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07 December, 2006

7Days, seventh hell

The rumours continue to fly over popular free UAE tabloid 7Days: is it going to be shut down? Has it disappeared for good?

7Days has had a chequered past. It began life as arguably the worst, most puerile and ill-written weekly newspaper the world has ever witnessed.

Then it went (six) daily, and by some miracle, was transformed into a decent and amusing little rag. Its letters page became a phenomenon: a kind of literary qahwa-house for gossip, mudslinging and general exchanges between expats, locals and a host of amusing fake-letter writing trolls. Who can forget "Maria Metcalf" and the labourers disturbing her Jumeirah coffee mornings? Or Penny Francis and her homophobic Ladies' Circle?

Things progressed, culminating in the purchase of a 60% stake in 7Days by UK-based Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail and Metro.

Then suddenly, something went very, horribly wrong. 7Days had withstood many buffetings and high winds over the course of time, but never such a storm as this. The trigger? Bizarrely, a supposedly light-hearted, international feature about women's assertiveness training in Russia, unfortunately titled "Bitch school". For some reason this was a huge insult to local culture. That article has since been deleted from their site, but the same story can be found in this Telegraph article. Fairly innocuous one would think.

The next bizarre furore was over an interview with UAE President Khalifa, reprinted from WAM and AFP copy. To the average expat, it was a positive, serious article and an important and useful opportunity to read a translation of his Highness's words, given the original article was printed in Arabic in a London newspaper. But to the Arab press, 7Days had committed some kind of earthshattering outrage where Khalifa misquoted and utterly insulted. That article stayed up for longer, but has now been deleted, its Google cache can be seen here.

Three Arab papers - two of which are owned by rival Dubai government-owned media group AMG - raged against 7Days in their editorials and called for an advertiser boycott of 7Days. 7Days, which had apologised profusely and even fired someone over the Russian article, was absolutely bewildered, as were most of its readers, and it is interesting to note that it has not been forced to print an apology for the article.

Then 7Days starts disappearing. It has allegedly been banned from Emaar properties. Various advertisers pull out. The distributor quits. Rumours fly that it has been shut down. Conspiracy theories abound. According to the latest sources, 7Days has found a new distributor, and deliveries are returning to normal.

The question remains: why? Why is there suddenly an orchestrated campaign to shut down a newspaper that could have easily been closed over numerous, far more obviously controversial articles at many times in its history?

Could it be that someone has finally realised the significance of having an independent newspaper in the UAE owned by a very powerful international group? If so, they need to think a bit further about how that powerful group might react if its new acquisition is crushed and killed.

Labels:

37 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, it’s just the “Democracy"(Middle East Style).
I’m a firm believer of the saying “As you saw, so shall you reap.”. We will wait and see.

07 December, 2006 07:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats Secret Dubai. Almost every other newspaper, radio station, media mag and most blogs have been either silent or complicit in this process.

Editorials lamenting media standards and whispering campaigns have been the norm, while a popular, populist newspaper has almost been pushed out of existance. What happens next?

07 December, 2006 08:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh .. I would say this is " Kill your competetion" Western Style...

07 December, 2006 08:37  
Anonymous dxb541@yahoo.com said...

Even though believing that a large conspiracy is behind the chain of events you mentioned is the sexier explanation, may I give my view to the same events as a western educate conservative 35 UAE male national whom reads Emirates today (Arabic and English Editions) and 7days and this blog I'm happy to say. I believe the articles in 7days could have been printed without causing any …. Lets say irritations, if the writes our editors really understood the Middle Eastern culture and more relevant the Dubai culture. What I have been observing in Dubai is that nationals and non nationals live in to separate world, they go to different places, do different things, and read different newspapers. But with time these two worlds are coming closer to each other, and you see issues being raised that didn't in the past.
If these articles were writhen a few years ago nothing would have happen because chances were that no one that would find them offensive would have read them.
The main point I want to get across is that there is true value in getting nationals in any organization, they understand the culture (and know where all the landmines are) they can get the message across so that it would not be misunderstood.

