The long-running battle between traditional media and internet companies reached new heights yesterday in Abu Dhabi as the industry's two biggest protagonists gave their views on the future. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, opened the Abu Dhabi Media Summit with a keynote speech that stressed media creators, not electronic device makers or news aggregators, were central to the modern internet.
"The bright and shiny wonders that technology gives us can be like the desert sun: they can blind us to what is real and valuable," Mr Murdoch said. "Amid the digital dazzle, we risk missing the magic, the creative content that brings these devices to life. "What is a Kindle or an e-reader worth without books or newspapers or magazines to read on them? The answer is this: without creative content, these electronic devices are merely expensive playthings."
But Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, said media companies would need to embrace widespread sharing and creation of content, the importance of mobile devices, and a growing demand by the public for digital content. "As these trends converge, we are all bearing witness to a remarkable transformation. Information scarcity is giving way to information ubiquity," he writes in an opinion piece in The National today.
"The economist Joseph Schumpeter famously observed that capitalism inevitably leads to a 'perennial gale of creative destruction'. This next gale is going to be bigger than ever." Mr Schmidt will deliver a keynote address this afternoon. In November, Mr Murdoch said in an interview on Sky News Australia that he might remove his newspapers' content from Google to encourage readers to pay for content online.
He accused Google and Microsoft of stealing stories from News Corp papers such as The Sun and The Times in the UK, and said he was considering removing them from the search index once News had its planned paywall in place. A spokesman for Google said news groups had the right to remove themselves, but few chose to as Google provided "a tremendous source of promotion for news organisations, sending them about 100,000 clicks every minute".
The debate over who will pay the costs of producing media, and who will earn and distribute that revenue, is expected to play a central role at the summit, which closes tomorrow afternoon. Mohamed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Media Company, the publisher of The National, opened the summit with a commitment to invest heavily in the local media industry. "The media industry here can arguably play a greater role in the development of society than almost anywhere else in the world," Mr al Mazrouei said.
"In short, media matters. Media touches all of us, no matter our nationality, no matter our age, no matter our interests." Mr Murdoch added the investments his company had made in the region, including recently announced deals to expand its stake in Saudi Arabia's Rotana media group and open a regional office in Abu Dhabi, represented a long-term vote of confidence in the emergence of a significant creative industry in the Arab world.
The Abu Dhabi 2030 plan is "visionary", he said, praising the emirate's ambition to become a creative and cultural hub "that is modern, that is global, and that is fully Arab". The emergence of a regional creative industry will better integrate the region with the world, Mr Murdoch said. "By unlocking the creativity of your people, you can diversify your economy, provide millions of jobs for a rising generation and give the Arab people a global voice and influence commensurate with your importance."