blogging the 4th Arab Media Forum in Dubai
and Impressions on the 4th Arab Media Forum
It’s over. Apart from the official dinner and prizes tonight, the conference and sessions have just finished. We’ve had our bloggers’ session this afternoon and it was brilliant! Good organisation, good attendance and very good questions from the audience.
Chairing the panel was Ms. Dalia El Farra, Ms. Anisa Al-Sharif, a UAE national and personal blogger, tackled the experience of blogging and how some blogs were quite literally stepping into traditional media spheres. She specifically brought to our attention the “Jar Al-Qamar” blog which was the first to break the story of the sectarian strife in Alexandria, and stressed that this will not be the last that we will find bloggers publishing news as it happens.
Dr. Emad Basheer, the director of the Lebanese University’s College of Media came all prepared with a good 7 pages for his talk which was very worthwhile. He described the start of blogging with the Sumerians in about 4000BC! And explained the various eras it went through. He of course was treating the “phenomenon” of blogging as diarists; looking at it this way, I can see where he was going. Anyway, he explained the distinct 4 eras of blogging as starting in ancient times with the Sumerians as it was them who first developed the act of writing, then it went on to the creation of the Gutenberg Press in the 1400s â€“ if you discount the Chinese and Japanese printing presses which are supposed to have predated the Gutenberg Press in the 1100s and 1200s. Onwards to 1946 when the first computer was invented, and then of course with the prevalence of the dial-up communications and then ultimately the internet.
Following on from his presentation â€“ which I will try to get and post here as it is interesting â€“ I started where he finished and said that I started blogging in 1986!
Well it’s true! I had created one of the first BBSs (bulletin board services) in the area and called it Stray Cats BBS. We had quite a few members at that time and what we did is very similar to blogging today, it was a collection of chronologically organised entries to which people commented. After that we went into forums and then as we have today the current structure of the blog. Sure, the terms “weblog” and “blog” only came a lot later than ’86, but if we take Dr. Basheer’s paradigm, then a lot of us (dinosaurs!) have been blogging since the BBS days.
My talk (which lasted a lot shorter than Dr. Basheer’s I might add, and I told the audience to clap when I felt that I had bored them enough :)) concentrated on the issues of credibility and anonymity in blogging. Core issues which have been discussed time and again in virtually all the sessions at the conference. I explained that credibility in blogs is gained by peer-review, in which if any reader disagrees with anything that a blogger has written, it is very simple to call him up on the facts by commenting on the piece. If commenting is not allowed on that particular blog, then a link is created into the objector’s blog referring back to the original article and he would expose his thoughts and why he thinks that the other writer is wrong. Through this process, the community itself takes care of reviewing and ensuring credibility is only granted to those who deserve it, that of course is evidenced by the number of links there are to a particular blog or article, and it is this that created good feedback sites like Technorati and The Truth Laid Bear’s EcoSystem which track these links.
As to the anonymity question, I maintain that the best way to gain credibility is to fully disclose who you are, and that you must stand behind your beliefs and writings. Once people actually get to know who you are, they can completely discount you and concentrate on your message. If they don’t know who you are, then that’s just another question-mark that lingers in their minds, detracting them from the idea you are discussing.
However, I also recognised that in our particular world it is not always practical to be known and I gave the example of Rabah Al-Quwayi who has simply called for taking nothing for granted in one of the many online forums in Saudi and he got a message-wrapped brick thrown at his car’s windshield! The message was a death threat. His troubles didn’t stop there, for when he went to the police station to lodge a complaint, the religious police at the station apprehended him and threw him in prison because “his beliefs were in doubt!” So the danger is always present not only from the governments, but even more from the community itself.
So in my personal view, the ideas are the most important things, rather than the person writing them; however, it does generally add to the story’s credibility if its author is known.
Questions from the floor were very interesting again, and once again continued to try to find ways to delineate blogging from traditional journalism, using the credibility issues, the immediacy of electronic publishing without an overseer, the absence of a code of ethics for bloggers, etc. These questions of course were raised by journalists rather than bloggers, who were almost absent form the forum! I’ve only met a couple of them who bothered to identify themselves as bloggers (some where even very guarded and wouldn’t give me their URLs â€“ hint hint!) Nevertheless, I think discussing these issues are very important indeed, as it is the first step in getting traditional journalists to hear our views on the subject first-hand, and hopefully will transmit these thoughts to their readers that we are real people whose intentions are not far removed from “real” journalists.
That is not to say of course that there are no trivial blogs floating around, or trivial posts for that matter. Of course there are, and that is fine because blogging â€“ may I remind you once again â€“ is nothing more than a chronologically sorted personal diary entries. It could be as mundane as that, but I think as blogging became much more accepted now, even to the extent of having an ancient and trusted news agency like Reuters sourcing blogs, some are more serious than others, and it is up to the reader him or herself to make up their minds as to the credibility of the information presented, and how it is to be consumed by them.
Unfortunately the hour whizzed by, and as there was another session booked in the same room after us, we couldn’t take any more questions from the floor. Once I walked out of the conference room; however, I was cornered by KM Rakesh, the chief reporter at The Gulf Today for an impromptu interview, which lasted for more than half an hour, I hope he got the story he was looking for. Immediately after that I was cornered by “IN TV” crew for a television interview which again was off the cuff, the questions asked were good, and I hope that I have answered them sufficiently, but for a station whose newscast is not more than 6 minutes, they will have to do some serious editing to fit what I’ve said into their program… they’ll probably shorten it to the worst sound-bite in history! If any of you guys see it, can you let me know how it went? I don’t get that channel on the hotel’s TV…
In between the end of the session and the start of the interviews, I met a friend whom I have not met for about 6 or 8 years! It was wonderful to see Abdul Hamid Al-Zaidi, an old friend from Kuwait again. We have both moved from what we did all those years ago, and Abdul Hamid now manages a group of companies, one of which is â€“ believe it or not â€“ Arab Broadcast Forum to which he kindly invited me to participate in at their next session. I of course would love to, and shall give you more information about that whenever I receive them.
It’s 6:20pm as I write this, another hour before go to the presentation dinner which I am looking forward to. I so love meeting new people, and these intellectuals I have been privileged to meet and listen to them voice their concerns and suggest ways in which to fix our media situation, their thoughts on democracy, on extremism and the rest of the issues discussed is at worst enriching, and at best gives one hope that it is not all gloom and doom in the Arab world. As long as people like these worthy ladies and gentlemen are around, and as long as they are given a platform to share their ideas as in this forum, we will get there sooner than a lot of people think.
The train of reform has certainly left the station, and you’d better get on it and join the reform process, or get left behind.
One closing remark that I said for the IN TV interview I shall leave you with: I was asked â€“ to the effect â€“ what would happen if this reform stops and if it is effective for the various regimes in the Arab region; I replied that “we only have to look to our East to find out the results of not getting on the train, we only have to look at Kathmandu.”