07 December, 2006 08:55  
Blogger rt said...

In all probabilities, if its not 7days now, it will be some other newspaper that will bring out its readers' opinions and thoughts out in the open. So that's why we haven't been receiving 7days, I thought it was just delays in the morning delivery. I hope it comes back to the limelight and I sure hope there is no advertiser's boycott! I thoroughly enjoy reading 7days!

07 December, 2006 09:05  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"7Days is a witch....burn her."

Still waiting for this country to drag itself from the dark ages.

07 December, 2006 12:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know what I love:

How locals go on and on about expats respecting and being sensitive to their culture/religion/rules.

How come none of them will take the time to learn about the expat's culture and religion? We expats work and contribute to the UAE as well.

Respect is a two way street.

-DD

07 December, 2006 14:51  
Anonymous dxbwrestler said...

The whole mess just illustrates how immature the media market is in the UAE. Censorship becomes almost accepted and people take things very seriously indeed.
The idea that accidently misquoting - which is not what happened - one of the leaders is grounds for shutting down a newspaper is bizarre.
If AMG - despite the pompous editorials they churn out - was a real newspaper, they would have focused on 7 Day's scapegoating of a journalist for the "Bitch School" article. Instead they patronise, something they have no right to do, as anyone who has seen today's hilarious front page would testify.
Thank God for the internet, where one can read real newspapers...

07 December, 2006 16:14  
Blogger SIN said...

Healthy competition is a concept that is still alien to this part of the world, so when the stakes get higher and the playing field stiffens up, people resort to pulling the trump card that shuts others up permanently - screaming that you have insulted the royal family abd/or the relegious beliefs of this country; how can you argue with that, especially when you reside in a Sheikhdom.

The powers that be who tried this stunt numerous times in the past (and won) think that they can chance it once more - alas, this is not the case.

7Days still being printed; 7Days still being distributed (albeit with a few hiccups); and 7Days not apologising over the Sheikh Khalifa story is proof that the tide is changing.

So here's a message to the sore losers who think they have won the war - far from it in fact, as the battle has just begun in the real world, and no one is going to leave the field without a good fight...

07 December, 2006 16:19  
Blogger Dubai Media Observer said...

dxb541@yahoo.com:

I really really really don't know what landmines you are talking about. I don't get it. Any Arab, not just locals, knows where those so-called 'landmines' are. We know how to get around them.

However, the "bitch school" article may have been offensive. Fine. People get fired over it, fine. However, I _still_ don't understand what was offensive about the article that was printed on the president of the UAE. What is so offensive there?

I think 7Days should have a local who would be in a consultancy capacity over issues related to government and royal family articles. Aside from that, I think they should continue to do what they do best: inform and entertain (or maybe entertain first!)

What I find (and I would think a lot of expats would be with me on this one), is that the local population is far too sensitive and ready to get upset about every little thing. It's either that, or there is, indeed a conspiracy to shut the newspaper down (I believe that is the most likely situation).

07 December, 2006 17:27  
Anonymous unJane said...

Thanks, SD, for posting this article as the disappearance of 7 Days from my gate was a mystery a la The Da Vinci Code.
If I had to hazard a guess as to why it was considered objectionable, it would be that hhm & hhk have very different views on the value of the labourers. Am I way off?

07 December, 2006 17:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard that they printed something remotely bad about some sheikh or other, so they got pulled for the week. My sources are a bit iffy though....

07 December, 2006 18:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7 days is just another trashy tabloid in the making, the only half descent part is the letters section, but that too is on the decline with people bitching about traffic and taxis. Actually the quality of news should not be that surprising given the major stakeholder of the paper.

