CAIRO: As print media powerhouses crumple around the world due to exorbitant printing costs, declining advertising revenues and dwindling subscribers, the recent launch of a privately-owned Egyptian newspaper seems to fly in the face of glum projections on the local impact of the global financial crisis.
Last February the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper hit the newsstands, bringing the number of local dailies to 17, according to figures by the Higher Press Council.
Al-Shorouk was initiated over a year and a half ago – before the economic crisis hit – and is owned by Ibrahim Al-Moalem, a well-connected Egyptian publisher and head of the Egyptian and Arab Publishers’ Union.
The recent flood of privately-owned publications dates back to 2004, when independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm was launched under the Press Law 96 that allows the private sector to own newspapers as a joint venture and Law 159 of 1981 for joint stock companies.
However, the laws stipulate that the shares owned by each stake-holder cannot exceed 10 percent.
The private sector has ever since been investing heavily in the local media, seemingly unfazed by the global recession on the one hand, or by the rise of online media widely seen as a threat to the printed press.
With the launch of Al-Shorouk and the anticipated launch of Al-Masry Al-Youm’s online English edition, the industry does not seem to be letting up.
Hassan Al-Mestekawi, one of Al-Shorouk’s founders, said that the local media industry is different than its global counterpart.
“People in the US are connected through other means, such as television and online media, he told Daily News Egypt.
Al-Mestekawi, a board member of Al-Shorouk, initially invested LE 50,000 in the LE 30 million project, but withdrew his investment when the paper was at risk of being suspended.
According to the Journalists’ Syndicate law, journalists are forbidden from partially owning newspapers.
Al-Mestekawi said he was initially interested in investing in Al-Shorouk because he believed the local print media scene needed new blood, different from government-owned newspapers, which he said are interested in covering the National Democratic Party, and from Al-Masry Al-Youm, which he claimed is interested in covering the strikes and demonstrations that are often held on the stairs of the Journalists’ Syndicate. “[Al-Shorouk] is a space for unbiased truth, connecting Egyptians with the world, he said.
Media professionals say money is not the only motivation behind the recent influx of privately-owned newspapers.
“Making profit is not the main reason behind the flow of privately-owned print media in Egypt, said Sameh Abdallah, assistant editor-in-chief of the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper and a training consultant at the Higher Press Council.
“Most of the newspaper owners are businessmen, they aim to protect their businesses, increase their influence, or other [hidden agendas], he explained.
Abdallah, however, maintained that it was too early to judge in the case of the recently launched Al-Shorouk.
Salah Diab, founder of Al-Masry Al-Youm, is also involved in the food, oil and agriculture industries. However, he refused to launch Al-Masry Al-Youm as the media branch of his conglomerate.
“Every businessman is aware that it’s in his best interest to work in a stable political and social environment, and having an independent media is one way of achieving that, he told Daily News Egypt.
“When we decided to issue Al-Masry Al-Youm [which is partially owned by Naguib Sawiris, Ahmed Bahgat and other businessmen], making profit wasn’t our main goal, he said.
But, he said, the newspaper has to bring in profit in order to survive in the market.
In 2006, Al-Masry Al-Youm signed a concession three-year agreement with Ad Line advertising agency for LE 22 million. According to Diab, the contract will be renewed by the end of 2009 and will be raised to LE 30-40 million, depending on the number of ads.
Al-Shorouk is also involved in a concession agreement with Ad Line, however no figures were available for the deal in question.
Anwar Al-Hawary, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Al-Ektesadi magazine – a weekly published by the state-owned Al-Ahram – said the local media market is not saturated.
“There is room for even 10 more dailies, said Al-Hawary, who is the former chief editor of Al-Wafd and Al-Masry Al-Youm.