November 11, 2006
Arab Media: Al Jazeera Newspaper
Likely lost in the American elections noise and the Israeli Gaza invasion, an interesting item reported in the FT among other sources on Al Jazeera planning a competitor to the hoary old pan-Arab dailies, Al Hayat (my personal favourite), Asharq Al Awsat (All Saudi views, all the time...) and of course Al Quds Al Arabi (old school Arab nationalism, I found them shrill and boring when I bothered to read it).
A worthy concept, but I am afraid the very physicalness of newspapers make them too easy to ban (by the way, I remain puzzled why Hayat hasn't been found in Maghreb for decades) or pressure.
That being said, it's worth a try if Qatar wants to finance it, largely I would guess, as suggested by Roula Khalaf, to put a stick in the eye of the Saudis. I have some sympathy for that.
Qatar's al-Jazeera group is backing the launch of a new pan-Arab newspaper as it seeks to establish Doha as an Arab media capital and break Saudi dominance over regional print media. ... Al-Jazeera has hired Abdelwahab Badrakhan, the former deputy editor of the Saudi-backed al-Hayat daily, to run the newspaper, expected to start publishing next year from Qatar. Mr Badrakhan said the idea was to create a pan-Arab daily similar to the long-established and London-based al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat, both Saudi-backed, but with a wider margin of freedom.
The print media in the Arab world have faced an uphill struggle as broadcast news expands its appeal. But in the pan-Arab media market commercial considerations take a back seat to political influence.
The competition is largely defined by a political struggle between Saudi Arabia, the traditional heavyweight, and Qatar, the smaller maverick state with big ambitions and vast wealth.
...Critics of al-Jazeera, however, say it also treads a careful line when it comes to controversial Qatari stories. A Saudi-backed 24-hour news channel, al-Arabiya, was launched in 2003 to counter al-Jazeera and has become its main rival.
The article is of course correct, the print media market especially but also the broadcast media market is not market driven per se, although viewership is there to support a market based media market, albeit I think not a truly pan-regional one as the buying habits between Gulf, Levant and Egypt, never mind the Maghreb are too different to make most media campaigns across all MENA useful. As to the charge of Al Jazeera treating Qatar with kid gloves, as I have said in the past - who cares? Excepting the Saudis and their pissy rivalry with everybody. Saudi influence over the media and their sheer size makes turning a blind eye to their sins a real problem. Qatar, however, is hardly important at all - except for its pretensions and money.
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(by the way, I remain puzzled why Hayat hasn't been found in Maghrib for decades)
Was thinking about something similar the other day. I'm kind of a press nerd -- when travelling, I always I like to pick up different papers and compare style and content, and look for clues to their political colour. The question: how well-read (or wide-spread) are the major pan-Arab papers in different Arab countries? Seems to vary a lot, even apart from the import barriers and censorship they face in some countries.
In Syria last year, I could find most of them, and they seemed to be read a lot -- no wonder, given the quality of the domestic press. The main exception was al-Quds al-Arabi, which was completely absent: word on the street was it had been banned long time ago after saying something unkind about the Assads. Odd, though, that they would still enforce that ban, of the paper that is probably most in line with the Syr gov politically, while at the same time letting virulently anti-Syrian Lebanese papers flow into the country. (Must have been a really nasty article.)
In Jordan, a decent mix of Jordanian and international. In Lebanon, everything available, but the Lebanese press kills the competition. In Cairo, seemed to be much less pan-Arab press, more indigenous.
Most puzzling case, however, is Algeria. I haven't managed to find a single non-Algerian paper, except the major French ones and a couple of old al-Ahrams. I can't imagine it's because of censorship, considering the lax control over the domestic press, but why then? Is it like that in Morocco, Tunisia too (never visited), or just an Algerian thing?
Posted by: alle at November 11, 2006 10:43 AM
Algeria is a matter of protection.
In Morocco it is pretty much a free-for-all, foreign and domestic press competing in the French space. Tunisia is a police state and its press reflects that.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at November 12, 2006 09:21 AM
Apologies for not getting some sort of article out about the whole Al Jazeera International/English thing. Laptop issues.
Amusingly, all of a sudden the station previously known as Al Jazeera International has started calling itself "Al Jazeera English" in its press release. Amusingly because of this exchange involving Ghassan Ben Jeddou, Al Jazeera's Beirut bureau chief:
Are you concerned that Al Jazeera International will present a noticeably different perspective than Al Jazeera Arabic?
It is Al Jazeera English, not international because the entire Al Jazeera network is international, including Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English, the children’s channel and Al Jazeera Sports.
But we have received several press releases from “Al Jazeera International.”
It will be called Al Jazeera English, I am sure. And there is no need for changing the perspective because Al Jazeera is an objective and professional station. Only the audience is different.
Enough violent off-topic stuff, I guess.
Posted by: Tom Scudder at November 13, 2006 03:20 AM
Qatar, in its incessant media battle against the Saudis, has also reportedly backed Joseph Samaha new, anti-Hariri, Al Akhbar newspaper in Lebanon. Or so they say -- other rumors say it's Hizbullah/Aoun.
It seems to me that al-J and Qatar should be getting the scale of news production right to be able to come out, if they want to, with at least a regional news agency that would compete with the Arab state agencies as well as AP/AFP/Reuters. al-J TV does this de facto with its footage, but not in an integrated way as far as I know. Having a quality, English and Arabic wire service compete (and probably subsidized) with the Western and Arab wires would be a very interesting proposition for all Arab publications that tend to rely on few sources for news they're not directly reporting on.
On the English side, I have an idea. The Emir of Qatar / al-J should buy the IHT, which has really gone downhill in the last decade, and relaunch it both in its international and long-gone US version, using their own news sources as well as deals with some of the lesser wire services in the US, which frequently come out with surprisingly good Washington coverage. And for God's sake drop the NYT.
Posted by: issandr at November 13, 2006 07:29 AM