Welcome to a new head of the Capital Club in Dubai. Christian Horvath is to take over from Emma Cullen as general manager of the place that has become one of Dubai’s most prestigious venues. I wish him all the best, but with the express recommendation that he gets the club’s media policy sorted out as quickly as possible.
Let me explain. I’m not a member of the Capital Club – it’s always seemed prohibitively expensive for a humble hack – but have enjoyed its facilities on numerous occasions.
It’s great. A little oasis in the middle of the often hectic DIFC; good food and drink; excellent working facilities; interesting clientele. What more can you ask?
Apart from being there as the guest of a member, I’ve also attended specific media events there, on invitation from the club itself. These are always worthwhile occasions. The rather more relaxed, intimate atmosphere makes for a less restrictive discussion, and allows businesspeople and (sometimes) government people to talk more freely about issues of the day.
The most memorable event recently was a few months back, when Maurice Flanagan, the late and lamented leader of Emirates airline, made what was probably his last public appearance in Dubai. He was fascinating, and newsworthy.
These events were open to members and the media, and there have been several others under the theme “The people who shaped Dubai”. I have no idea whose initiative the series was, but it was a great idea.
So when I recently got an invitation from the club to attend an evening event called “Joining the dots – Expo 2020”, I immediately put the date in my diary. The guest speakers were high quality: the Middle East head of McKinsey, Tarek Elmasry, and the director in charge of development and delivery of the Expo project, Omur Akay.
A great line-up on one of the hottest topics of the day: Expo will drive the Dubai economy for the next five years, and is of huge importance to citizens and residents alike. An issue of vital public interest.
But then, out of the blue, my invitation was withdrawn. The event was a members-only occasion, and media were not allowed.
I spoke to some people, and it turned out that one of the speakers objected to having journalists there. I don’t know which one, but, given McKin- sey’s suspicion and distrust of journalists, I think I can make an educated guess.
The Capital Club heard the speaker’s objections, and withdrew my invitation.
As a private club, it has every right to do so. But the sudden decision to bar me from the event was so out of character, and so contrary to the previous welcoming approach to media, that I was hurt. I think the club needs to refine its overall media policy.
It should adopt its own code, in keeping with its hitherto policy of welcoming media participation, and require speakers to special events to adhere to that code. If they cannot, they should not be invited. The club should not be held hostage by the prejudices of a speaker, however distinguished.
There, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest.
I hope to get the opportunity to discuss media issues with Mr Horvath who, with a CV that takes in the Royal Automobile Club (a haunt of many journalists I know) and a stack of other high-profile places in London’s swanky West End like Claridge’s, the Dorchester and Hilton Park Lane, must be familiar with the ways of the media world.
He should bring some of that media savvy to Dubai.
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