DUBAI // Cash-strapped advertisers and the advent of social media are challenging the existence of media organisations, newspaper and television representatives at the Arab Media Forum said yesterday. Yet the ninth annual forum concluded with an expectation that quality journalism and creative content would overcome those challenges. More than 2,000 people involved in regional and international media attended the event.
Michael Golden, the vice chairman of The New York Times Company, insisted that newspapers still had a key role to play despite shrinking advertising revenue, the lifeblood of any print publication. The company said last month that income from print ads fell 12 per cent in the first quarter compared to the same period a year earlier. "Websites and electronic vehicles have made news readily available, but offer a distinctly different experience as compared to a newspaper," he said. "Newspapers have the ability to take data and information, apply their insight and context to convert it into knowledge and understanding.
"Everyone knows the event. What they search for is what the event means to them." Still, the competition from non-print sources was increasing, he said. While websites and mobile phones could not challenge the print media on detail and analysis, tablet devices like Apple's iPad were increasingly providing the same experience as a newspaper, he said. "The key to sustenance here is to be able to cater to readers through all these new media vehicles," Mr Golden said.
Responding to questions from the audience about the survival prospects of The New York Times with advertisement revenues in decline, he said: "Yes, we have borrowed money. All companies have to do this. Our advertising was reduced and we had to take action." However, Mr Golden said the paper had as many as 800,000 subscribers who had been on board for two years or longer. "We still have the largest international news force of any paper in the US," Mr Golden added. "We are comfortable in where we stand."
The impact of new forms of media dominated the day's discussions. "The world is facing three main drivers that make technological invasion difficult to curb," said Santino Saguto, the managing director of the Middle East and North Africa region for the management consultancy Value Partners. "These drivers are globalisation, rapid increase in technological development and innovation, as well as the new generation." Local media professionals said they were often at the mercy of advertisers, leaving them with little opportunity to bring out more creative content.
"We often hear about Arab content being weak and repetitive," said Mohammed Harib, the director and founder of Lammtara Pictures, which produced the hugely popular Arabic animation show Freej. "However, if we offer new ideas, they are not accepted by television stations due to lack of advertisers." Mr Harib said he had to wait for nearly five years before someone agreed to release his show. "In each financial crisis, the media suffers the most," he said.
"It is important to have a local fund to support media in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other places." Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, appeared at the forum to present an award for Media Personality of the Year to Abdulla Omran Taryam, the chairman of Dar Al Khaleej Printing & Publishing. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org