Goodbye Dr Taryam, Hello Al Otaiba – Changes in the UAE’s Media Landscape

Mohammed Al Otaiba has taken up the top job at The National, despite having no prior media experience (image source: The National)

The past couple of days have been one of loss and change for the UAE’s newspapers. On the same day, news pieces announced the passing of Dr Taryam, the co-founder of the largest Arabic-language newspaper Al Khaleej, and the appointment of Mohammed Al Otaiba as the editor-in-chief of Abu Dhabi’s English-language daily, The National.

Dr Abdullah Taryam was one of the founders of the country’s Arabic media industry; He established Al Khaleej newspaper with his brother, the late Taryam Omran Taryam in Sharjah in 1970. After initial difficulties – the paper wasn’t printed for eight years during 1972 and 1980 due to funding – Al Khaleej grew to become what is the Dar Al Khaleej newspaper group which includes English-language daily The Gulf Today, Arabic-language weekly political magazine Al Shuruq and the Arabic-language family magazine Kol Al Usra. With a PhD in modern history from Exeter University Dr Taryam also held the posts of Minister of Education and Minister of Justice for the UAE. Gulf News wrote an extensive obituary on Dr Taryam which can be read here.

On the morning of the 30th The National announced its own change at the top, namely the appointing of Mohammed Al Otaiba as the editor-in-chief. I’m going to lift the text from The National’s piece rather than summarize.

“We are pleased to announce the appointment of Mohammed Al Otaiba as editor-in-chief of The National and are confident that his well-rounded experience in media, foreign policy and diplomacy will add a valuable global perspective to The National,” said Saif Saeed Ghobash, the acting chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Media, which publishes The National.

Mr Al Otaiba said: “I am delighted to join The National newspaper and to be granted the opportunity to be part of a true success story for English journalism in the UAE. Writing has been a strong passion of mine for years and I look forward to being part of such a dynamic team of journalists.”

Mr Al Otaiba has a background in diplomacy and media, including 10 years representing the UAE at the UN in New York, Beijing and London.

He recently served as head of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, a division of Abu Dhabi Media. After being appointed head of the organisation in October 2011 he helped develop Abu Dhabi’s film industry.

Mr Al Otaiba’s appointment comes at a time when the newspaper is strengthening its local news coverage, Abu Dhabi Media said in a statement on Thursday.

It has recently supplemented its coverage with focus pages and a larger national news section, “boosting its reputation as a key English-language newspaper of record reflecting and supporting the country’s development and achievements,” the company said.

Abu Dhabi Media manages 18 broadcast, publishing and digital media brands and is considered among the fastest growing organisations in the region.

Mr Al Otaiba holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the American University in Cairo, and a master’s degree in administrative studies from Boston University, with a concentration in multinational commerce.

The reaction to the news has been interesting to watch, with observers noting Al Otaiba’s lack of newspaper and media experience.

The piece in The National does seem to be contradictory, with Al Otaiba’s international experience praised and then noting The National’s increased focus on local reporting. Al Otaiba’s appointment may be an attempt to ensure that The National is fully aligned with the official line. The paper, which was ostensibly founded to promote a free local press, has suffered over the past couple of years as it has attempted to promote a higher quality of journalism whilst ensuring that it doesn’t upset the national authorities and its owner, the Abu Dhabi Government.

It’ll be interesting to see how Al Otaiba does and how The National’s newsroom responds to the change. On the 30th January we’ve lost one renowned local media figure; have we been given another one in his stead?

What a difference a day makes – the media shift in Bahrain and public perception

It’s often said that 24 hours in the newsroom is a unique experience and Bahrain’s media is no different. The island nation’s media has been reporting on the difficult situation the country is going through for the past couple of years. Wednesday the 15th of January was no different from the past couple of months in that the Kingdom’s English-language media were reporting on government efforts to keep the country safe (much of the focus was on social media and Twitter in particular. The below is a shot of the front page.

The Front Page of Bahrain's Gulf Daily News for the 15 January 2014

The Front Page of Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News for the 15 January 2014

That night, news leaked about national reconciliation talks between Bahrain’s Crown Prince and the largest opposition party Al-Wefaq. As expected, the local media carried the news on their front pages.

The front page of Gulf Daily News from the 16 January. Notice a change in tone?

The front page of Gulf Daily News from the 16 January. Notice a change in tone?

While I won’t discuss the politics of the issue, what I do find interesting is the remarkable shift in position over 24 hours and how groups are described by the media from the one issue to the other. While it may be easy to control the dialogue and the messaging for one of the parties in Bahrain, it’s not so easy to shift public perception. Time will tell what difference this particular 24 hours have made, not only to the media’s take on affairs but also how the public perceives the situation as reported in the media.

