Gresh, who talked about his experience in Saudi Arabia. “When a Western journalist goes to Saudi Arabia, he would be surprised there is a discrimination against women. I don’t accept that, but things are changing,” he said. “A Westerner may not be satisfied with it, but by the Saudi standards that’s pretty good,” he added. While I don’t know about what Mr. Gresh has meant by the Saudi standards, but by my standards, that’s not good enough. Deborah Turness, chief editor of ITV News, whom Mohammed Krichane, the moderator of the panel, described as not just one of the youngest chief editors in the history of the UK, but also as “one of the most beautiful as well,” has emphasized on trust and its role in the media. “If we don’t have trust, we have no news,” she said.
Next on schedule was the panel on blogging, which was I mentioned before, the panel of interest for us bloggers. I can say that this panel was the best one so far; not because I’m a blogger, but it was really good. Dan Gillmor started by saying that journalists are not good with listening to people, which is so true in my point of view. However, I find myself disagree Bertrand Pecquerie, who said that what we are seeing today in citizen’s journalism is a bubble that will burst soon. He also thinks that traditional media are better because they function as watchdogs to governments. There, I really wanted to grab the microphone and tell him this: Yeah, maybe in the West that’s right. But here in the Middle East, where the media is either owned by the governments or censored by it, traditional media cannot play that role. Here comes the bloggers to play that role. And I think that bloggers are in a better position to do so because they are more independent from the influences that affect traditional media. Haitham made some really good points, especially on the Arab blogging movement, while Walid Noueihed was really out of place and he did not seem to have much information about “this whole blogging thing.”
I enjoyed these panels in the company of the gorgeous Palestinian blogger Shaden Abdul Rahman (and no, I’m not just being nice, she is really gorgeous), and also with Ahmed Ashour, who is a graphical designer at Al Jazeera. The next panel was on the challenges facing media organizations in the 21st century, but the three of us have decided that we have had enough, so we left the conference hall. We went to the City Center Mall, had a drink and a delicious chat, and then returned to the hotel. That was the last panel for today, and the only thing left was the gala dinner.
During the gala dinner, I sat with Haitham and two journalists from Al Jazeera on a table that was not entirely empty. Later, Khaled al-Hroub, Marc Lynch, and Alain Gresh joined us at the table. Of course, we, as bloggers, were nobody to them. In the middle of the dinner, I could not help but overhear Khaled al-Hroub talking to someone at the table about the Arab and World Media Forum that was organized by the Arab Thought Foundation in December 2005 in Dubai. The listener asked Mr. Al-Hroub about “this Arab Thought Foundation,” so he told her in a condemning manner that it is something founded by Saudis. “And when you hear the word ‘Saudi’ you can cancel the word ‘Thought’ right away. These two words cannot be put together,” he added. Now, as a Saudi, was I offended by his comment? I won’t answer this, because I have a question that is more important to me: Would Mr. Al-Hroub ever say such thing in public? How about on his TV show?
I thought the dinner would be that last thing for today, but I was wrong. After the dinner, we spent about two hours with some young employees from Al Jazeera, to discuss a new project they are planning for. The new project is supposed to be targeted at young population in the Arab World, and it will use blogging, which is, according to multiple sources, one of the main subjects of interest to Wadah Khanfar, managing director of Al Jazeera. I may get involved in this project, but I’m still thinking about it.
That was about the first day. The second day is not expected to be any less interesting. So just keep an eye on this space. More to come later from the 2nd Al Jazeera Forum.