Magazine article Insight on the News

News Wars in Asia and Arabia Prove That All Politics Is Local

Magazine article Insight on the News

News Wars in Asia and Arabia Prove That All Politics Is Local

Article excerpt

Regional English-language dailies are scooping their established competitors. It's too early to predict winners, but Asian and Midwest readers seem to want local coverage and on-site reporting.

A.J. Liebling, a New Yorker correspondent who rose to fame during the 1930s and 1940s, wrote that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. That witticism still rings true, as two new high-profile English-language dailies -- one in the Middle East and the other in Southeast Asia -- are challenging the monopolies held by the International Herald Tribune and the Asian Wall Street Journal in those markets.

The Gulf Times, published by Al Khaleej in Sharjar, United Arab Emirates, and Asia Times, produced by Asia Network Publication Co. Ltd. in Bangkok, Thailand, have started newspaper wars that would make Hildy Johnson and his colleagues from the Front Page proud: Journalists vie for international exclusives with a local touch. These papers provide business and political leaders in the regions with news that does not bear the imprint of American-based publishing houses -- or their preconceptions.

Co-owned by the New York Times and the Washington Post and published in Paris, the International Herald Tribune provides overseas readers with standard East Coast liberalism with a touch of the Left Bank. The Asian Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow-Jones (which publishes Barron's and the Wall Street Journal), disseminated the opposing point of view -- establishment conservatism with a dash of libertarianism.

Such coverage no longer may be satisfactory to readers who want what only a hometown paper can provide: a local voice. "The consciousness of Asia is shifting dramatically," says Doug Tsuruoka, North America bureau chief for Asia Times. "Asia Times provides a necessary alternative. It is creating a regional business community without American ideology."

According to George Russell, former editor of the Gulf Times who launched the daily, the owners of Al Khaleej want an English paper to go up against two others in Dubai. The idea is to attract the top 20 percent of expatriates with a high-quality read. "The existing two papers are written in a strange form of Indian English -- a sort of Kiplingesque speech," Russell tells Insight. "We're in regular `news English.' There are about 700,000 Indian an expatriates and about 250,000 Pakistanis -- mostly laborers and cab drivers here. And we're after the decisionmakers in management."

Both papers have launched quite recently: Asia Times first went to press late last year and the Gulf Times started up April 15. Asia Times has approximately 100 staffers, with bureaus or correspondents in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Seoul, Bangkok and other Asian capitals, as well as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and London. The Gulf Times has almost 80 writers and editors -- about 20 Indian, 20 British, 20 Pakistani and the rest from New Zealand, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Jordan, Syria, Palestine "and Lord knows where else," says Russell. "Most are young, enthusiastic -- the sort of misfits and runaways you'd expect in a place like the gulf."

The Gulf Times' business editor, Rene Pollett, was business editor of the Sun in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for example. Region Editor Annika Savill was diplomatic editor of the Independent in London; and Russell was news editor and assistant managing editor of Variety, the showbiz bible, based in New York. …

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