Al-Hayat still on top?

February 1, 2008 § Leave a comment

Here’s a great English-language article from the journal Arab Media & Society which details the decline of London as the hub for Pan-Arab dailies. The author, Najm Jarrah, argues that Arab media output in London is still high, but the rise of satellite television has offset production a bit.

I read the London-based (and now Saudi-owned) al-Hayat every day; I think it provides the highest-quality reporting and I enjoy reading Jihad al-Khazin’s columns. (It turns out, Khazin also has an English-language blog.) In order to get a copy of al-Hayat in Damascus, I had to get to the paper stand early because the paper was always sold out. The Syrian papers never sold out.

Jarrah offers this characterization of al-Hayat:

Al-Hayat has also undergone changes. The paper made good use of the advantages bestowed by a London location when it re-launched there in 1987, ten years after closing in Beirut. It was qualitatively a cut above any other Arab daily. It provided original worldwide reporting from an Arab perspective through a network of capable correspondents, while most of the competition relied principally on recycled agency material. . .

Today’s al-Hayat is not so distinctive. It still has strengths. But like Asharq al-Awsat, albeit to a lesser extent, Saudi influence has become more visible. Longstanding readers complain of a more conformist editorial approach and a general erosion of quality. The London base has ceased to be the asset it was.

Sometimes I find a somewhat reverent tone in al-Hayat toward Saudi leaders, and sometimes not-so-important Saudi-related stories get unnecessary front page attention, but overall, the articles provide in-depth information, especially in their Lebanese coverage.

Thanks to Jarrah’s description of al-Quds al-Arabi, I’ll have to check out more of their coverage. Al-Quds al-arabi is “the pan-Arab print media’s anti-establishment standard-bearer, it is reviled by detractors as demagogic and revered by fans for its courage and candor in criticizing Arab regimes and reporting unflattering news about them.”

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