07 December, 2006 18:51  
Blogger localexpat said...

BRAVO SD! Couldn't have put it better myself :-)

One question though, who owns the other 40% of 7days?

and i totally agree with dxb541@yahoo.com

07 December, 2006 20:52  
Blogger Keefieboy said...

dxb541@yahoo.com:

Last time I heard 7Days had a local as Managing Editor...he may or may not have sanctioned the 2 articles in question. As for the 'landmines' - how about somebody writing that down and letting the editors of the papers know what they are? As far as I can tell, and this story is so murky it's very hard to do: the 'bitch school' story was lifted or syndicated from other, Western, sources. For the life of me, I cannot see why it would cause major offence apart from the fact that it was an utterly puerile, worthless piece of tabloid journalism. The 'Khalifa' story was, according to 7D, taken from AFP and WAM, and 7Days claim they never added or altered anything.

But you are right when you say the east and west live in separate spaces. What's to be done about that?

This is a very interesting episode though: quiet strangulation by withdrawal of advertising and distribution. Hmmm... Conspiracy? Please prove otherwise.

07 December, 2006 21:06  
Blogger moryarti said...

i doubt 7days will shut down... its just a series of unfortunate events.

08 December, 2006 00:50  
Blogger DubaiTeen said...

Pity... I used to love reading 7DAYS, especially the Letters to the Editor. That used to be fun. We would even discuss them in school sometimes. I hope 7DAYS comes back soon.

08 December, 2006 10:31  
Blogger anonymous lurker said...

there is the good old fashioned 'vote with your checkbook' flavor of democracy. don't like something -don't patronize the company. do like something -tell your friends about it. and guess what.....no one will care if you are local or expat. put your money where your mouth is and support the remaining advertisers and ignore the boycotters.

....or continue to whine like a bunch of gradeschool girlies.

08 December, 2006 16:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is "dxb541" able to point out the "landmines" in either of those articles?
I am not a fan of 7DAYS but would urge the relevant authorities to explain their apparent behaviour.
Is it possible that with The Sun praising Dubai that Rupert Murdoch is making a pitch for his Media Empire to get a foothold in UAE at the expense of his competition?

08 December, 2006 21:55  
Anonymous Fiache Ro said...

The Daily Mail, a going anti-Dubai... hmmm, interesting proposition -
aren't Daily Mail readers just the target audience that Dubai is trying to lure into all these developments...

Though of course there are no negative news stories that the Daily Mail could exploit are there...

08 December, 2006 23:49  
Blogger truedebbie menon said...

Looking at the content of 7-days, it appears to be the typical little local-interest sheet dwelling on Ex-pat and local issues.

I doubt the Crown would take much interest in such small potatoes. He, after all, owns significant interest in the two "competing" big-gun presses in the UAE, although I fail to understand how two banners under the controlling ownership of one owner can be considered "competing," but 7-Days themselves graces them with such status. It's like saying the Murdoch holdings are a field of competing interests. Har, har har! We laugh all the way to our bank!

In the meanwhile, I would describe the free-press "7-days" in much the same terms as did Ford Prefect his rewrite of the "Earth - Sol III" article in Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, "mostly harmless."

09 December, 2006 00:43  
Blogger Jassim said...

Why is there suddenly an orchestrated campaign to shut down a newspaper ?

Maybe coz its a crap paper. I still am waiting for Khaleej Times to disappear too.

09 December, 2006 06:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand the anxiety over the possible ban of 7 days.
However, the way you put it “A free newspaper with readership of expats craving for freedom” versus “local dogmatic newspaper, with the backup of local people and authority” is not the right description.

09 December, 2006 11:37  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi SD, when are you going to send the new issue of The Secret. We miss it.

10 December, 2006 00:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FWIW, while we definitely stopped receiving the daily delivery in the Springs a couple of weeks ago, 7 Days didn't seem to stop being published. It's been available in our foyer in DMC every day as normal.

