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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 00:30 GMT
Media focus on summit disagreements
Arab summit in Beirut
The press were kept away from the main conference
This is the last in a series of despatches from the BBC's Roger Hearing, who is in the Lebanese capital for the Arab League summit meeting.

Journalists are, heaven knows, not the sort of people you would want your daughter to marry - but it is only really at summit conferences that we fully realise quite how unloved we truly are.

The media is there after all to report on what happens - and the conference organisers and participants know that a good half of what is said or done in the real business of the meeting could not possibly be revealed to an impressionable public.

So the reporters are kept at as great a distance as possible, and firmly in the dark.

Until, of course, as happened in Beirut this week, the quarrelling starts amongst the delegates.

Dispute and disagreement

Once the Palestinians felt their dignity had been undermined by the delay in receiving the televised speech of Yasser Arafat on Wednesday, they stomped off to their rooms in the Phoenicia Hotel.

Palestinian soldier watching Arafat on TV
The Palestinians got annoyed when Arafat's TV link was blocked
Then they picked up the phones and began to brief the journalists half a mile away in the group of tents around the fenced-in press centre.

Suddenly the Lebanese organisers felt their dull and worthy meeting in a damp seaside city risked becoming a story of drama and anger.

It was so serious was that the culture minister left the safety of the Phoenicia to come over and tell us it was all untrue. And we believed him, of course.

Just as much as we believed all those forms we carefully filled in requesting interviews with, frankly, anyone we could think of - the king of Morocco, the sultan of Oman, the president of the Comoros - knowing that this was in reality a way of keeping us both occupied and hopeful.

Media scrum

Meanwhile over at the Phoenicia, the more resourceful journalists had found some bogus excuse for slipping past security and hiding among the potted palms in the lobby, waiting to pounce on anyone who looked important.

UN building in Beirut
The Lebanese organisers wanted to show their city in the best possible light
An increasingly desperate string quartet scraped away at Bach cantatas over the rumble of reporters muttering into mobile phones.

Since everyone was trying to look as if they were supposed to be there, it was hard looking across the sea of turbans, fezzes and military caps, to tell who exactly was worth cornering for an interview.

There was utter chaos when the last conference session finally broke up, and the dignified leaders of the Arab world had to run the gauntlet of cameras, lights and microphones as they came out of the hotel lift and made for their waiting Mercedes.

And after the media scrum had packed up and gone, hundreds of copies of the final statement of this summit - the Beirut declaration, as it is sure to be called - were left fluttering across the car park.

It is the substance of the conference and the reason it will be remembered. But for now the impression of disputes and disorganisation ranks higher, at least for those of us who spent this week firmly outside the tent.


Read Roger Hearing's earlier despatches from the Arab League summit:

Legacy of the seige of Beirut
Bright Beirut offers template for peace

See also:

28 Mar 02 | Media reports
Text: Beirut Declaration
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs offer Israelis peace plan
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arafat row overshadows summit successes
26 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bright Beirut offers template for peace
27 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arab summit: Egyptian view
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