Image by madmonk via FlickrToday marked the start of the 8th Arab Media Forum. I'm quite fond of said forum, if only because it marked the start of this blog, back with this post which has always made me smile when I read it.
So I'm a simpleton. Get over it.
The keynote address at this year's gig was given by the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa. He said a number of interesting things and, thanks to the simultaneous translation, a couple of slightly strange ones. There was one passage about dark oceans and creatures feeding on each other that had me slightly bewildered, but we soon found the track again.
(Offtopic, Moussa said that he was impressed by the life and verve he found in Dubai after having read so many negative reports in international media. He got a laugh out of his host, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, which was nice to see to be honest.)
Moussa set the scene for the rest of the forum, making the point that the Arab World faced challenges in the evolution of its media, particularly with the transition taking place between online and print media, "The Arab World is still launching newspapers while elsewhere in the world, newspapers are failing" he said, talking about the movement of paper to electronic media.
Its funny that this thinking persists - that we're going to stop using paper and just move into being nicely regulateable and licensable entities, identifieable online media houses. It denies the very real atomisation that is taking place as a result of the boom in consumer generated media and content. The concept of media ownership is being redefined.
Just before Moussa came onstage, a panel session had taken place with, among distinguished others, Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor in Chief of Gulf News (540g), who pointed out that venerable, 150-year-old institutions like the great American newspapers were shutting down and wondered what would take their place.
As if the process of their decline wasn't being driven by their replacement.
Portentous statements will be made, great declarations will be delivered, many issues will be debated. But the winds of change sweeping around the world, the process of disintermediation and the tools that are driving new ways of sharing information, thoughts, collaboration and innovation are not going to be among the many things the Forum considers seriously. The Middle East media, remember, is still launching newspapers.
It's as if we're making a virtue of being behind the curve - a curve we continue to lag ever more as we fail to teach online skills in schools and retard adoption through protectionism, mad pricing and content blocking.
I get the feeling that this is going to be something of a theme for this forum which features just a single session on online media, tucked in at the end of day one's proceedings. This panel (led by the BBC's Hossam Al Sokkari) will feature Google's regional manager and is the reason the forum will get to hear from its one, lone, blogger - an Algerian called Issam Hamoud.
One social media figure among all those media glitterati in this two-day media-fest. One 'public voice'. One ambassador for the 'new media'.
It reminds me a little of Michael Moorcock's excellent Brothel In Rosenstrasse (The book is, incidentally, most certainly NSFW, part of its quirky charm). The enemy army is on the borders of the city, but life goes on inside the brothel, unchallenged for the moment by the changes taking place outside, a bright burning of licentiousness in negation of the great and inevitable truth that's all around.
Until, suddenly, everything is rapidly, inevitably swept away along with the world that existed before it.
Legacy media is not going to be killed by social media, despite the much-publicised declines and closures. But it is being transformed by it - and those who are not driving that change are likely going to be swept aside by it.
The Arab Media Forum has, IMHO, missed a trick. So, arguably, has the Arab Media.
But Amr Moussa knows what's going on, at least...