Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 3: The National

Today’s meetings focused on media in the UAE. All media is government owned, funded and censored. Although, it seems that censorship isn’t at the same level as, say, Iran or China. We visited the National newspaper office in Abu Dhabi, which is the UAE capital city. Only two years old, The National is an English language newspaper that reports international news. It is delivered in many ME countries including Jordan, Cairo and Lebanon and read widely in the US. We spoke with Hassan Fattah, the paper’s former Editor in Chief. Hassan admitted that the paper receives government push back on stories but insisted that the government does not expect a paper that wholly praises the Sheik with their pictures gracing every page. This is what most of the local papers look like, and the government is well aware that the public does not see these publications as credible. Instead, the Sheiks welcomed the National and funded its launch. The paper hopes to wean itself from this funding as soon as possible, although Hassan says that it doesn’t come with strings. He explains that the paper has to be strategic about telling a story that may be seen as critical by the government. He describes how they build a story piece by piece rather than printing one wholly critical piece. One of the most interesting things Hassan spoke about was the fact that although the paper covers local news, its audience is almost more interested in international news. A phenomenon that is opposite that of the US public, which tends to prefer national news. Another difference between the US newspaper market and the UAE:
“Newspapers are not dead here,” says Hassan. He says the media is quite behind the US in development and therefore printed newspaper is alive and well in the region, including ad revenue. “Business is thriving,” with subscriptions doubling every year.
One of the papers largest focuses, as you might imagine, is business. We spoke with one of the paper’s business writers who further explained how the paper balances accurate reporting without being outright critical with the government policies.

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