The Chicago Tribune and how to get audience participation right through social media

I wanted to highlight this remarkable site from the Chicago Tribune. The blog, which will be hosted for a year and has the hashtag #trib2014, hosts reader photos from Instagram and enables participation through developing weekly themes. The newspaper’s staff are curating the site, but the visuals and captions are stunning. The weekly themes allow for a higher level of audience participation and give readers something to focus on rather than asking for their own images of a generic subject. Have a look at the below images from the blog. I can’t wait for someone to do this type of thing in the Gulf (just so you know, I’m extremely patient).

Chiberian Sunset #chitecture

A post shared by Chicago Based (@kbucklandphoto) on

A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time. Homer

A post shared by 614scottsmith (@614scottsmith) on

It’s not me, it’s you – Who Censored the Wolf of Wall Street?

Want swearing, sex and other obscene moments in your film? Then you’re best heading to Beirut (image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com)

I’m a very nostalgic person. I remember the good old days when the internet was all about dots and beeps, when a gourmet burger could be found in a Happy Meal and when newspapers came with columns inked out by a black marker. Censorship isn’t a foreign concept to the Gulf region. Be it television, printed media or, more recently, the internet, censorship is a given. I sometimes wondered about the rooms of employees who’d be sitting in a room reading over the foreign papers with their thick, fat marker pens ready and eager to put market to paper on a large section of the paper.

Rarely do we hear from those people behind the censorship. However, the past couple of days have thrown a light on the world of censorship in the region. The latest Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street, is a tale of financial excesses with an over-excessive use of expletives, sex, drugs and other naughty things. It’s not surprising that such a film may cause flutters, especially in a conservative part of the world. While most of the country’s cinema-goers would have expected cuts here and there, the film ended up losing 45 minutes from its three-hour running time.

Local media reported on the incident, including a wonderful piece by Rory Jones, the UAE-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. As the piece is so fun I’m going to quote directly from Mr Jones.

Whole scenes were taken out of the Martin Scorsese-directed movie, including a particularly raucous trip to Las Vegas that included a plane full of prostitutes. The F-word has also been removed where possible, creating an almost constant jerking of the screen as one frame has been spliced into another.

Somewhat understandably, film-goers in the U.A.E. have taken to social media to vent their anger over the cuts, warning others not to see the film as most cinemas are not making viewers aware of the level of censorship.

As Mr Jones and others such as Gulf News’ tabloid! have pointed out, cinema releases are supposed to be censored by the National Media Council. In this case, the NMC has pointed the finger at the film’s distributor, Gulf Film. Why the distributor would want to annoy cinema-goers to the point that they tell others not to see the film and demand refunds from the cinema firms is beyond me. Gulf Film haven’t commented. One official from the NMC did speak however and here’s what he told tabloid!:

Juma Obaid Al Leem, director of the Media Content Tracking Department at the NMC told tabloid! the cuts were made even before it came under their review.

“We didn’t touch the film. The distributor already made the cut [when it came to us]. When we asked the distributors, they said they cut all those scenes and words, because they want to distribute the film in GCC,” he said.

Al Leem added that, following complaints from moviegoers, the NMC has instructed distributors to leave the editing to them.

“[We have told them] next time, don’t touch the film. We will make the cuts. We will decide. Maybe some scenes will be accepted. Don’t make any cut outside till they bring the full film and we will decide about the film,” he said. “We told them very clearly.”

Ironically, the film has been released in its entirety in Lebanon. It seems that nothing can offend the Lebanese cinema-goer, not even the Wolf of Wall Street. As for the UAE, we’ll have to put up with only two-thirds of a film. A wolf in sheep’s clothing anyone?

The Sheikh Mohammed School of Communication

I’m no posterboy for Dubai I’ll admit. But I do admire how the Emirate’s ruler communicates with the media. The BBC aired an interview with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum this week and the piece made headlines the world over. Sheikh Mo as he’s known here shared his thoughts on everything from Iran, Syria and Egypt to horse doping and human rights in the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed talks plainly, he gets to the point, and he admits when things go wrong; asked about the jailing of a number of young men for a spoof video Sheikh Mohammed says:

“We try to change it. We are not perfect and we try to change it. Any mistakes, we go in and try to change it. We’re not perfect, but we are doing our best.”

What’s fascinated me the most has been how the media industry has taken its pick of quotes to build headlines around. For the UAE’s media the key talking points were Sheikh Mohammed’s call to lift sanctions on Iran and his views on Syria and the need for Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad to step down. His views on Egypt’s General El-Sisi dominated the Egyptian papers.

If you want to watch and learn from Sheikh Mohammed School of Communication and see a leader who is unique in terms of how he interacts with the media then watch the interview on the BBC on the 17 January at 04:30 GMT & 09:30 GMT and read the article by the BBC’s Jon Sopel here. You can watch a teaser below from the original airing of the interview yesterday.

I wish there were more leaders in the Gulf who’d talk to and with the media.

