How COVID-19 crisis changed the scene for Middle East news media

Special How COVID-19 crisis changed the scene for Middle East news media
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Updated 18 March 2022

How COVID-19 crisis changed the scene for Middle East news media

How COVID-19 crisis changed the scene for Middle East news media
  • Expert panel analyzed “News media business after print?” as part of the Media Leaders eSummit
  • Participants said the pandemic presented the case for faster adoption of online business models

DUBAI: Publishers in the Arab world unpacked the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their industry in a virtual conference on Tuesday.

During a panel discussion titled “News media business after print?”, as part of the Media Leaders eSummit, they analyzed how the health crisis changed the scene for publishers in the Middle East.

Abdulsalam Haykal, chairman of Majarra in the UAE, mentioned several ways in which the changes to media content were brought about.

“It forced people into solitude,” he said. “So that new mindset and framework of ‘working from home’ elevated technology to a position of a partner. It was a strategic tool we used, but now it’s a partner we rely and depend on, so life happens now through technologies.”

This change also brought about a new need for instant information and knowledge among consumers. For Haykal, a collaborative approach emerged towards combating the pandemic, with a need to understand their role in that approach.

“We wanted to know how other people were dealing with it, the skillset and the tools, and to learn as we lived through it,” he said.

COVID-19 also presented the case for faster adoption of online business models that made room for new upgrades in technology infrastructure, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa, and introduced new practices such as the subscription business model.

According to Haykal, these elements combined present a golden opportunity for publishers in the region to look to subscription models.

However, he added that any move in that direction will require a great degree of trust between publisher and consumer.

“Trust in our business is to have information, knowledge and news that are reliable, to have a user experience so that people can move through that knowledge and information smoothly and consistently,” he said.

“(It) is necessary for us, as publishers and content creators, to elevate our own content and user experience to that level as well.”

He said that news is a commodity around the world, and many publishers are looking to move beyond just the news and allow consumers to understand what it means for their lives, giving consumers the entire online news and analysis experience through brand association with different organizations.

“The challenge is people compare us with any app where they have a better experience,” he said.

“The expectation from the online world is much higher. This is a chance for every publisher, in the region specifically, to make that leap into what is almost a white space.”

Mohamad K Alayyan, chairman and publisher of Al-Ghad Newspaper in Jordan, said the modern world is a village where “everything is out there” and comparison has become easy for consumers. This challenge, he added, has forced publishers to step up their game.

“The wake-up call from COVID-19 is that print no longer pays the bills, it can no longer sustain us and help us thrive in this sector,” Alyayyan said.

“But what helps us is having a brand that’s known for good quality content. No matter what, the need for quality content remains strong — people want good quality content and that’s where the starting point should be.”

Using good quality content and brands will help organizations overcome any disruption in technology.

Alyayyan’s said newspaper currently has a plan in place for such a transformation by diversifying its revenue through advertising and television.

“That’s only to make up for the lost revenue from the paper,” he said. “Then we went online, and we joined old publishers in Jordan in selling online advertising. After we secured the least damage in what COVID-19 has done to the revenue of the paper, now we have to look at what paywall we should do.”

The group is looking at where its data can help advise on readers’ preferences. This review, he believes, will set the foundations for a paywall’s starting point.

For Ahmad Al-Hammadi, CEO of press sector at Dubai Media Incorporated in the UAE, the link between COVID-19 and the media is very complicated, as the pandemic changed the media industry in its entirety, along with its behaviors and products.

“Three or four years ago, we were saying that one day, the newspaper will disappear and what would we do and going to the next stage technology wise,” he said.

“The question was there, and we weren’t taking any action. Suddenly, COVID-19 came to us, and we said we had to go through the experience, even if you don’t succeed.”

DMI halted newspaper printing during the pandemic, following more than 40 years in the market. Although it faced some difficulties, the DMI team believed it could reach the next stage and manage itself.

“But the revenue was totally dead,” Al-Hammadi said. “You cannot compare the revenue, which is the fuel of the company. Our digital platform is number one in the market here in our category by far, but COVID-19 changed all of our mindsets in the company.”

He said, however, that revenue from digital in the region is not to the level publishers are looking for, adding that some of the difficulties the market is facing is people’s mindset, media training centers that are lacking maturity, a lack of copywriters and insufficient revenue.

For Al-Hammadi, paid content is necessary for success and the group is currently in the process of following that path.

“All these obstacles are there, and people are trying to change,” he said.

“The industry is mature enough; we have to have a plan and not blame ourselves or each other. We have to try to solve the formula — everybody is trying, people are on the right track if they believe digital is yesterday, not the future.”


