Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Arab Media Forum Faces New Media Challenges. Shock Horror.

This is in no way a gratuitous plug for the 'book of the blog,' you understand.

This blog, as readers of Fake Plastic Souks - The Glory Years will know, started around The Arab Media Forum 2007. This was mere coincidence, not by any means a result of the forum which I have never attended and likely never will attend. In fact, as the first post attests, we were sitting at home eating Lebanese takeaway.

There seems to be even more intense debate at this year's forum (judging from the reports one sees on Twitter) about the 'role of new media' and all that. It's an interesting debate - some may argue taking place a little late in the day - particularly in this region, where reporting is so very dangerous and the conflicts so very real - and, as all conflicts necessarily are - polarised and messy. Making sense of these things is tough, dangerous and hard - journalism, true journalism, is a thankless and wearying job. But some people are just plagued with that need to delve down to uncover the truth and then get it out there into our hands so we can make more informed judgements about the world around us.

Shame there are all too few of these in the Middle East, but that's the breaks.

The Great Debate, of course, has moved on. It's no longer about whether digital media are relevant, but whether traditional media is relevant. You'd hardly have thought that from the Forum, which includes the session, "Digital Media: Authority Without Responsibility". Apart from a few 'digital heads' the debate at the Forum remains principally analogue and although there are nods to a process of transition, there is no sense that this transition could easily well take the form of disintermediation.

The Forum's first session was, in fact, "Conventional Media vs. New Media" - the program outlines the problem as this:
News industry is remarkably challenged by the emerging “new media” platforms. This synthetic prelim produced unprecedented dilemma for traditional journalism and undoubtedly added more complications.

Of course, what the debate lacks is a sense of where humanity's eyeballs are going. Are people consuming as much local media as before? Does it carry as much weight with the public? Is the Arab News media seen as credible compared to online and first hand sources? Where are people going for news these days? Gulf News or the Daily Mail Online?

That research could have underpinned a viable and vibrant debate framed by the scale of the challenge facing print media and the practicses of print media journalism. Events in Syria and even the recent Beirut bombing which I posted about at length here, comparing Twitter to a Lorenzian water wheel, have shown that trying to adapt conventional 'big' media reporting to Twitter and YouTube can have disastrous effects - and have arguably eroded the weight we give to mainstream media. Never has there been more need for careful, considered journalism - and never have we seen so little of just that.

Instead, we have the same old ground being gone over - with a distinct under-representation of the 'new media' everyone is so upset about (although nice to see Maha from Google there). Although it's nice for everyone from the region's media to get together for a chat, I can't help but feel the actual eyeballs have, well, moved on...

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