10 December, 2006 01:08  
Blogger Nesa Simon David said...

i was reading somewhere that 7days is getting the stick now because they've been purchased by an international company... therefore the dubai government is unable to control them anymore

a quick way to fix this little irritation is to deal neil and similarly boycott dubai companies that are trying to expand internationally, like dubai ports (in the US), etisalat (in other countries), emaar (likewise) etc...

once the above are done... HEY PRESTO...! :)

10 December, 2006 09:38  
Blogger Haroun El Poussah said...

I am happy to report that 7days is alive and well. After having somedistribution issues, the paper is back on track!!

10 December, 2006 12:00  
Blogger truedebbie menon said...

I tend to agree with One of the commentators who lays the "dispute" at the door of cultural illiteracy, or lack of cultural awareness and insensitivity on the parts of the disputants. I can buy that, it is par for the Ex-pat vs the locals discourse in almost any country in the world. Racial bias and bigotry it is called in some places.

I can verify that it happens among expat egoists who tend to look down on "others" and forget who is the guest in whose country.

10 December, 2006 15:16  
Blogger truedebbie menon said...

Democracy comes in many different sizes and shapes, in many places. Nowhere, that I can think of at the moment, does it come painted in democratic colors.

I wouldn't worry about 7-Days. I suspect that, if they do not succumb to the market forces, or to their own incompetence, and become a "real" threat to the "big-time" players, that they will be absorbed, that is bought out willingly, and sold readily, to the great profit and joy of all.

That is why new little ventures are ventured.

10 December, 2006 15:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is it illegal to retain the employees passports in the UAE ?

A certain media company in the UAE just took everyones passport today. Pretty much a case of hand it over or lose your job.

Ahh the fun things these people get away with in sandland.

The labor law section on the ministry of labor website does not have one reference to the word "passport" on it. Go see for yourself

Then they wonder why the outsiders think that the middle east is backward.

Hopefully there are enough smart Emaratis around who will stand up and stop their compatriots from making their nation look bad.


Where are you 7days ? oh nm

10 December, 2006 17:15  
Blogger secretdubai said...

Umm Feras - I couldn't publish your comment in its entirety, unfortunately, due to reasons of legal safety. They're not reasons I agree with, but while one lives in this country, one has to respect certain taboos. When/if I leave this place, y'all can let rip with my blessing ;)

Anyway here is most of your comment:

"When I heard the rumour about why 7Days was banned from Emaar communities, I couldn't believe it. No story was so offensive as to warrant such punishment.

"I believe the 'Russian Bitch School' story might have been offensive because in the Arab world 'Bitch' means 'prostitute'. It is not a word that is thrown about as casually as it is in the west. [small deletion]

"The other 'offensive' story is a complete mystery to me. There was nothing in it that hasn't been said before. Perhaps timing was the issue here. Just two days after sweeping changes were announced to protect workers rights, the American news began broadcasting expose stories about Dubai -- how workers are being abused and exploited to build this luxurious city. They showed workers accomodation (slums), mentioned wages ($1 per hour), accidents (often and deadly), and the fact that workers are often not paid for months or years. Those stories must have really offended some people. Offenders don't like to be exposed -- but some people think they are exempt from the 'name and shame' method. The only people who should have been offended are the guilty. Then the 7Days story came out. Bad timing may have made everyone a little too sensitive about this issue. We all know the workers are abused and we've all complained about it, but no one listens. Now they're listening and they don't like what they're hearing.

"It's probably a good thing that Dubai got rid of the 'human cattle cars' they used to transport the labourers in. I remember when new expats were horrified to see the labourers being transported in conditions that were earily similar to the way Jews and Gypsies were transported to concentration camps; good thing the labour camps aren't so far away and no one died during tranport.

"It has to be difficult for Emiratis to be forced to face the truth about themselves. They need to learn how too love themselves, 'warts and all'. If they don't like what they see, they can always have the warts removed. Only people with low self esteem feel so threatened by criticism. It's great to be proud of actual achievements but exploiting the helpless is not an achievement, and nothing to be proud of.

