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Thursday, May 04, 2006

We Media Middle East Debate - The elephant is still in the room

I am as mad as hell - such a good opportunity wasted. This was a meeting between leading members of the Arab and Western media - even a satellite link with Iraq - and something good could have come out of it. But, We Media had its Middle East debate and they actively side stepped the biggest issue affecting trust in the western media among Arabs. Again, to quote the Financial Times:
Nothing, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Washington should use its influence to resolve it, and how best America can advance freedom and stability in the region as a whole. Bullying Americans into a consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes it impossible for America to articulate its own national interest.

So how close did they get? ... Israeli blogger Lisa Goldman was invited to present her project of bringing Israeli and Arab bloggers together. She also quoted lots of nice things that Arab blogger have said about Israel. Forgive me for not sounding impressed but this changes nothing. Frankly, if that is the best that the media leaders of 'We Media' can come up with on such an important debate then I give up. The shit is hitting the fan fast in Arabia and the leaders of the Western media cannot even approach the Arab-Israeli conflict. What chance have they to get their collective minds around the complexities of the Iraq crisis?

Actually it is not all bad I had a chance to speak with the Dr. Michael Craig of the Stanley Foundation. And for once some Americans gets it. Their basic thesis is that the 'democratisation' that America is pursuing in the Middle East is not going to bring about the stability and results that are good for America or the region. All they need now is someone to listen to them.

Anyway here are my raw notes of the session...

Session: We the World | Middle East (with satellite from Baghdad)
Moderated by Keith Porter (Stanley Foundation), with Zuhair Al-Jezairy (Aswat Al Iraq), Jihad (from Al-Arabiya), Rami Khouri (Lebanon Daily Star), Dr. Michael Kraig (Stanley Foundation), Salah Negm (BBC), WM Fellows

Keith Porter: 250-400 Arabic satellite channels. revolutionary changes driven by 24 news channels - Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya.

Rami Khouri. 3 big misperceptions of the Arab media...

1/ media incite anti americanism but media is a mirror of Arab public opinion.
2/ jazeera is a mouthpiece for terrorist groups. Unfair - its just newsworthy
3/ bad quality. but he bets that content analysis shows that jazeera is more full and balanced than any american channel. also only been on the air for 6 years

Salah (Head of BBC Arabic news tv.) there are only 2 or 3 news stations so there is room. + BBC will be tri-media (web, tv, radio)

Zuhair (Baghdad) - explosion of Arab media - 35 years of secret world - in 1st 3 months 180 newspapers - also bad so too many ways of getting facts - it gets messy. There are too many political leaders. Chaos of information. People start to distinguish between independent and not. People bored of party media.

Gov't media only for announcements
Independent media cannot secure their offices - so easy target.
No ad money for indep. media.
problem of professionailty - 3 waves of Iraqi journalists
no legal environment.
trying to give training for new generation of journalists. professional in tech but not journalism!!!

Jihad - who pays for the newspapers - it is cheap to start a satellite channel. Arabiya only one to make money from group. Jazeera is funded by Qatar.
competition improves the channel. Arabiya is ahead in Iraq. in past 9 months Arabiya got ahead in Saudi.

Michael Craig - pan arab nationalism is back in these new channels! What it means for US policy - must speak to Arabs differently - like al-Hurra. But it is closely and controlled - purely to show US policy. But why does it not reflect differences within even America.
- Look better if diplomats were given more freedom. But centralised control
- easier visas would help.

Zuhair - people use TV to decide if going out is safe or not. News is important to daily life. but old gen want to listen to news, young want entertainment. Cultural identity is separated. Media very important in Iraq. News in the morning and at night is very fast. Newspaper - is not for daily news just for analysis.
Jazeera has credibility but have not done more than project ideas already in public domain.
arab world citizens are better informed but still powerless.

Someone - Aggregation sites are getting very popular.

Zuhair - Iraq language needs to be carefully chosen not to insult the wrong militia.

Al- Jazeera has project to invite anyone to submit video footage.

Rami Khouri - information is where arabs have beaten america at their own game - it is why rumsfeld went nuts.

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