With the recent opening of Dubai Media City, Dubai firmly established itself as the regional media hotspot. It's also a major commercial center in the Middle East—and these two factors make the EDTV Business Channel, one of Emirates-Dubai Television's latest offerings, a natural. TBS Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer spoke with Rashid Murooshid, Managing Director of the Business Channel, and Stephen Marney, Director of News and Program Development.
S.A. Schleifer: What was your vision for this channel when started, and to what degree have you accomplished this? Also, how did you get the responsibility of directing this channel at such a young age?
Rashid Murooshid: I was designated by officials because they wanted a young, new, informative TV station. I'm pleased with their confidence in me. My vision, however, is something new to this part of the world. It's not easy, because information in the Arab world is not something you can access as easily as you can elsewhere, for many reasons. People in this part of the world are not used to media and how to work with media. But we have a lot of ambitions.
Our main interest is to provide the Arab world with good and useful information for their daily lives in terms of the economy. People now are more interested in knowing about how the economy is going to change their lives, rather than the old political interest that we've had maybe for the last 30 years in the Arab world. People are more concerned about their way of life, their wealth, and how much the economy, whether it's negative or positive, contributes to their well-being.
Schleifer: It's generational—the older generation in the Arab world is more concerned with politics; the younger generation is much more interested in business.
Murooshid: That had to happen. The Arab world is getting more and more competitive. There aren't enough jobs, which means that people are concerned about indicators, their concerned about opportunities. Our mission is also to tell people in other parts of the world that there are very good, intelligent people here to make use of. There are opportunities for investment and profits. It's not only the human rights crisis which people always talk about. There is a different way of living; there is a different style, there are educated people, there is an economy that is growing and much potential. We are sitting here on the majority of the world's energy, and what people talk about is dictatorships and human rights problems and conflict and danger. That's the only thing the average Westerner thinks about the Middle East, that it's dangerous. That's maybe one side of the coin but on the other side there are opportunities. It's a very interesting place to work and to live. Basically were trying to inform people, educate them, and entertain them in the field of economics and business.
Schleifer: In terms of this vision you have for the Business Channel, how would you describe your recruiting a top professional from England, Stephen Marney, in terms of the vision you want to accomplish? What do you wish to accomplish that you haven't yet?
Murooshid: I think I have a good team behind me, whether it's Stephen, the technical department, the journalists on the Arabic side, the reporters abroad. I am very involved with recruitment. I make sure whoever I recruit is going to serve the channel and contribute to its success. Stephen comes from a very good background, and he has worked within an Arab atmosphere, which is very important for me. He has worked as a presenter and as a producer. He knows the field. We're very proud of him, and he's making a great contribution to the success of this channel.
Schleifer: What are the opportunities for this channel to grow and increase its market share? How would you assess the possibilities of this channel?
Stephen Marney: Rashid is absolutely right when he says economics plays a much bigger part in everybody's life now. This channel is positioned in the same way that many other new initiatives are positioned in Dubai. It is growing very fast, it's a very exciting place, and there are investments to be made here. So the channel has two missions: first, the mission to bring global news and information back to Dubai so that business people here—not just Arab business people but business people who invested in Dubai and are investing in the future of Dubai—can see what is going on in the rest of the world.
At the same time we want to be able to broadcast to people in the rest of the world and show them business news and information but from an Arab perspective. For example, if you have an industrialist in Dusseldorf or New York who wants to come to this part of the world to do business, we want to promote to them that if they tune into the Business Channel they are going to see business news and information from our perspective, so they can make a good decisions about what to do when they get here. We are a global channel. We will also show them how we do business in this part of the world, which will help them to take that step. This is a unique selling point—we are not just another business channel. There are a lot of channels out there doing it very well—CNBC, CNN, Sky. But they simply report the facts. What we do is put an extra spin on that. We take the facts, we react to them with an Arab perspective. There is no other channel in the world which does that in both Arabic and English. So we can attract business people from around the world who maybe don't speak Arabic; they can watch our English service and get the same diet of business news and information.
Schleifer: Right now what is the mix between the two languages?
Marney: Right now we are around 50/50, and we are conducting research and looking at all of our programming We want to know from our viewers what sort of programs they like to watch, what time of day they would like to watch, and whether they are interested in the movement of markets—which is a 24-hour operation and which of course is now our aim.
Schleifer: When do you think you will achieve that?
Marney: The most important thing for us at the moment is to take a look at the research that we have initiated to find out exactly when people want to watch and what they want to watch. My guess is that within 12 months we will be 24 hours.
Schleifer: Given that this is the generation most interested in business news, and given that the Arab businessman being likely respond to a global perspective on business, I would imagine that a very high percentage of your Arab viewers want 24-hour coverage and mixed English and Arabic.
