The Financial Times ‘society, media and technology summit 2009’ opened yesterday, with a number of experts discussing the central theme of competition and collaboration in the post-crisis economy.
Jayne van Hoen, official for Financial Times global conferences and events, said: “Media consumption in the Middle East is changing daily, with escalating demand for real-time news and mobile entertainment, international operators seeking a foothold in this exciting region need to deliver the right content via the right technologies, while adapting their revenue models to today’s market reality.”
“This summit brings together global leaders from the broadcast, publishing, telecommunications and technology industries to define the new principles on which the future of media and telecommunications in the Middle East will be based,” she added.
The keynote opening speaker was Lebanon’s Minister of Information, Tarik Mitri, who discussed issues related to freedom of press in the region, arguing that although there are legal restrictions in many countries throughout the region, these are not the only obstacles to freedom of the press.
“Other threats – extra-legal intimidation – are more important than aggressive press laws,” he argued, before referring to self-censorship: “self-control is important, but self-censorship is rarely voluntary, rather it is the internalisation of social pressures.”
Mitri proposed that a comprehensive set of ethics is needed to maintain credibility in the media and ensure freedom of information. But he argued that this must not be a government initiative, and instead should be formed by media experts themselves. He also warned that any code “must avoid the pitfall of ideological control.”
The opening session of the conference focused on ‘the future of media consumption in the Middle East,’ and featured experts from the world of technology, media and social development who all gave their opinions on how the media will continue to develop in line with technological advancements in the coming years.
Executive vice president and managing director of the emerging markets group at MTV Networks International, Banvheet Singh; chief technology officer from Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), Ahmad al-Yamani; group chief strategy officer from Etisalat, Ali al-Ahmed and managing editor of Gulf Times, Neil Cook, all addressed the conference, speaking about the importance of collaboration between the media and new technology for the future.
Singh explained that TV consumption was still on the up in the region, and said that unlike other ‘stagnant markets’ such as Europe, the Middle East and North African regions still offered a lot of possibilities for growth.
Al-Yamani spoke about the technological and telecommunications possibilities for the region, such as SAGIA’s ‘smart city’ developments, and the media needed for its inhabitants.
Al-Ahmed then spoke about mobile phone content, and claimed that local content would have to be produced if the concept was to be successful in the region.
Cook said that it was essential that newspapers form partnerships with other technological companies to provide more content for their readers, such as web logs and video streaming.
He also argued that the future for print media in the region is “bright”, arguing: “There are several inter-linked reasons for optimism, but the two drivers of growth will be education and demographics.”
“A staggering 30% of the population in the Gulf is under 14 years of age, and that vital generation is reaping the rewards of massive government investment in all areas of education,” he added.
“As the region develops and there becomes a greater emphasis on building knowledge-based economies the media will need to adapt to this change.”
Cook added: “Owners and senior managers of media companies have to buy into the fact that we live in changing and exciting times and recognise the need to invest in the future.”
The conference continued with sessions on subjects such as ‘rethinking revenue models in a rapidly converging market,’ ‘content creation for tomorrow’s multi-platform consumer,’ and ‘the outlook for the Middle East advertising industry in 2009.’
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