The international guests of honor this year will include some current Heads of State and Government. The Forum will also feature other distinguished opinion leaders, eminent political thinkers, decision – makers and members of parliament, renowned businessmen, academics, media figures and international organizations. These participants will contribute to a free, learned and stimulating debate on each of the many topics on the Forum's agenda, with a focus on the Arab Spring, the global financial and economic crisis, International Cooperation, Global Economy, Development, Human Rights and Digital Media.
The 13th Doha Forum will be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the State of Qatar from 20-22 May, 2013. It will be attended by more than 600 participants representing over 80 countries and organizations.
Doha, 21 May 2013: Government efforts to control social media are doomed to fail as a dramatic changes in the world of news and communication create a new public sphere that forces governments to take heed of the views of ordinary people,panellists at the Doha Forum said on Tuesday.
But the participants in the ‘Digital Media’ seminar said explosion of new media presented challenges for traditional media outlets as well as for media ethics, with an explosion of information where it is often difficult to decide fact from fiction and inflammatory material can reach millions in no time.
“When we talk about social media we mean digital media and we come to the word ‘empowerment’. The traditional gatekeepers, primarily governments,are being pushed out of the way,” said Philip Seib, former U.S. ambassador and director of theCenter for Public Diplomacy. “People expect a steady flow of information... and expect to participate in the conversation. The social contract as it relates to communication has been rewritten.”
Created in 2006, the social networking site Twitter had over 500 million registered users in 2012, generating over 340 million tweets daily, while Facebook, set up in 2004, has 1.1 billion users. YouTube, a site where users can upload, view and share videos, does not even require registration.
Mobile phones are accelerating the new media revolution even further. “There are 7 billion people on the planet and 6 billion mobile phone users. Most are not like overpriced phones, they are simply for telephone conversation and text messaging. But by 2020 every mobile phone will be a smart phone,” said Seib. “You can think of what that means in terms of people’s ability to connect to the Internet throughout the world.”
This media revolution played a role in enabling people to organise protests during the Arab Spring two years ago, Seib said. “We all know that social media was a factor in the uprisings of 2011. The one great example is the Facebook page ‘We are all Khaled Said’,” he said, referring to an Egyptian whose death at the hands of police in 2010 helped galvanize Egyptians to take to the streets.“It showed how you can expand the breadth of communication and construct networks, though it’s importantto recognize that digital media are only tools: there’s no ‘Facebook revolution’ – it was the Egyptian revolution or the Tunisian revolution.”
At the same time, violent anti-U.S. protests around the world last year over an anti-Islam film made by an Egyptian in the United States showed the dangerous power of new media. It went viral via YouTube and other media. “It showed the social media power of YouTube and word spread through Twitter and Facebook,” Seib said. “Remember, that could not have happened 10 years ago, the avenues were not there. It’s a very new phenomenon; if someone had made that video 10 years ago there would have been no way it could have got out.”
This power was presenting challenges for traditional media, other participants said. “For us it's a big challenge. Your audienceare mostly consuming content online,” said SoudHaidar, senior analyst at the new media department of Qatar’s Al Jazeera news network. He said it was often difficult to verify material provided to news outlets from YouTube, leading to difficult judgement calls, especially with regard to the Syrian conflict where each side often uses video clips captured on phones to publicize atrocities. “With the videos we see on YouTube,the quality isn't good,” Haidar said.
Mahmoud AlamEldin, Vice Dean of Cairo University’s Mass Media College, said Egyptian authorities were alarmed recently by the role of Facebook in an attack by Islamists on the seat of the Coptic Christian Church in Cairo.“Sectarianism can spread from a word on Facebook, and the fear of social media is increasing (for government),” he said.
Mohamed Ahmed Fayyad, media consultant at the Bahrain Centre for Eastern Studies, also highlighted dangers, saying users of social media should try to act responsibly. “We all know that media was the other face of politics of the government, but today social and digital media are the other face of diplomacy, and it is popular diplomacy… Every citizen has become an ambassador for his country, even if they are not official ambassadors,” he said, noting that citizens now often found themselves talking directly to government officials online.
In Bahrain, where pro- and anti-government supporters took massively to Twitter after Arab Spring protests were crushed in 2011, opposition figures have engaged in public banter with officials such as the Bahraini foreign minister.
Fayyad also suggested that owners of social media platforms, such as websites with forums, could have ulterior motives. “Given financial gains of social media owners, they are part of a dangerous game. They are willing to change the rules of the game according to who pays more. Some use digital media to express opinions and could try to change public opinion for their interests,” he said. One audience member rejected this, saying this represented the old mentality of the regimes overthrown in Egypt and Tunisia.
Most panellists agreed that traditional media would adapt to new digital media and there was value in news being verified in known outlets after initially spreading on social media. Newsweek magazine last year ditched its print edition and went completely digital.
“The Wall Street Journal made its site pay only and then its number of subscribers rose because of the high level of content. Investigative journalism is one characteristic of traditional media that is lacking in new media," said Atef Al-Saadawi, chief editor of Democracy magazine, published by the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.