Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sher Value: Arab Media Assets

I have long been attracted to the media, perhaps the fact that having written for newspapers and magazines for over two decades one develops a certain perspective about media. Yet any discussion on business and politics will inevitably talk about the role, and more importantly, the power of the media. In the same stretch there is growing recognition amongst the business circles of the Arab world that being a media player is an important element of business presence. Walk through the aisles of any magazine section and you will be hit by the plethora of magazines, many in Arabic, that are being published from the region. Admittedly there is a huge invasion of fashion and glitter on the magazine stands, and of late business magazines are also making their presence felt.

However, as we all know, or some don't know, its not about just publishing a magazine, its all about distribution, voice, content management and consistency. Why is one magazine better read then the other? What drives content? Who is reading? Who should be reading and the questions can run into a ream of A4 size paper. When we consider the broadsheet papers and then the visual media the media picture and the role of Arab Media in this gets, pardon the pun, fuzzy.

My friends, particularly my American friends, are puzzled that I would recommend Al Jazeera International as a fantastic, and yes independent minded, television channel. A well known journalist friend of mine has been trying to subscribe to it in New York without any luck, given that he is told it's a 'terrorist' channel its impossible for the major content distributors to 'carry' it in their bouquet. Whatever happened to the land of free speech? Anyways, the point being that even a good channel like Al Jazeera, who boast the likes of David Frost and Riz Khan in their stable of anchors, cannot get the distribution into the market where its needed most, USA, then folks we have a problem.

It is interesting that aside from these more profiled issues there is a bigger issue within both the Arab media mind and the world at large. I keep bumping into business folks who want to start a newspaper, yes indeed. Its like they all congregate at some obscure café, drink the same coffee and come out wanting to own the next broadsheet newspaper from the Middle East "which will change the world of media as we know it." But I keep telling them we need to get content right, its not like print and presto you have circulation! I know this may be offensive but can aggregated content be all that good? Where is the journalistic voice from the region? Do I want to read what an editorial view from Baltimore is when I have not established my own editorial view on what is happening in my backyard?

I am all for media expansion, and ofcourse an indigenous media. However, any choreography of such a strategy has to expand to distribution into the US and Europe, and this is always going to be a function of getting some top class content into the paper. The other alternate is to buy the media companies in the West, a strategy that is painfully slow and exorbitantly expensive. For the moment: Improve our media content.

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