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Hacks and flacks chew the fat at the Bahri Bar

An informal summer meet is an excellent opportunity for gossip and contact harvesting

Tongues loosen as the drinks flow at the "hacks" and "flacks" get together Creative Commons/DMCA
Tongues loosen as the drinks flow at the "hacks" and "flacks" get-together

What do journalists and PR executives talk about when they gather over a glass or two? Just about everything, it would seem, judging by an event in Dubai this week – and with a good deal of nonsense thrown in for good measure.

The bi-annual gathering of the phenomenon that has come to be known as “Hacks ‘n’ Flacks” took place at the swanky Bahri Bar at the Mina A’Salaam hotel in Madinat Jumeirah on Wednesday evening. It was a well attended and convivial affair, with more than 100 people at its height, I’d estimate.

The event – largely the creation of Simeon Kerr, the Financial Times Gulf correspondent – has been going for the best part of a decade.

It began as an opportunity for “hacks” (journalists) to share a glass of Christmas cheer with the “flacks” (public relations people) and swap stories about the media industry in the region. It was such a success at Yuletide that popular clamour demanded a summer version.

Kerr – surely the best-connected hack in the Gulf – must be seriously considering downsizing the day job and focusing on events management. There must be a way to monetise the networking and door-opening opportunities of the event. Maybe a monthly iteration?

For supposed enemies, the hacks and the flacks rub shoulders pretty comfortably on the social scene.

Some of the more earnest journalists occasionally use the gathering as an opportunity for story harvesting, but that is generally discouraged – though the contacts made at the event can be put to good use when the party is over.

Much of the conversation is banter and greeting. “Oh, how are you? It’s been years! Are you still pushing out spin and exaggeration on behalf of X,” a journo might ask, only half jokingly.

“Long time. Are you still making stories up for Y (name of media organisation),” the flack might reply.

Those kinds of conversation can go either way, though in the general air of good-natured bonhomie, they generally end pretty amicably.

There is no agenda as such. Given the fact that all these people are in the news business in some way or other, hot topics of the day tend to dominate.

The booming Dubai economy was a recurring theme, with some concern that the “boom and bust” cycles of the past were bound to rear their heads again at some stage.

That day’s news had included reporting of the most expensive villa valuation ever recorded in the emirate – the $204 million listing of a Versailles-style palace in Emirates Hills – as well as much speculation of the identity of the vendor.

There was a Russian journalist attending for the first time, so inevitably discussion ranged to the course of the war and the conditions under which media people in the country were struggling. There are many who want to leave Moscow altogether, with Dubai a clearly preferred option for relocation.

But probably the most talked-about subject was the battering that Dubai has been getting in western media on a number of fronts recently.

If you based your opinion of the place purely on reporting in the UK and Irish media over the past couple of weeks, you’d probably be thinking of Chicago in the 1920s, all organised crime, people trafficking and tax evasion.

A sizeable minority of people in the room were involved in the looming Cop28 climate change summit, either as hacks covering it for local and international media, or flacks making a good living from the need to get the UAE’s message out there in the face of some hostility.

The overall consensus from people I discussed it with was that many of the stories – like the “shock” revelation that people at Adnoc, the UAE’s national oil company, read emails relating to climate change – were sensationalised and trivial.

The UAE should take a leaf from the Qatar World Cup notebook, as frequently suggested, by ignoring the attacks of western media who are clearly driven by their own agenda, and get on with organising a successful event in November.

As is the way with these things, the best yarns come out towards the end of the evening, when tongues are loose and discretion lessened.

I seem to have forgotten most of the details, and would probably be in jeopardy if I tried to repeat them here.

Though I do remember being introduced by a longstanding PR friend to his lovely fiancée. I congratulate them both, and humbly suggest they have a reception in the Bahri Bar to celebrate their nuptials.

Frank Kane is AGBI Editor-at-Large

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