Some notes from UNESCO klatch, Doha

I got into the hotel at 1:30 a.m. last night, grabbed five hours sleep, wrote my presentation for the conference I’m at, which is jointly hosted by UNESCO and the Doha Center for Media Freedom, then have been in the conference all day. Haven’t seen much of Doha except driving through town late last night and a glimpse into the Gulf from my hotel room this morning.
We’ve had some excellent presentations, including most notably from veteran South African journo Allister Sparks. He described the current state of political discourse inside his country as “robust and passionate”, and noted that the turnout in the country’s recent election was 77.3%.
He spoke about South Africa’s deep and multi-layered multiculturalism “with eleven official languages and about the same number of religions”, and its legacies of so much violence and pain and wounding as a result of centuries of colonialism and decades of apartheid. He said he is opposed to “political correctness”, and strongly supports frankness; he called for “robust journalistic independence.”
He identified a particular problem with “cultural conformity”, in which journos come to think like and share the worldview of a small circle of contacts, often people with power, access to whom they guard jealously. The prime examples he gave of this came from the US: the behavior of the MSM press in the US in “parrotting” th administration’s accusations about WMDs… Also, Brian Ross’s uncritical use of the original, waterboardng-excusing interview with John Kiriakou; the US MSM’s pussyfooting around the semantics of calling the Israeli Wall a “separation barrier”; and its whole treatment of Hamas.
“So there’s a total communications breakdown on the issue of greatest concern to peace in the region.”
Guess he doesn’t read my stuff. Well, I’m not publishing much in the MSM any more…
Qatar is such a strange place. (Okay, what I’ve seen of it.) They have this Doha Center for Media Freedom that’s doing some very constructive and gutsy things around the world– but the press here is almost completely unfree. Just about all the work here, as in the other princedoms up and down this shore of the Gulf, is done by imported contract labor, which gives the whole place an uncomfortable, apartheid-y feel.
I see that Steve Clemons traveled here today– he’s going to another conference here, organized by Steve Spiegel of UCLA.
(Steve C. had a short post on his blog about Qatar a few minutes ago, but it’s just been taken down. Interesting…. It’s still on my RSS reader, but I won’t publish it if he doesn’t want to. Yes, there is a laudable desire not to say anything critical about one’s hosts. But where, I wonder, does that cross the line into engaging in “cultural conformity” with hosts who are engaging in some practices of, I think, justifiable concern?)
My main fascination with the Qataris is not because they have scads of money. It’s not because they manage the amazing trick of longterm hosting of both Al-Jazeera and important nodes and elements of the US military’s presence in the Gulf. It’s not because they have bought and installed little boutique versions of several big-name US universities… No, it’s because they’ve been doing some very imaginative and constructive things diplomatically to reduce tensions in the Middle East. Including, most laudably, brokering Lebanon’s Doha Agreement of last May.
In addition, they have been patiently trying to help Hamas break out of the Egyptian-imposed attempts to keep it isolated.
Also, I have to say that Al-Jazeera’s smashing of the near-total domination the “west” used to exercise over the global information/discourse environment has been an amazing achievement. AJE’s managing director, Waddah Khanfar, spoke this afternoon about their media ethics, approach to newsgathering, and stress on empowering the best field reporters they can find. I thought it was a great presentation, and goes a long way to explaining AJE’s success.
… I will have to write up my notes for the presentation I gave at a later date. I also want to write up some notes from the good discussion I had with Fleming Rose, the Danish editor who published the “Prophet” cartoons. I think neither of us persuaded the other to change her/his mind, but it was a good conversation, anyway.

9 thoughts on “Some notes from UNESCO klatch, Doha”

  1. Qatar is such a strange place. (Okay, what I’ve seen of it.)
    You still did not see a lot, so keep you big shook Helena.
    but its good for your follow heroes hiding in desert of on the cost there, they still on that land where they start the invasion of Iraq from…..

  2. Helena,
    COuls you ask AJE’s managing director, Waddah Khanfar, why the keep broadcasting Bin Laden videos and tapes also Aymen Al-Thawahiry from time to time.?
    Is this related to “their media ethics”?
    Doing this just some thing really noneneaces and odd by promosting crminal with magaphoen.
    I wish you have the currage and you do ask him on behafe of your redars..

