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Should Arabs be allowed to sit on Lynx juries?

Since its inception in 2007, there have been no jury members from the Arab world on the Dubai Lynx judging panels. The idea has always been that such a set up ensures impartiality. But now the debate among creatives about whether the time has come for Arabs to take their seats on the juries has reached an interesting crossroads.

Debate has been raging of late, with a growing number of regional creatives beginning to call for the inclusion of Arabs on the various juries, while others are adamant the status quo should remain intact.

According to Lance de Masi, president of the IAA UAE chapter, the Dubai Lynx will keep the existing base of international judges for the 2012 edition, although he says the IAA is continuing to take the industry consensus into consideration regarding the inclusion of Arab jury members.

“The Dubai Lynx has taken the decision not to incorporate local jurors on its 2012 judging panels, citing the absence of industry consensus as the reason why,” says de Masi. “The IAA’s reading is that the industry, as evidenced by the divergent views of its leadership, is very polarised on the question of local jurors and that it is in the best interests of Lynx and the industry not to deviate at this time from its current platform of engaging only international jurors. The IAA will continue to collaborate with Lynx and the industry in an attempt to derive the level of consensus on the various dimensions of this issue required for any change in current practice to be deemed prudent.”

A straw poll of leading industry figures finds opinion divided on whether Arab jurors would be a positive or negative step. Like a lot of polarising issues, there are passionate advocates either way.

Ali Ali, creative director of Elephant Cairo, is definitely pro local jury members andfinds it rather strange that “for five consecutive years, the Lynx juries have not included Arabs. That’s like excluding Asian judges from the Spikes, or Eastern Europeans from the Golden Drums. The One Show or Clios without Americans? I don’t think so.

“Award shows around the world include a significant number of jury members from their respective region, the only exception being the Dubai Lynx Awards. Why that is so, is anyone’s guess. I strongly believe that including Arabs (or non-Arab creatives from our region) in the jury, will help crack the local insights, will help separate what works locally from what is a mere imitation of Western work, and more importantly, if a campaign claims to have been a big hit in this part of the world, you need someone from this part of the world to confirm that.”

Bechara Mouzannar, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett MENA, empathises with both sides of the debate. “I know that there might be a kind of unanimity in the agencies that are either run by, or have lots of Arabs. I have a lot of empathy with them, I understand the fact that we should feel proud of being considered for the jury of our own region; why in Europe are Europeans considered? In the Middle East and North Africa you don’t have
jurors from the Middle East and North Africa. We Arabs are largely in the majority in the countries represented. The reason why I would favour this is not a national or patriotic feeling because we already participate already in lots of international juries. I don’t think this is the big problem”

For Mouzannar, while admitting that credibility can be an issue, he does echo Ali’s assessment that an Arabic presence on the juries can provide

a local cultural perspective that would otherwise not be present. “We need to give them [the other jurys members] this little part that is missing – the insightful eye or eyes that would help them make a decision. Somebody who can give this little Oriental explanation that sometimes you need to grasp the story. Someone independent. They could be in a minority on the jury to give cultural explanation and not to give a judgment on this campaign,” he says. “It’s like having subtitles [in a foreign movie]. Imagine, all of a sudden, you have subtitles – suddenly it all makes sense. Or you have a URL that sends you to a site where you understand in English what it means. It’s those things. But I totally understand the frustration of creatives in the region. I hope we’re going to go for that, hopefully soon. Let’s start by doing this little thing.”

Fouad Abdel Malak, executive creative director at Impact BBDO Dubai, says a resounding ‘yes’ to Arab jury members. Once agencies have overcome their differences, though. He says the real question should be: “How can we instill an atmosphere of fair play and trust in an industry plagued with scandal and suspicion?”

Malek is in total agreement with the gradual approach and credibility issues offered by  Mouzannar. “‘Yes’ to Arab juries, maybe not at the helm at this stage. ‘Yes’ to fair play and ‘yes’ to having people in the know genuinely inform the pre-dominantly foreign panel what’s breaking new ground and what’s sucking big time.”

What about Western creatives working in the Middle East market. What do they think? Ryan Reed, executive creative director, Y&R Dubai, also thinks that the Arab jury member issue is not as clear-cut as it appears. “In an ideal world, yes. It would be great having representation from the region. Someone who truly understands local relevance and what the market responds to. We have world class talent here that can compliment any international jury.

“In the real world though, we are young as an industry and pretty new to the awards arena. There is a lot of underlying agency politics and the manual on ‘playing nicely’ has not been written yet. So, while I’d truly love to see local representation, I think it’s going to take a little more time before we can place an objective and unbiased judge on the panel.”

Tarek Daouk, chief innovation and integration officer at Starcom MediaVest Group MENA, understands both points of view, but adds that regional jurors are not a necessity. “It’s not critical because good judges can connect with outstanding creative ideas irrespective of cultural background. Average quality work needs more explanation, but the top tier doesn’t.”

The CEO of Lowe MENA, Mounir Harfouche, adds: “We have some of the best creative talent in the world. And yes, they are Arabs. And yes, they are ethical, professional and talented and will surely add value. Mounir, Fady, Ali, Fouad, Tarek, Bechara and Chafic will surely understand the local insights and appreciate the local relevance and the pure Arabic thoughts and copywriting more than Mike, Hue, Ha, Bob, Will, Jean-Luc and Juan,” he says.

Reda Raad, COO of TWBA\Raad, is in favour of allowing local creative talent to be part of the jury with the caveat that they maintain the secrecy and impartiality of the awards. “And we call upon the people who are nominated for such an honour to live up to the responsibility and to maintain a certain level of integrity, neutrality and to become ambassadors and showcase the maturity and level of involvement the industry has reached. We hope that by doing this, the people will be good ambassadors for the region and will demonstrate all of this.”

For the moment, it seems the jury is still out.