"If anyone is offended by what I've said and plans on telling me to leave, don't bother. I am a GCC national and this is my home. I will stay and make this a better place, even if some people want me silenced."

12 December, 2006 18:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

SD,

I have to admit that the day the "interview" with Sheikh Khalifa came out in the newspaper I was sure there would be trouble.

It is not the fact that there is any thing quoted from the interview which is wrong. Infact Sheikh Khalifa's quote about the non-applicability of the Labour Laws of the west can be found in the response which was made by the UAE High Commissioner to the UN in the recent Human Rights Watch report on Labour Conditions (refer to the last attachment in the report). His quote is verbatim from the letter.

What was odd (at least to me) was the fact that 7 days in the same paragraph where they quoted Sheikh Khalifa on the non-applicability of western labour laws followed it up in the next sentence with the announcement regarding sweeping labour laws which were introduced by Sheikh Mohammed a month back.

This gave the impression (again to me) that Sheikh Mohammed's thinking was not in line with Sheikh Khalifa's or at least from the article.

On further investigation, the story gets more interesting:

a. 7 days is owned by Al Sadir Media
b. Al Sadir Media is registered and licensed out of Abu Dhabi (and therefore has a local partner)
c. And the local partner is....!!!

Find out the last piece of this puzzle and it all starts to make sense.

12 December, 2006 19:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Local partner is part of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi- thought everyone knew that. hence rivalry with AMG perhaps

14 December, 2006 13:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7days is the only half decent daily in the Persian Gulf region. It would be a shame t see it go.

19 December, 2006 06:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No surprises here..in boomtown dubai its either my way or the highway.only very soon the highway will be back to the sandune where it all started.the press here is just a bad cut and paste job extolling virtues of a town that didnt exist 30 years back.now that they have a town built for free(given that u dont pay the workers who built it)hearing even an oblique critisism is anathema to the powers that be.
will be interesting to see how far this will take them

13 March, 2007 14:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

many words has been said about foreign labor in the U.A.E especiaaly about their claim in contribution. which the present author summarise in two words nonsense. contribution is done for free not for cash if it wasnt for money no labor would have come. the main drive for their arrival is M O N E Y which means: greed. besides each and every free country thinks either my way or the high way coz its a free counrty. for instance, U.S.A and U.K. For people who claim that the counrty is in the dark age grow up and buy urself new glasses its time to change that word is damn old the counrty represents a new modern era. besides the first people to show respect is the expat's for instanmce,u enter ur friends home who should show respect u or him? any person with little logic would have said of course you. besides expat's should be glad and thankfull for welcoming them in our land, provided them with honorable standards of living and a job as well as paymnent they never dreamt off or their original country could've provided. National's should be recruit it in all organization its their land and counrty not the expats.

30 May, 2007 13:26  
Blogger The Ranter said...

Frankly, if you don't have freedom of the press, what's the point? All journalists in Dubai are either bought or spoonfed information. Having come from a PR background myself, I know how it works there. Buy them a little dinner, some drinks, give them a spa voucher, and they're willing to write anything you want. And then of course there are "The Rules". Anyone who has ever worked at Gulf News knows what I'm talking about - tha A4 sheet of paper you get with all the topics you're not allowed to discuss or write about. Say the wrong thing, give your real opinion or ask the wrong questions and you're deported. Hell, a friend of mine almost got deported for overtaking an Emirati on Sheikh Zayed Road! He got called by the police the next day. Turns out the guy was some Sheikh's son. Give me a f*cking break! Of course 7 Days is going to be pushed out of existence. Dubai's motto = if we don't write about it, it's not happening. As long as we look good internationally, we don't really care about the inconceivable racism and injustice that's happening underneath all the glitz, right? In the meantime, how dare you overtake me on MY roads in MY country.

02 October, 2008 20:01  

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