Twin Towers: home of the Dubai Press Club
Press freedom is being eroded by a worldwide tendency to view events of global significance, such as the World Trade Center attacks, in the same way, an international media conference was told this week.
And the powerful influence of the US was responsible, according to speakers in a session on freedom of the press in developing countries.
"Violence and terror was not invented on 11 September. Why has it become such an all-consuming issue, dominating the international debate on terrorism? Because the United States was hit," said columnist Ayaz Amir of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
"Globalisation is not leading to diversity of opinion. It is leading to a new kind of conformity in which the power of disseminating information, comment, news and analysis is getting into fewer and fewer hands," he went on.
"When world events take place there is an increasing tendency to view them in the same way."
Amir, a highly respected columnist who has been writing on Middle Eastern affairs for more than 20 years, pointed to the way that world opinion has shifted on the subject of Afghanistan.
Speaking at the International Media Summit at the Dubai Press Club, he said: "In the Eighties, we looked upon Afghanistan in a completely different way. Just as we are in the throes of a new form of jihad against terrorism there was a different kind of jihad in the Eighties and the demons and villains of today were the great heroes of yesterday."
Amir insisted he was not trying either to elevate or damn any specific viewpoint, simply to highlight the way world events were now viewed "through a particular set of spectacles".
It was a similar situation in relation to Palestine, he said, and countries that "lay claim to the greatest freedom of expression" were dominated by a conformity of opinion. He criticised the Arab press for not exercising "political and intellectual power".
"Why is it that if an international crisis breaks out, the media pack that descends on it is predominantly western? Why doesn’t the Arab world go?"
But he praised Arab television station Al-Jazeera for "breaking the mould" by running the Osama bin Laden tapes and getting the attention of not just the Arab world, but the whole world because it was "playing a different tune".
Editor-in-chief of The Times of Oman, Essa Mohammed al Zedjali, also called on world media to focus on the root causes of terrorism. "The international community is duty bound to tackle head on problems facing the long-suffering Palestinians," he said.
By Philippa Kennedy in Dubai