In a 6 Feb. New York Times’ article about the major players in Arab media, the writer made sure to mention Jordan’s al- Ghad newspaper along with giant dailies like al-Hayat, al-Ahram and al-Sharq al-Awsat.
This is how the New York Times described the paper:
Al Ghad: This new, independent newspaper is making waves in Jordan, taking on the established government-owned papers. Al Ghad is trying to cater to Jordan’s young elite by writing about controversial issues – like education and democratic reform – of interest to Arab baby boomers. The paper strives for a balanced editorial page. For instance, it has published letters from the Israeli ambassador to Jordan, something other Arab newspapers are very rarely willing to do.
Frankly, I have not really been following al-Ghad lately, but now after reading this I think I should. A while back I reviewed the very first issue of the paper but I’m not sure how the paper has been developing since. Any al-Ghad followers out there? Is it really catering to “Jordan’s young elite” as the Times’ article claims?
You know guys, what Natasha said is exactly the way I feel about Abu Aardvark’s blog. I keep going back, but it’s like his commentary on Jordan is somehow just off-key. It’s not like the professional associations are a positive force for democratic change and social freedom. In fact their so-called “anti-normalization” committee threatened violence a few years ago against businesspeople who tried to build a basis for business and peace with Israel.
I sense the romaticization of 1960’s “Arabism” you find among so many Western academics who have chosen to “study” the Middle East. The tone is somehow patronizing and disconnected from reality, isn’t it? Sure, Hubby, the Jordanian government controls the media in Jordan. That’s what we’ve been saying. But the professional associations are another source of social and journalistic repression.
Al-Ghad’s not there yet, it would seem. But at least it offers a model of how media voice can be built that might one day be more free of repression than even the JT. Also, I agree that AFP does a good job. But so do you Natasha, keep it up.
If you are asking about media control, which I’ll assume you are because of the nature of this original post, I don’t think he’d be too far off, though. I’ve seen it happen. I don’t know how the word goes out. I don’t know how or if any direct pressure is applied on the media but I got the impression on a few occasions that it was. And in the mix of all of this, I’m not sure Al Ghad has worked things out. I’ve heard journalists from the papers Aardvark mentions discussing just what he’s saying.
At The Jordan Times, because of its readership (and that’s a wonderfully complicated equation) there was greater latitude to cover such issues. As you might note in that article, the JT was running some stuff when other Jo papers weren’t. Is this because it’s a better newspaper? No. It’s simply because it “can.” It is not given the same level of scrutiny; it’s given greater latitude.
I also noticed curious latitude with Petra, the state news organ. Sometimes they post things that’d surprise you in their candor. But strangely they aren’t always picked up. Abu Aardvark said no other agency was carrying this story aside from the JT and Aljazeera. I’d be surprised if AFP wasn’t working on something. Their Amman editor is pretty above board. She might play politics if there’s something in it for the agency, but I’d be surprised if she skips this story.
Well, Fred, frankly, after following Abu Aardvark’s blog for a while now, I get the feeling that he is somehow anti-Jordan. He is very harsh on the country and the government. And always tries to pull stuff that makes it look bad. I don’t agree with many of the things that he says, but I still like his blog as it is well-written and well-researched.
Hubby — Is there something wrong with this guy? Or is it just me?
Yes, I guess the ideal would be diversity of advertising, which should develop as Jordan’s economy develops. Waseet’s success suggests there’s a growing market out there among small businesses as well as large.
Jo is also a great addition, but is it making any money?
If you haven’t seen them, the Export and Finance Bank and Atlas Investment have interesting financial research on the Jordan Press Foundation on their sites.
Without doubt, Al Ghad’s presence is a huge positive for press development in Jordan. I’m in complete agreement with you on that Fred.
But I think you misunderstand what I’m saying about the financial relations of papers like Al Rai with the government. The government is an owner of the paper through SSC, holding a controlling share. As an owner they wield the control that owners of stock do. But they are not subsidizing the paper to my knowledge. The Al Rai corporation, containing Al Rai, Jordan Times and others, produces a profit all on its own; without gov’t subsidy. It makes a good bit of money in fact. It does not need gov’t money and doesn’t receive it, as far as I know.
The lack of an aggressive or challenging nature comes from the fact that a controlling share of the paper is connected.
It is fascinating too that you mention the professional associations. When I wrote my reply I contemplated mentioning them but figured I’d written too much already. I couldn’t agree with you more. You mention the writer’s association. I’m not sure if you mean the journalist’s guild or if you mean writer’s, as in book, etc group (which is separate). Either way you are right that they do exercise some influence on their members. But more to the point — and much of the point in some previous commentary from the wife on this blog — these organizations are not providing what they should for their members.
At the very least, they should be pushing for better wages for members. But the journalist’s union prez is nearly always an employee of Al Rai — the big poppa of the bunch with the strongest connections. I think that tends to water down its effectiveness a bit.
Waseet, though, did not operate in a vacuum. There were others, like Mumtaz. But they did things differently, viewed things differently. Consider this: Place an ad at Waseet and you are greeted by a suited man or well-dressed woman who sits you down in a professional environment and works to meet your needs, explaining everything as they fill out an ad sheet. You are then directed to a cashier; all this in a very modern, professional looking office space.
