Impressions from the Global Media Congress in Abu Dhabi

Recently I had the privilege to attend the Global Media Congress in Abu Dhabi. This was a wonderful opportunity and I was really lucky to be invited to attend the event as a guest of the Emirates News Agency, upon the recommendation of the UAE Embassy in Wellington. It was a great chance to use and practise my Arabic and I was surprised by just how much Arabic I was able to speak and use, both with attendees at the Global Media Congress and generally with Arabic speakers on the street in the UAE. This was hugely encouraging and motivating, especially after spending 3+ years outside the Middle East, in part due to the impact of Covid-19.

For me, the absolute highlight was being invited to give my first interview in Arabic to Dubai TV’s ‘This Morning’ programme. This was filmed on Wednesday 16 November ‘as live’ and was aired the following day, Thursday 17 November. The producer contacted me the night before and after some quick practice it was all on the next morning! Being interviewed in Arabic had been a big goal of mine but I was not sure I was ready – so it was really pleasing to take the opportunity and to succeed!

This was the first time the Global Media Congress had been held. While I knew it would be large, I was surprised by just how enormous it was. I understand there were around 10,000 delegates and hundreds of exhibitors, but it felt even larger than this.

Essentially, the GMC was a traditional conference and trade fair in one. At the venue, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), there was a large auditorium which hosted plenary sessions. Then, directly beside this, there was the main exhibition floor with all kinds of TV channels, news agencies, think tanks and other media-related businesses. I spent a lot of time going around the room and introducing myself to the various exhibitors – I made some really useful connections and met some lovely people while doing so!

One of the many highlights was seeing Sky News Arabia in action – this is one of my favourite Arabic news channels and they had a dedicated mini studio at the event, along with roving reporters and the ‘Sky News Academy’, which is a training centre for Arabic-speaking journalists. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop on body language and communication in TV news, which led by Chantal Saliba Abikhalil, one of the channel’s top presenters:

There was also a ‘conference within a conference’ in a special, box-like space on the main exhibition floor, which was called the ‘Media Future Labs’. This was an invitation-only space and I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the panel sessions which featured various figures (academics, media outlet owners and other experts) who discussed the various hot-button topics about the future of the media industry – think social media disruption, the metaverse, disinformation etc. These sessions were run under the Chatham House rule.

While the Chatham House rule does not completely prevent reporting of the contents (rather, it is attribution to individual speakers that is forbidden), when in Chatham House settings I prefer to just relax and not worry about taking notes. Photography was permitted and I took photos of the sessions I attended for the record.

The inaugural Global Media Congress was very well organised and run. Various tours and activities were organised for the attendees, including to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is one of the main sights in Abu Dhabi. While I had been to Abu Dhabi before and had visited the mosque by day, this was my first time visiting the mosque at night and it was truly magnificent.

One thing that was noticeable about the conference was that the foreign attendees were mainly from non-Western countries – I had a good chat with exhibitors from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, for example. There was also a big contingent from RT Arabic present as well. From the West, I only noticed Euronews – perhaps surprisingly, there was no sign of Deutsche Welle, France 24, the BBC etc. – even though these organisations have large Arabic outlets. There was also no sign of Qatar’s Al Jazeera, perhaps because the event was perceived to be UAE-led and dominated. Now that the first edition of the Global Media Congress has been held, perhaps there will be some reconsideration for future events, given the success of the first event.

I’d recommend anyone who is interested in the media industry to attend future events. Thanks again to everyone who made the event run so smoothly and made my attendance possible.

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