The failure of the event can really be determined by how media were mismanaged from the beginning.
It was always going to be a balancing act keeping the credibility of the global environmental talk shop COP28 in check while holding it in a country where they are producing fossil fuels like it is going out of fashion.
It might not have been a wise choice of the UAE’s president Mohamed Bin Zaid to give the top job of presiding over the event to the oil minister and the boss of the national oil company, but it was equally unwise for Sultan al-Jabar to have used the event as a way of promoting the UAE and its oil production to other countries.
Something about that smacks of shooting yourself in the foot and perhaps Mr Al Jabar’s denials and feigned innocence at the opening day press conference just made the whole fiasco even more of a farce than it already was.
The UAE tycoon just lowered himself into the vat of sulphuric acid when – in media terms – he couldn’t pull off the ultimate stunt that all politicians dream of but very few actually achieve: to lie to the press and get away with it.
Lazy journalists might have just left it at that. But then they started to look more closely at Mr Al Jaber who had paid Lynton Cosby, the infamous Australian media and political consultant to handle all the PR for the event – and decided that the Emirate minister’s unchecked, feral speaking needed a closer look.
It didn’t take much digging to find even more controversy days earlier when he more or less mocked the science behind climate change in defence of fossil fuels, leading many to ask how did the UAE get this gig in the first place and couldn’t its elite have chosen someone with more media elan?
The failure of the event can really be determined by how media were mismanaged from the beginning when the early signs were there back in January when the Guardian launched its first attack against Mr Al Jaber questioning his credentials.
That might have been a good indicator that Jaber and his team needed to listen and learn with a serious of crisis management media training sessions which Mr Cosby should have set up and wheeled in the grey haired retired journalists in London to help with the dummy interviews.
But presumably, being someone who has enjoyed silencing the press – the UAE has probably one of the most servile press in the world, often with media outlets running front page stories about the elite opening a shopping mall or just repeating one of their tweets – it was little surprise that Jaber believed that the world’s press wouldn’t turn against him.
The old story that when you mess up media, you become the story, became the story. Jaber, within a matter of hours, became the focus of attention by journalists who were the to find a good story and didn’t find one from the organised conferences and hullabaloo.
The UAE needs to think much more about international media if it is going to court the attention of the world.
Its elite need to wake up and realise that international press whose journalists fly in and leave a few days later are working from a very different hymn sheet than the local expats who work for The National, which despite huffing and puffing and blowing hot for Jaber right from the beginning made no impact whatsoever on global opinion which has written off the event as an unprecedented PR disaster.
Indeed, it was Yanis Varoufakis, a media darling and former Greek Finance minister who put it so succinctly on Twitter:
“UN Chief denounces COP28’s President. What did they expect? Appointing Sultan al-Jaber, the head of UAE’s oil company, as Head of COP28 was like appointing the leader of a pack of wolves to preside over a conference on making the world vegan”.
The UAE doesn’t have a satire magazine like Private Eye so we won’t pity those who were robbed of the opportunity to lay on the irony hard and thick.
But the lessons are there for the royals of the UAE who must be dumbfounded by the calamity of the event and just how much the whole event has become an international laughing stock. Perhaps think about media more next time?
By Martin Jay
Published by SCF
Republished by The 21st Century
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of 21cir.com.