Visit Mumtaz and you look for the red painted building, wander down into a basement where old computers litter the floors. You sit down on an office chair with the back broken off looking over a desk littered with empty shwarma wrappers and place your bets. I imagine other ad sheets were similar to Mumtaz. Waseet brought a level of professionalism that was noted and yielded great success for them. I think that’s the path they are following with Al Ghad and that’s surely a good thing.
But I took take some issue with the final idea you suggest. The ad/condolence revenue at a paper like Al Rai brought financial independence. The editorial independence there was tied to the controlling owner. I would also suggest that there needs to be something bigger than a direct connection to advertisers — heavy hitters like Arab Bank, Jo Telecom or Fastlink wield economic power– to achieve real independence. I can tell you from personal experience that stories are influenced by their impact on advertisers. That is not good. That reality is found in the Western press as well, particularly now that news agencies are supposed to generate profit.
Jo magazine was an interesting case. These guys — the developers — had money enough to create and run the magazine for a year without needing advertising. That’s a smart business plan. They wanted to create something unique and special without the compromise commercial connections might bring. What they did was really special and people noticed.
They created a great product first and the advertisers beat down their door. This put them in the driver’s seat, allowing them to be selective and less beholden to pleasing advertisers, less worried about displeasing them. I’m not sure how long that situation will continue. My experience says it won’t be forever. But the ride until then has been very nice.
Hubby, I’m not completely sure, but I think we agree that al-Ghad’s arrival is a good thing: a welcome burst of newness and an outlet for the talent and professionalism of frustrated Jordanian journalists — not to mention more balanced source of information for the Jordanian public.
The channel through which the government provides financial support to Rai and Destour (SSC vs direct subsidies vs ad placements) doesn’t matter so much as the fact that the papers ultimately rely on the government — not their readers or advertisers — for their financial survival. This makes them not too likely to be agressive in challenging government policies or investigating abuses by officials.
The pressures on journalists come from all directions, not just the businesses you mention. Far from least is the pressure The professional associations, notably the writers association in the journalism field, which are amazingly effective inhibitors of good reporting.
The amazing success of al-Waseet was evidence of the dearth of other advertising opportunities in Jordan. The financial independence that reliance on business ad revenue brings can also breed editorial indepdence. Or at least we can hope so.
Regarding government financial support of the press, at least with Ad Dustour and Al Rai, the government doesn’t provide subsidies and I’m not sure about government advertising providing support either; I never saw that. In fact, the government has developed a somewhat complex scheme so that it doesn’t have direct control. The papers are partly owned as stock shares by the Social Security Corporation. SSC is a publicly held corporation that has obvious connections to the government. So the government is connected to a corporation that owns stock shares in most/many of the newspapers in Jordan [but not Al Ghad (as far as I know)] separating it in one sense (the visible one) from direct control. That said, at least with Al Rai, SSC always maintains a controlling portion of these shares.
With regard to wages, let me just say that Al Rai is rolling in money from advertising and condolence revenues. Its ad sections alone are the size of the entire publication of other newspapers. I’m not sure of the Arabic term for this but the advertisements that espouse condolences actually top the advertising revenue. I’ve heard word of hundreds of thousands of JDs spent on single condolence adverts. Al Rai is reporting big profits, make no mistake. At this point, they’ve got loads more cash than al-Ghad. They make no bones about reporting their continuing growth and profit every year. The fact that these profits don’t show up in journalist paychecks is a travesty, particularly when they are showing in someone else’s.
I think the ‘new blood,’ if you will, running Al Ghad, has a new attitude about its employees for a number of reasons. The owner saw that attitude produce while running the hottest free advert sheet in Jordan, Waseet. It seems to me the salary issue is a case of simple market economics: If journalists accept being paid JD200 per month that’s what they are paid and over time acceptance of these low-ball salaries brings the pay level down. The market is also saturated with people falling all over themselves to become journalists. Those two factors give newspapers little motivation to pay more.
If Al Ghad steps up and continues to pay more and holds itself and its staff to higher standards, perhaps journalists in Jordan will value their work more highly and refuse the piss poor wages on offer, slowly leveraging the average paycheck kingdom-wide back up. But more to the point, higher wages is good all around.
Those “pressures” you refer to Fred are a nearly daily affair, coming from the likes of hotels, airlines, travel companies, restaurants, galleries — whoever wants to get a free shot in the paper really. Higher pay, IMHO, will bring greater self-respect, which should mean less chance of journalists allowing influence — in any form — entering their reports. In the end, even if that’s the only real change al-Ghad brings, that shift is tremendously important for continuing positive press development.
I wanted to add that being financially viable also permits al-Ghad to pay a decent wage to its journalists and employees, that is, to pay for quality reporting and design. This makes journalists less vulnerable to all sorts of pressures and rewards their hard work the way it should be rewarded. Something else that’s new in Jordan.
What’s interesting and new about al-Ghad is that it has an independent financial base, unlike the main Jordanian dailies that depend on either governnment subsidies or government-placed advertising for most of their revenue. Relying on commercial advertising rather than government makes it easier for al-Ghad to take and independent editorial line; it also allows it provide more useful information to its readers about where to get the best deals. It is interesting how the development of a commercial advertising industry in Jordan can be a step, in more ways than one, toward more freedom.