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07 October, 2003

"Media-ocrity" - why?

An anguished reader writes in to this month's Time Out Dubai to lament the (lack of) quality in the local media. It is tempting to try and reply to his concerns:

(a) Un-talent
Newspaper journalists are paid tiny, "indian"-level salaries, often a good deal less than 3000dh per month. This ensures that the vast majority are from the Subcontinent, thus English is not their first language - and what they do speak is archaic Indlish ("delightful" "avail") - and many if not all are unqualified, untrained, and unexposed to quality western media.

The Head of Copy of one daily paper has a team of subeditors who rather than just sub copy, rewrite it from the ground up. Asked why the paper can't just hire decent journalists in the first place, he explains that one subeditor can manage the work of about six reporters, therefore it is cheaper to have a small team of talented subeditors, and endless useless smudgers.

(b) Apathy
An Account Manager at a major PR company once revealed that they deliberately send out press releases to the newspapers late in the day, around 5pm, in the fairly certain hope that these releases will be cut-and-paste verbatim into newspaper articles, by lazy and incompetent journalists running out of time.

This explains why anyone working in the media needn't bother to read the business sections of the newspapers, as the exact same stories will have already arrived by email earlier (often several days earlier) in the week.

(c) Interference
Newspapers in Dubai are in oppressive thrall to the middlemen of various royals. As the Editor of another daily rag explained, every day hours are spent (wasted) trying to work out the exact placement of the various "sheikh-cutting-ribbon" pics on the front page, to ensure the most senior dishdash is highest and most prominently displayed, and so on.

Despite the Powers That Be calling for a more aggressive, "western style" media at regular media majilises, the middlemen continue to ring up and complain. As the abovementioned editor points out: "I can't ring up Sheikh Mohammed three times a day to ask him to call off his middlemen."

(d) Poverty
The regional TV advertising market is completely undeveloped (no proper ratings to speak of at a local or regional level) and what little ad money there is is controlled by a useless and corrupt mainly Levantine advertising sales industry. The main ad spend is in magazines. Every single Arabic news channel is leaching money by the millions every year, small wonder that CNN has shelved plans for an Arabic channel in the short-medium term (=ever).

(e) Corruption
Local TV channels are corrupt from the ground up. There are endless "phantom jobs" - locals employed on high salaries that never show up for work, or show up and do nothing all day. Urban legend has it that at one local TV station, wages were paid into - and collected from - the account of a particular employee for two years after he had died.

The few talented expats employed are usually paid a bare minimum, with often startlingly derisory salaries for women. "She has a rich father, she does not need the money" as the Director of one local channel said.



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