  3. Rapid Growth
    The sovereign wealth funds (SWFs)
    At the beginning of this decade, the rise of demand for commodities driven
    by the dynamic economic growth of China, India, and other emerging economies,
    as well as the evolution of commodities as an attractive asset class, allowed
    Arab Gulf economies to benefit from a massive increase in the price of
    oil and natural gas. This windfall revenue provided the main source of funding
    for their SWFs.
    example, analysts from Morgan Stanley have argued that the value of SWFs
    assets reached $3 trillion by 2007 and is bound to increase to $12 trillion by
    2015.3 The Arab countries of the Gulf were assumed to have become home to
    some of the biggest SWFs and were estimated to be managing around $1.5
    trillion in SWF assets, including central bank reserves.
    ADIA was assumed to be by far the largest global SWF, with assets estimated
    at between $500 billion and $875 billion. SAMA was assumed to
    manage $330 billion, followed by the KIA, with more than $200 billion, and
    the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), with more than $60 billion. Smaller
    funds, such as the Mubadala Development Corporation and International
    Petroleum Investment Company, both based in Abu Dhabi, were estimated to
    have around $10 billion.
    Sovereign Wealth Funds Hit by the Financial Crisis
    The QIA stated in March 2009 that it had lost less than 20
    percent of its value in 2008. It put buying on hold and announced a review of
    its investment strategy; and it will most probably focus on commodities, such
    as food, energy, and water, in the medium-term future.10
    The value of the foreign assets of the governments
    of Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates fell from about $1
    trillion at the end of 2007 to $700 billion at the end of 2008.
    Qatar Investment Authority have been called upon to inject liquidity in collapsing
    stock markets, recapitalize banks, finance stimulus plans, and more
    generally make up for the decline in the value of oil exports.13
    Managing Arab
    Sovereign Wealth
    in Turbulent
    Sven Behrendt and
    Bassma Kodmani, Editors

  4. 22-year-old Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani spending $10M a year to become the Yankees of drag racing?
    Btw, during GAZA recent war Shaikha Mozza was in front of domination support for the Palestinians.
    many Gulf countries made propaganda donation for Gaza Palestinians as fare as news reported Saudi raise USD35M, Kuwaitis they raised USD20M I don’t know how much Qatar done but Palestinian in Gaza did received any money from those public propaganda donation hold in those shaky kingdoms and Emirates.

  5. Madame,
    In dueling the propaganda how could the ordinary people be part of the game?
    Is they too have a system to choose like the important person in making a decision that will give an impact to eliet?
    What so sure is the people have to pay to get free from being control by the demand of the system that sometime been manipulate by domination.

  6. What Sparks didn’t tell you, or you missed it, is that 99% of the editors, print and electronic, and nearly all the journalists in SA including Sparks in particular have been gunning for our President-elect and the ANC as a whole for years past. They hardly covered the ANC’s election campaign and ramped up coverage of the racist, red-baiting DA and any other anti-ANC bits and pieces they could find. But the ANC still got twice as many votes as all the rest combined.
    What this proves is that there are more mass media than people, like the ones at this conference, want to talk about. Sparks’ “robust independence” is inter alia code for a wished-for monopoly of “agenda-setting” by the bourgeois media establishment.
    The ANC used rallies, posters, pamphlets, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, cartoons, TV and radio ads, campaigning “whistle-stops” including with helicopters, and the “whole tutti” as we say, but especially it used countrywide door-to-door canvassing which the other parties don’t and can’t do because they don’t have the volunteers to do it.
    MSM-based politics was a flat bust in our election. The ANC and its allies were their own mass medium. And we won! We won!

  7. The balancing act in Qatar extends to education as well. Qatar University is notably situated outside Education City, most likely because it maintains total segregation between men and women. A friend who works there has to teach the same political science courses twice. It has some of the most repressive labour conditions in the world though it is by no means alone in the Gulf in that. And the population has doubled in the past two years from 800,000 to 1.5 million. That is evident from the total chaos of the road network in Doha and the constant traffic jams. It literally is expanding too quickly for infrastructure to keep up.

  8. A friend who works there has to teach the same political science courses twice
    Soooo, he got paid twice for teaching same subject/Hour? more money in his pocket isn’t Kristian?
    Or he is also working under “most repressive labour conditions in the world” and he can not leave from his job and go back to his comfort zone?
    It has some of the most repressive labour conditions in the world though it is by no means alone in the Gulf in that.
    When people talking about the conditions their they give impressions that those “Lines on The Sand” states have very large state owned business. but the forgot there is very private sector and larger of that in fact Western companies doing business there.
    So Yes the labour law is bad and corrupted but let not forgot who is benefits from that?
    Let refresh you minds and connecting the dots:
    After invasion of Iraq ,,

    Just below that layer are the prime contractors like Halliburton and Bechtel. Below them are dozens of smaller subcontracting companies– largely based in the Middle East — including Prime Projects International, First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting and Alargan Trading of Kuwait, Gulf Catering, Saudi Trading & Construction Company of Saudi Arabia. All recruit and employ the thousands of the foreign laborers for work in Iraq and all have experienced explosive growth since the invasion of Iraq by providing labor and services to the more high-profile prime contractors.

    So US have 283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq (March 30, 2009)
    Kristian could you tell us those an Army of Mercenaries you forgot them under what conditions they works?
    US Embassy in Baghdad built by ” the most repressive labour” for US

    An American civilian contractor has described scenes of panic and hysteria last year as Filipino construction workers were told that they were on a plane bound for Baghdad rather than Dubai.

    Passengers jumped out of their seats screaming in protest until a gun-toting air steward ordered them to sit down, claimed Rory Mayberry, an emergency medical technician travelling on the same flight.

    So Who is behind al those “most repressive labour conditions in the world” contractors and cheap labour in the gulf?
    Leave it to your imaginations…..

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