#MyDubai and the issue of whether to pay the public for content

The first images from #MyDubai's initiative provided for free by Dubai residents (image source: www.facebook.com/DefinitelyDubai)

The first images from #MyDubai’s initiative provided for free by Dubai residents (image source: http://www.facebook.com/DefinitelyDubai)

To pay or not to pay? That’s the question. The city-state has launched an interesting project based on social media, dubbed as a social-media autobiography of Dubai to be written by its residents and visitors. To quote The National newspaper:

The year-long project will bring together people in the emirate through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. A call has gone out to share pictures and videos using the hashtag #MyDubai.

According to The National the project will tell the real and human stories of the city through residents’ contributions which are posted onto Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (there’s no mention of YouTube and Pinterest which is a shame).

The National followed up today with a second piece on the initiative. Tourism bosses from Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) will select the best photographs and videos from the Emirate’s residents and showcase them in exhibitions and roadshows as part of the year-long #MyDubai project. The public’s images will be used to promote Dubai throughout the year.

What isn’t mentioned is if the public are going to be paid for their images which are going to be used for advertising the Emirate. As any content producer knows, photography and videography are expensive. While those lucky few whose images get chosen – to quote The National, “more than 25,000 images and videos were uploaded to Instagram using #MyDubai just 12 hours after the campaign was launched” – will be referenced and have been so far online on DTCM’s Definitely Dubai Facebook site is it right to use images provided by the public for free (even if it is with their consent).

And on another note, who owns the copyright to the images? Are the images commissioned by DTCM for their explicit use or do the copyright owners of the images, have the ability to pull the images as and when they please if they object to how the images are portrayed?

I love the concept of #MyDubai but should the public be paid for images that are used, even if only a token amount? If it’s for corporate usage, then I think they should do.

Make a New Year’s Resolution for your company and go volunteer in 2014

Volunteering will benefit you, your employees and your business more than you may imagine (image source - www.zmetravel.com)

Volunteering will benefit you, your employees and your business more than you may imagine (image source – http://www.zmetravel.com)

You’re finished with the festive period, the time of year when we have a tendency to overindulge. Now, having seen in the new year, most of us will have made a number of resolutions for our own betterment. But if you’re thinking of a way to make a difference in 2014, why not take a step forward and make a resolution for your company and community?

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining a foothold among businesses across the region and one method that all businesses, both large and small, can adopt is to volunteer their time to support local charitable organisations.

There’s a misconception among business owners that volunteering or other forms of CSR is the preserve of large corporations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving back by donating your time and expertise to your community can be beneficial to you, your staff and business for many reasons. Not only can volunteering help your community and create a shared sense of achievement among your employees, but giving back can even help your business grow in way that you may not expect. Here’s how:

Volunteering can broaden your experience

Volunteering provides an opportunity to work on something different, with new people in a new place for a new cause. The experiences are not only personally rewarding, but you may and your staff will develop new skills and thinking from the not-for-profit sector that may benefit your own business. When you volunteer for the right reasons to give back to the community, you’ll not only develop new perspectives but you’ll also become more of an empathetic, well-rounded leader and be able to bring these skills and experiences back to bear on your own goals and those of your business.

Your employee morale will improve

Giving to the community has significant benefits for employee satisfaction. Studies by London in 2010 found that 94 per cent of companies had found that volunteering positively impacted employee morale. Volunteering allows your staff to give back to their communities, learn new skills and participate in causes that many of them may passionately believe in, such as the environment, good health and childcare. Volunteering has been found to boost employee health as well as their morale.

Doing well is good for your business reputation too

As a business owner, no one will know better than you that your actions impact your business reputation. Giving back to the local community will have positive effect on your brand. The more that you become part of your local community, the faster your reputation as a business that cares will grow. Volunteering helps your company show that you are empathetic and that you do understand the needs and concerns of local communities.

Develop new relationships and strengthen existing ones

There’s no better way to develop and maintain good relationships than working together with others for a good cause. Getting out there and volunteering will enable you to meet new people who you may not otherwise meet. Even if these relationships don’t initially seem relevant to you and your business, the power of networking will mean that you’ll have a group of individuals outside of your usual business circles to consult with and give you different perspectives.

If you haven’t ever volunteered before and don’t know where to start, there are a number of organisations and bodies that can advise you. For companies based in Dubai, the best place to start is the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and its Engage team that already has a strong connection with most of Dubai’s charitable organisations. The Engage team may be able to point you and your business in the right direction as to how and where to start. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and the Engage team can be reached at responsiblebusiness@dubaichamber.com.

For companies in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group is a governmental organisation that promotes sustainability best practises and would be best placed to provide similar advice as to where to start in the UAE’s capital. You can contact them at contact@adsg.ae.

For business owners in Saudi Arabia, your best resource may be the Ministry of Social Affairs, which has a database of all locally registered charities in the kingdom. The ministry has offices in most of the kingdom’s cities, so do check out its website at http://www.mosa.gov.sa.

Volunteering doesn’t have to take a tremendous amount of time or energy and yet giving back can be one of the most rewarding things you do over 2014 for yourself and your employees. Get started today and make a difference not only to yourself, but to your local community as well.

This piece was first published on the Kipp Report.