Abu Dhabi not looking to start newspaper war

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Abu Dhabi is not looking to start a national newspaper war with the launch of its first English-language daily next month, the newspaper's editor has told ArabianBusiness.com.

Martin Newland, former editor of the UK's Daily Telegraph, said there was plenty of room in the market for another paper and he did not think its launch would spark a battle for readers and ad revenue with Dubai-based titles such as Gulf News, Khaleej Times and Emirates Business 24/7.

"I don’t want to start a newspaper war. I think there is room for all of us in this market, it's growing at such as rate," Newland said in an interview.

"I would be surprised if we take revenue and readers away from the competition."

Newland said the newspaper, thought to be called 'The Nation', would be a broadsheet with just over 80 pages of news, business, arts and culture, and sport daily. Newland would not confirm the name.

He said the paper would have around a 70/30 split between editorial and advertising. He revealed the paper had already hit its advertising target for the first issue, describing advertiser interest as "keen".

Asked how long it would be before the paper begins to turn a profit, Newland said a “handful” of years, without being more specific.

The publication, part of the state-owned Abu Dhabi Media Company, has been on the drawing board for over six months and Newland has been on a massive recruitment drive, hiring some 200 journalists from Britain, South Africa, Australia, the US and Canada.

News of the newspaper and Newland's appointment last year sparked frenzied speculation about the size and scale of the publication, with rumours flying about of a huge editorial budget with hundreds of journalists being paid outrageous salaries.

Newland said the newspaper had enough money "to get the initial job done", but that it was not on the same scale as a Wall Street Journal or New York Times, although he hoped it would be in years to come.

"I don’t want people to think this is some massive multi-billion dollar project and we are paying ludicrous salaries. It isn’t," Newland said, adding that the project was around the same size as the National Post in Canada, which he helped launch.

The newspaper's editorial policy has already come under fire from certain sections of the UAE media scene for comments reportedly made by Newland in a leaked memo to staff, in which he talks about binning the CVs of "investigative" journalists and says "we are not here to fight [for] press freedom".

The editor defended his remarks, stating that the primary goal was to launch a "quality newspaper" with "good journalism".

"I can’t lie and say I am spending lots and lots of money in order to fight a press freedom battle. That is not the job. The job is first and foremost to launch a quality newspaper," he said.

"You have to have the basics right before you start crusading [journalism] as it were."

Asked how the newspaper would cover stories sensitive to the government, such as labour strikes, Newland said he would not know until the paper launched, but that stories in the public domain needed to be reported.

"Stories that are in the public domain like things such as labour strikes have to be reported. Otherwise your credibility suffers," he said.

"All kinds of stewardship issues go on behind the scenes between editors and proprietors, but the problem is when it [a story] becomes public domain.

"Then everyone knows it is going on and they turn to their local media source to look at it and if it’s not there then that media source’s credibility suffers, and worse still you get some drive-by attempt by a foreign publication."

Newland said he thought there was less and less worry on the part of government about what the UAE media could report, and lots of "grey areas" had developed.

"You can go a long way in a grey area and we certainly intend to do that," he said.

Newland said the first issue would appear on newsstands "in less than a month", without being more specific.

The paper would only be available in the UAE initially, although there would be limited runs in some key cities around the world such as London and Washington "to explain to the world what the emerging UAE is", he said.

He would not reveal the cover price, but said it would not be a "market differentiator".

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