Around 100 Journalists from 15 European countries and from 10 Arab countries are in Brussels to discuss how the media can assist in the transition to democracy.
The seminar is called Euro-Med Relations in the wake of the Arab Spring.
It was quite complicated to even find the right entrance to the right building in the right conference room, but hey, that’s Brussels for you. Smiling young people here on stagiaires were on hand, however, to guide us through the maze which is the Euro Parliament.
Once accredit ion and registration were completed we began…
And the journalist to my left promptly fell asleep.
Gianni Pitella the EP Vice President for Euro-Med relations received the first applause when he pointed out that during the revolutions all his country Italy was concerned about was how many immigrants would end up on Lampedusa.
Franziska Brantner spokesperson for the Greens/EFA pointed out that we should not give up on newspapers which can analyse and research an article properly unlike the limitations of Facebook and even more so, Twitter. she added that social media are just a tool..it’s what you do that actually counts. As an example, the Erasmus programme for North Africa is said to have tripled but in real terms the number of places have increased from 200 to 600, which is not much.
The real implications of the Arab Spring came to light with interventions from the floor by Arab journalists who spoke about what is happening. In Morocco there has been no real change so no aid is forthcoming from the EU and the journalist only received a visa for three days.
A passionate Gaza journalist spoke of a condescending attitude by the EU towards the Arab Spring “it has not solved our problems..and it was not just about poverty and unemployment but human dignity.”
There was a tangible air of scepticism shown by many journalists from the Middle East especially towards EU stands on pending issues.
Inevitably the situation in Libya cropped up repeatedly but while politicians spoke about strengthening of the independent media, journalists from that country were asking about funding for the country to get back on its feet. To drive the point home however it was pointed out that no Syrian journalists were able to attend this seminar.
Stephen Clark spoke with animation and humour about the new EU parliament website, referring to the importance of reaching out beyond the Brussels bubble. He also noted how easy it is to spam and ruin political Facebook pages as happened with the Syria page which was closed and re-opened no less than 15 times. Flickr, YouTube and Twitter are all used by the EU parliament site while the fourth source of traffic is through Facebook.
He asked the questions everyone asks..is it enough for people to click ‘like’ on your page, what does it mean and how do your measure input and sentiment? Is Internet an indication of the real community?
David Tunney closed the first session by emphasising how crucial social media is in the Middle East. When something like “Women in The Arab World” was posted on Facebook it immediately received lots of hits. Finally he added that the new breed of journalists as a result of the Arab Spring who are new to the freedom of expression now needed to come to the next step..the establishment of a code of ethics.