The New York Times’ Mark Thompson expects the newspaper to focus more on the Middle East next year; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat is moving further east, to China (image source: http://english.alarabiya.net)
All eyes in the media world seem to be looking East. First, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, we had New York Times Company chief executive Mark Thompson talking about how the New York Times is looking to print and report in additional languages next year (the paper currently publishes in English and Chinese). Speaking to Al Arabiya News, Thompson spelt out his vision for the New York Times and its relationship with the Middle East.
“We will look at other languages and obviously Arabic is on this list. We would not want to do anything that was not very high quality, and it’s got to make economic sense.”
“The appeal of the Middle East – whether we do an Arabic edition or not – is that it is a big region which necessarily, because of the extremely complex and unstable politics of the wider region, is fascinated by news,” he added.
“We also believe that a lot of people would be interested in other perspectives. For the really international news brands the Middle East is an opportunity you cannot ignore.”
Not to be outdone, one of the region’s largest and most respected newspapers is looking to launch its own Chinese version of the newspaper online. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat already publishes in both English and Arabic and has numerous apps and digital editions in addition to its online portal and hard copy – its Android app has around 25,000 unique users on a daily basis, and I’m sure its applications on the iPhone and iPad have the same amount, if not more, readers.
What is fascinating is Al-Sharq’s focus on Asia. The newspaper, which claims a daily circulation of 230,000 copies, is looking to establish itself in and around the largest economies in Asia. As part of this drive, the newspaper’s editorial management is looking to print in Mandarin Chinese. With Saudi’s increasing focus on Asia (the newspaper is owned by a Saudi-listed company), the move to publish in Chinese makes sense. Will other Arab newspapers follow suit?
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in Farsi? It’s going to happen, and most likely soon.
There’s few pan-Arab newspapers of note. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, or AAA as I and others so lazily call it, is one of those papers that is everywhere and which demands respect. The green-tinted paper, which only this week celebrated its 35th anniversary and which was one of the first to be printed offshore in London, is a must-read for anyone looking to understand politics in the Gulf and between the Gulf states and the rest of the Middle East.
Owned by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, the paper is set to again make history by being the first tier-one newspaper in the region to publish in Farsi. While I don’t have the full details on when or how (I’m assuming that the focus will be more on online rather than an actual print version simply to reach as many Farsi speakers inside and outside Iran), the move may mark the beginning of an effort by Saudi Arabia – the Saudi Research and Marketing Group is run and majority owned by the Saudi Royal family – to proactively communicate with Iran’s people directly in their own language.
The timing is also fascinating, coming as it does after the conclusion of Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s time in office and the election of the new President-elect Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani has been described as a moderate and one of his many tasks may include reducing the amount of censorship imposed on Iranians living in their own country; Iran has one of the most sophisticated web filter systems active globally today allowing the Government to block any external site at will.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s Farsi move may be long overdue. There’s been concerted efforts by the Iranian Government for some time to speak directly to an Arab audience, most noticeably through its television station Press TV. Will other Gulf governments follow Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s lead and print their own Farsi language paper or launch more Farsi-language websites?