Sky News chief to step down as channel adapts to post-TV future

Sky News chief to step down as channel adapts to post-TV future
Updated 05 December 2022

Sky News chief to step down as channel adapts to post-TV future

Sky News chief to step down as channel adapts to post-TV future
  • John Ryley departing operation after 17 years

LONDON: Sky News chief John Ryley announced on Sunday that he will step down after 17 years in charge as the channel faces the challenges of a post-television future.

Ryley, 60, assumed his role as head of the news outlet in 2006, when Sky News was almost fully dedicated to producing its flagship live television channel. He led the channel’s transformation into a multimedia operation with a large online audience.

Sky News, however, continues to spend a substantial part of its budget on traditional broadcasting.

Sources at the channel told the Guardian that Ryley’s departure will be announced to staff in a call on Dec. 5. Details are yet to be confirmed, but the call is also expected to reveal new hires for Sky News’ data, podcasts and original journalism teams.

The sources added that investment in several new studios would be paused.

Across almost two decades, Ryley won many journalism awards as he faced the challenge of running a news outlet in an era of media decline.

He said in recent years that he believed television news, instead of relying on patrician presenters, should increasingly feature reporters offering expert analysis and context. “The age of the all-powerful anchor is gone — instead they share the stage with journalists in the field, providing the audience with the high-fiber news they demand,” he wrote.

The announcements, according to The Guardian, suggest that Sky News’ leadership is preparing for a future where the channel’s focus shifts away from its live news operation.

While figures show that some 10.2 million people across Britain watched Sky News in November, audience figures for individual shows came in below 100,000 viewers in some cases. The channel is increasingly turning to platforms such as TikTok to reach the younger generations.

Sky News’ financial backing is wrapped up in corporate politics. When founder Rupert Murdoch sold Sky in 2018 to US media giant Comcast, the new owners pledged to maintain Sky News’ funding for a decade.

However, that agreement has yet to be honored, and decisions will be made soon about the outlet’s long-term future and funding model. Comcast is thought to be exploring ways to integrate Sky News into its US-based NBC News operation.

The wider Sky business has faced many challenges in recent years, with revenues slumping as consumers and advertisers cut back on spending in the face of tough economic conditions. The company is already looking beyond its satellite dish model toward a future where its subscription service is delivered over the internet.


New Zealand plans law to require Facebook, Google to pay for news

New Zealand plans law to require Facebook, Google to pay for news
Updated 05 December 2022

New Zealand plans law to require Facebook, Google to pay for news

New Zealand plans law to require Facebook, Google to pay for news
  • The new legislation will go to a vote in parliament and is expected to be passed

WELLINGTON: The New Zealand government said it will introduce a law that will require big online digital companies such as Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google and Meta Platforms Inc (META.O) to pay New Zealand media companies for the local news content that appears on their feeds.

Minister of Broadcasting Willie Jackson said in a statement on Sunday that the legislation will be modeled on similar laws in Australia and Canada and he hoped it would act as an incentive for the digital platforms to reach deals with local news outlets.

"New Zealand news media, particularly small regional and community newspapers, are struggling to remain financially viable as more advertising moves online," Jackson said. "It is critical that those benefiting from their news content actually pay for it."

The new legislation will go to a vote in parliament where the governing Labour Party's majority is expected to pass it.

Australia introduced a law in 2021 that gave the government power to make internet companies negotiate content supply deals with media outlets. A review released by the Australian government last week found it largely worked.


Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports
Updated 05 December 2022

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Apple and Amazon resume advertising on Twitter — reports

Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. are planning to resume advertising on Twitter, according to media reports on Saturday.
The developments follow an email sent by Twitter on Thursday to advertising agencies offering advertisers incentives to increase their spending on the platform, an effort to jump-start its business after Elon Musk’s takeover prompted many companies to pull back.
Twitter billed the offer as the “biggest advertiser incentive ever on Twitter,” according to the email reviewed by Reuters. US advertisers who book $500,000 in incremental spending will qualify to have their spending matched with a “100 percent value add,” up to a $1 million cap, the email said.
On Saturday, a Platformer News reporter tweeted that Amazon is planning to resume advertising on Twitter at about $100 million a year, pending some security tweaks to the company’s ads platform.
However, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Amazon had never stopped advertising on Twitter.
Separately, during a Twitter Spaces conversation, Musk announced that Apple is the largest advertiser on Twitter and has “fully resumed” advertising on the platform, according to a Bloomberg report.
Musk’s first month as Twitter’s owner has included a slashing of staff including employees who work on content moderation and incidents of spammers impersonating major public companies, which has spooked the advertising industry.
Many companies from General Mills Inc. to luxury automaker Audi of America stopped or paused advertising on Twitter since the acquisition, and Musk said in November that the company had seen a “massive” drop in revenue.
Apple and Twitter did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment on the matter.


Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations
Updated 03 December 2022

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations

Twitter Files: All you need to know about Elon Musk’s latest revelations
  • The thread included snippets related to the 2020 Hunter Biden story

A tweet on Friday by journalist Matt Taibbi released the “Twitter Files” Elon Musk has been teasing since Monday, claiming they unmasked the suppression of free speech by the social media platform.

Taibbi, who typed “The Twitter Files” in all caps, wrote, in his rather dramatic opening tweets, that the thread will “tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms.”

Twitter CEO Musk said in a tweet on Monday: “The public deserves to know what really happened,” and promoting the lengthy thread on Friday, he wrote, “Here we go!!” with two popcorn emojis.

The thread, peppered with snippets and screenshots described by Taibbi as “internal documents,” detailed the company’s call to block a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden shortly before the presidential election.

Several of the snippets showed Twitter executives rushing to make a difficult moderation decision, which Taibbi described as “extraordinary steps to suppress the story,” about the New York Post article.

On Oct. 14, 2020, the New York Post alleged that it had obtained emails providing evidence that Hunter Biden had introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to “a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company.”

Twitter’s policies prohibit the distribution of “hacked materials,” according to NBC News, and it cited the relevant policy as one of the reasons it had blocked the article, confirming that the content was not the concern.

Among the screenshots were also emails from unnamed individuals in the Biden administration, requesting that Twitter act against specific tweets.

NBC News reported that “many, if not all, of the tweets in question violated Twitter rules,” and “at least three of those tweets involved photographs of Hunter Biden.”

On Friday, Musk faced the pressure of having to make a tough moderation decision of his own, when rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, posted an image of a swastika inside the Star of David, violating the platform’s policy against incitement of violence and prompting Twitter to suspend Ye’s account.

While most comments supported Taibbi’s thread, one Twitter user wrote: “Really, Mr. Musk? This is an old, very stale story.” Another user, Collin Rugg, whose profile description says he was “banned from Twitter at 75k followers for supporting Trump,” wrote: “Elon Musk is going up against some of the most powerful people in America. Pray for him.”

US Senator for Kentucky Rand Paul retweeted the thread, saying: “This is better than a Friday night movie. Everyone should read this and everyone should thank Elon Musk for bringing this public.”


Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations
Updated 03 December 2022

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations

Daily Mail delays public release of privacy breach court allegations
  • Lawyers acting for Prince Harry, Elton John and others claim clients were victims of ‘abhorrent criminal activity’

The Daily Mail is seeking to delay the publication of court allegations made by high-profile claimants surrounding the newspaper’s journalism practices.

The potentially damaging allegations, made by lawyers acting for Prince Harry, Doreen Lawrence, Elton John and other high-profile individuals, should have been formally acknowledged by the Daily Mail within 14 days from when they were served, automatically making their details available for public and media scrutiny, according to The Guardian.

, which also includes Sadie Frost, David Furnish and Liz Hurley, filed court cases against Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s parent company, in early October.

Lawyers representing the group said they had “compelling and highly distressing evidence” that their clients had been the “victims of abhorrent criminal activity and gross breaches of privacy” by Associated Newspapers over many years.

The lawyers claimed that the Daily Mail’s parent company misused private information, alleging that listening devices may have been placed in the homes of the celebrities.

Paul Dacre, now editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, told the Leveson Inquiry in 2012 while editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail that his newspaper had never engaged in illegal behavior such as phone hacking.

Dacre is speculated to be on Boris Johnson’s resignation honors list, but Labour MPs have demanded that the honor be delayed pending the outcome of the legal case.

Sources with knowledge of the case said that the paperwork setting out the allegations against the Daily Mail and its sister title is still private due to legal intervention by Associated Newspapers, which has delayed formal acknowledgment — and therefore publication — of the claims.

The allegations come despite the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday’s long record of campaigning against “secret justice” and promoting transparency in the court system. A spokespeople for the Daily Mail’s parent company did not respond to multiple requests for comment on why the company had yet to acknowledge the claims.

Associated Newspapers has been accused of hiring private investigators to secretly place listening devices inside cars and homes, commissioning individuals to surreptitiously listen in to, and record, private telephone calls, paying police officials for sensitive inside information, impersonating individuals to obtain medical information by deception, and accessing bank accounts, credit histories and financial transactions through illicit means and manipulation.

The Daily Mail previously dismissed the claims as “preposterous smears,” alleging that the legal cases consisted of “unsubstantiated and highly defamatory claims based on no credible evidence.” The paper said that the proceedings “appear to be nothing more than a pre-planned and orchestrated attempt to drag the Mail titles into the phone-hacking scandal.”

Former Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes is also filing proceedings against Associated Newspapers. His claims are believed to center around allegations of voicemail interception by the newspaper.

The major allegations are the first to be leveled against the Daily Mail by high-profile individuals in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and 2011 closure of the News of the World.