Don't expect regular liveblogging of the al-Jazeera Forum, but I thought I'd take the opportunity of being wide away with my computer at 12:30 AM to post something...
I always find these huge conventions a bit surreal. I keep having the kinds of experience I can only imagine that I would have at a Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention: "hey, do you think that's Ahmed Mansour?" (answer: yes) and "Do you think Fahmy Howeidy would find it rude if I walked up to his table to say hi?" (answer: no, a perfect gentleman) and that sort of thing.
Anyway, after meeting with the BBC/Doha Debates team this morning, I took the obligatory tour of al-Jazeera. Very neat. Then I had a very nice lunch with Issander el-Amrani, and sat with Hugh Miles (who I had never met before) at the opening press conference. I saw General Anthony Zinni, who was in town for a different event, but didn't get to chat (Bill Clinton was here yesterday, but I didn't see him).
Then it was time for the opening press conference. All anyone wants to talk about is al-Jazeera International. I had been hearing rumours from well-placed sources that the tension between the Arabic and English stations had been growing, and that the English management had been going around saying that there would be no cooperation at all between the two networks. Well, they were singing a different tune in public today: both Wadah Khanfar (al-Jazeera) and Nigel Parsons (International) talked at great length about how much editorial coordination there has been, how much the two stations will draw on each other, and so forth. Now all anyone wants to talk about is why they are presenting that particular public front.
And, then, off to the Doha Debates. It was a trip, an extremely lively discussion helped on by Tim Sebastian's characteristically acerbic questioning. Khaled al-Hroub was my partner, while Mona Eltahawy and Abdullah Schlieffer argued the other side. The motion on the floor was "resolved: the Arab media needs no lessons in journalism from the West." I'll refrain from discussing the contents of the discussion until it airs this weekend (BBC World, both Saturday and Sunday - though how the producers are going to edit a fast, intense 90 minute event into a 46 minute broadcast is beyond me... good luck with that!).
But just a few quick comments: Mona is really a terrifically effective speaker (at dinner, Khaled told her that after listening to her he wanted to vote for her side). The way the program is structured, with lots of questions to the panel from an audience of students (and expats and various worthies who happened to be in Doha tonight), most reminded me of Ghassan bin Jidu's Hiwar Maftuh program on al-Jazeera - except in English. The audience asked some great questions, and really seemed to be in to it. I have to say that people are really obsessed with this Danish cartoons deal - there must have been four different questions about it. Israel and Palestine are still very much on peoples' minds. And I'll just say again that I never did like the wording of the question much....
And now, off to bed. My panel is 9:00 tomorrow morning, and then after that I'll be splitting time between watching panels and hanging out with people. If you're an Abu Aardvark reader and you see me wandering, please do say hi! Let's just hope that I don't blush when I finally meet Jumana al-Namour, or at least that she has a sense of humor!