Marney: One hundred percent of our Arab viewers are English speaking. English is the international language. If an Arab business person wants to do business in any other part of the world he must speak English, in the same way that a Spanish business person doing business in China will speak English.
Schleifer: And the majority of the International Herald Tribune's readers are no longer American, because of the fact that English has become the international business language. When Rashid talks about "here" or uses the word "we," his references are generally about the entire Arab world. How do you decide to what degree you focus on Dubai and to what degree you focus on the Emirates, to what degree you focus on the general Gulf area and the broader Arab world? Is that a story by story decision?
Murooshid: It just happens to be that Dubai is one of the most active cities of the Arab world. We have our reporters in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey. We have Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the Emirates. Probably North Africa is coming soon. We don't really look at it this way. We cover the active part of this Arab world, the parts where investors will be interested, whether it's educating them, whether its going to be entertaining them, business features or direct information about the markets and the figures they are looking for.
Schleifer: Do you cover any stock markets now for the Arab world and globally?
Marney: Yes, we do we follow the stock markets. Our programming now is improving and increasing to the stage where we will be 24 hours and can follow the world in the way the sun does. When the sun rises in the morning we will just follow it around the world, look at the stocks, look at the movements, look at the markets and analyze them, again with a perspective from the Arab world.
Schleifer: Egypt is 50 percent of the Arab population and also has a very active stock market—probably the most exciting, not maybe not the greatest volume, but the most exciting market. Are you thinking of boosting your coverage of Egypt?
Murooshid: We are negotiating now with the Egyptian stock market to carry live coverage of the daily analysis, plus if we can get a deal with the Egyptian reports to display their numbers and figures on the screen. We are still waiting for the new building which has just been opened which is going to be operating in the next few weeks as far as I am concerned and we are looking very seriously to get something out of there. On a daily basis with we probably have analysis from Egypt which is the biggest stock market and also discussing and negotiating and trying to get a deal also from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia because they have a big market too.
Schleifer: If you want to "follow the sun" and also if you want to play the role you mentioned earlier where you are the source of ongoing information for European businessmen or American businessmen or Japanese businessmen who are interested in the Arab world, I would think that an accompanying website would become very critical to your operation. What are you doing on that issue?
Murooshid: We are now constructing a large information-based website which should be launched by the end of the summer.
Schleifer: What sort of response have you gotten from the viewers since Steven joined the team?
Murooshid: The response from our viewers has been positive from day one of the channel's launch. I think that the numbers have been growing since last year, since the launch, and there have been some dramatic changes since Steven came.
Schleifer: One thing I've noticed is that you used to have non-financial news or even non-news sometimes as filler, which was a bit shocking. You would turn to the channel expecting news or background or analysis and would see something that had nothing at all to do with news.
Murooshid: You probably were watching the channel outside of its transmission hours. We're now transmitting fourteen hours a day. Concerning your point about the channel not covering financial news all the time, we work differently from CNBC or CNNfn. We have our viewers who are still more interested in political news than the Western viewer, so we still have to give him that half an hour of political news.
Schleifer: Even without an economic spin on it?
Murooshid: It has a spin, but we can't ignore what is happening in the Middle East. No matter what, people still want to know what is happening in Jerusalem. There is always news, you cannot ignore that, there is always a political side—without which our viewers might switch the TV off.
Marney: The development of any TV channel is very sequential. What we have now is a series of very well-produced programs, and as Rashid said we have a good group of very professional people working with us, and we have some very specifically tailored programs—we can now promote to our audience that we have news on the hour at the top of the hour. So people will now know when to tune in to watch our economic news or our political news. We are able to promote those programs because we are not running 24 hours—people won't want to watch around the clock. Twenty-four-hour stations are there for people to dip in and to dip out. Because we are digital and because we are global we know that somewhere somebody in the world is going to want to watch one of our programs at any given time. So the development of our programming again starts from day one and is sequential, and some of the research that we are doing will indicate to us what kind of programs we should put in what you might want to call the back half hour because all our bulletins are half-hour bulletins now. We have half-hour business, half hour news, we have local Gulf report programs—which is very important to fly the flag in the Gulf, news about what's going on right here right now. Because when it is all said and done—and this partly answers your question about why we're coming from Dubai—it is the most exciting place in the Middle East right now. It's very much a hub for commerce and industry.
Schleifer: It's the most responsive to the challenge and opportunity of global economy.
Marney: Yes. What we are doing is embracing the vision of Dubai as a world player. Dubai is now a world player in broadcasting; it has the Business Channel, and we are a global business channel with world-class quality. I think that is very, very important for this organization and certainly for this part of the world to be respected as being a global broadcaster which is serious about its business news.
Murooshid: The Business Channel has great potential, and I believe within the next year and a half we will be the leader in this part of the world. We should be number one in the field. We want to be the number-one, most-watched serious TV channel, and I think we are getting close every day.