Huge shake-up at London’s pan-Arab media

Sunday 27/11/2016
A collection of Saudi-owned newspapers, including the London based Asharq Al-Awsat. (AFP)

London - There was a shake-up at two major pan-Arab newspapers this week following the resigna­tion of Asharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief Salman Al-Dossa­ry, who was replaced by former Al-Hayat editor-in-chief Ghassan Charbel. Zouheir Kseibati, head of Al-Hayat’s Beirut office, succeeds Cherbel as Al-Hayat’s editor-in-chief. Both publications are Saudi-owned.
According to Saudi sources, Ri­yadh is seeking to modernise Saudi Arabia’s media operations in line with the requirements of the time, particularly in terms of technologi­cal advances.
The appointment of new editors-in-chief at Asharq Al-Awsat and Al-Hayat brings hope that changes in personnel will lead to improve­ments in the journalistic perfor­mance and content of both news­papers, the Saudi sources said.
Kseibati has a long history with Al-Hayat, working as managing editor at its London office starting in 1990. He subsequently headed Al-Hayat’s Beirut office beginning in 2005 before being appointed editor-in-chief earlier this year following Charbel’s resignation. Kseibati previously worked for a number of Lebanese publications, including Al-Hawadeth and Awraq magazines, among others.
Veteran Lebanese journalist Charbel was head of the political desk at Asharq Al-Awsat, before moving on to work for the now defunct current affairs magazine Al-Wasat, a sister publication of Al-Hayat. While there Charbel worked his way up to the position of editor-in-chief, and then joined the editorial staff of Al-Hayat as its assistant editor, until becoming editor-in-chief in 2004.
The change in the leadership of Al-Hayat comes just a few months after the decision to move its head­quarters from London to Dubai and after Cherbel made the decision to resign as editor-in-chief weeks ago.
Al-Dossary announced his resig­nation as Asharq Al-Awsat editor-in-chief and the appointment of Charbel as his successor during a staff meeting.
“I wish all the best to my dear colleague Ghassan Charbel as ed­itor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. My professional relationship [with the newspaper] might have come to an end, but my relationship as a reader with this beautiful green newspaper will never end,” he tweeted following his resignation.
While Kseibati’s promotion to editor-in-chief, following Charbel’s resignation was viewed as logical, Charbel’s appointment as Asharq Al-Awsat’s new editor-in-chief is viewed as an interesting develop­ment, particularly given that he is a non-Saudi national. Given that the post had previously been held by a succession of Saudi journalists, the appointment of a non-Saudi na­tional represents a possible change in strategy for the newspaper, me­dia observers say.
Commenting on Charbel’s ap­pointment as Asharq Al-Awsat’s new editor-in-chief, Saudi Re­search and Marketing Group’s (SRMG) Chairman Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al-Saud said: “The appointment is in line with the future vision of the Saudi group to enable the best media leaders to help improve all publications and lead them.”
Asharq Al-Awsat has changed leadership three times since 2013, with one of its editors, Adel Al to­raifi, going on to hold the position of information minister in Saudi Arabia. Charbel is the first non- Saudi editor, since its first editor-in-chief Jihad Khazen, who is also Lebanese.
Before the pan-Arab satellite news boom started with the Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel in 1996, London’s pan-Arab news­papers were the only method by which regional news reached a global audience, reporting on all the trials and tribulations the Mid­dle East region was experiencing.
The first pan-Arab newspaper to launch from London, was Al Arab Daily in 1977, a sister publication of The Arab Weekly and part of the Al Arab Publishing Centre’s family of publications, established by the late Hajj Ahmed El-Houni.
After that came SRMG’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, which launched in 1978, and went on to become one of the most influential newspapers globally. The publica­tion, which is printed simultane­ously each day on four continents in 14 cities, was described by the New York Times in 2005 as “one of the oldest and most influential in the region”.
Originally a Lebanese publica­tion founded and launched by Kamel Marwa in 1946, Al-Hayat began publishing out of London in 1988, after it was bought by Saudi Prince Khalid bin Sultan. The pa­per, which describes itself as “an independent, international and Arab political daily paper”, tar­gets Arab communities in about 30 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and North America.