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?