Brave, vibrant and challenging

Unafraid to tackle controversial subjects head-on, the Dubai Press Club is a pioneering organisation for writers and broadcasters that offers a place for frank and open debate. Now in its 10th anniversary year, Vision finds out more

Dubai Press Club (DPC) is 10 years old. A decade ago, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, established the organisation as a forum for journalists, broadcasters and authors to meet, mix, and discuss political, economic and social issues, and to offer a series of useful services to members.

As the first club of this sort for the media across the region, and one where frank and open debate was the order of the day, it was a pioneering move in every sense.

This foresight has been richly rewarded. Today, thanks to HH Sheikh Mohammed’s ongoing support and patronage, the DPC stands atop the media in the region and beyond, organises the hugely popular and influential annual Arab Media Forum, is at the helm of the Arab Journalism Awards, and publishes Arab Media Outlook, perhaps the single most useful documentary data about media in the region.

Today, the DPC is respected across the Middle East and its role, as an open forum for Arabic writers and reporters, is more important than ever. It remains the only official Press Club in the region, and is surely one of the most active in the world, hosting regular workshops and seminars on issues impacting regional and international socio-political scenarios, and also on strategic communications.

“People trust the DPC,” says Executive Director Maryam Bin Fahad. “They feel part of the organisation. It’s for them, and with them, and, importantly, it’s a neutral body with no agenda other than benefitting the region.”

The first major initiative undertaken by the DPC was the introduction of the Arab Journalism Awards, designed to honour the best of the best. More than 130 media professionals have been honoured in the decade since, in the highly coveted and prestigious awards that Bin Fahad calls “the Pulitzers of the region”. In its first year, the Awards attracted 700 entries. This year, they drew in around 3,400 entries in 12 categories ranging from ‘Investigative Reporting’ to ‘Media Personality of the Year’. The best ‘Young Talent’ is also recognised. The call for entries for next year’s awards is already getting under way.

Soon after the launch of the Awards, plans were in place to launch an Arab Media Forum (AMF), conceived to be the broadest media platform in the Middle East. The Forum now attracts experts from all over the world. A decade in, the extraordinary AMF welcomed 3,000 delegates to the May 2011 conference in Dubai, from as far afield as Hong Kong and Russia, and with media flying in from Egypt, Syria, Algeria and Morocco.

This year’s Forum managed to pick off the major issues and trends for Arab and international media, and addressed many of the concerns of media professionals, researchers and students.

The team had to think quickly as the media climate changed almost day-by-day in the period leading up to the events.

Bin Fahad wrote in her programme notes: “(By early January 2011) we were ready to proceed with communication to guests and speakers. All of a sudden, revolutions erupted across the region. We had to turn over the pages that we had prepared and create new ones for an entire new programme. The Forum cannot ignore the role of new media in the Arab revolutions, or avoid tackling the impact of some of the possible changes in perception of Arabs in the international media after such events. Similarly, this Forum cannot ignore the poor performance of Arab government media in covering such events, the impact of the media leaks spree, the transformation of media content and style, and other issues that have emerged…”

It was a brave, vibrant and challenging programme, designed to stimulate debate and the exchange of ideas. What other body, and where else in the region could host an event called ‘Arab media: riding out the storms of change’ – and in May, so close to the ‘Arab Spring’ itself?

It is easy to see why the DPC is so respected, when the opening session alone attracted 1,400 delegates. According to Bin Fahad those delegates “feel ownership of the Forum”.

Sustaining the high level of content will always be a challenge, and the DPC team are already steeling themselves, and starting the planning process, for AMF 2012, which will take place in the final week of April next year.

Sitting alongside the Arab Journalism Awards and the AMF is a third, vitally important, pillar in the DPC’s activities: the Arab Media Outlook (AMO).

Launched in 2007, the AMO features comprehensive research about media in the Middle East, aimed to complement the Forum, and to help it improve further, based on the qualitative information and analysis that it provides. Now into its third edition – called Arab Media Outlook 2009–2013: Inspiring Local Content – it is a highly valuable industry-driven study ‘of and from’ the region, packed full of real data, drawn from across 15 countries, to assist content providers to better understand the changing marketplace. “It’s a great reference document,” says Bin Fahad.

The Outlook also examines trends, characteristics and issues that concern both traditional and new media over a five-year timeline.

Interviews for the next edition will take place from October to December, with publication during late January or February. With changes still happening so fast, it will be an eagerly awaited document.

The energetic, talented and young Dubai Press Club executive is also working on the introduction of an exciting new package of benefits for the 800 or so members of the Club – a raft of new professional resources that will be introduced in the New Year.

“It’s not just about being a venue,” says the Executive Director, “it’s about the DPC being ‘in members’ minds’ wherever they go and whatever they are doing.”

Thanks to the leadership and skill of Bin Fahad, the DPC team – and, of course, the foresight and support of HH Sheikh Mohammed – the DPC has become a focal point for media across the Middle East. In an era where some countries still seek to shape and control the media, the UAE should be rightly proud of providing this widely valued forum for discussion.