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Zafar Siddiqi, Middle East Business News [MEBN] Chairman and CEO

Middle East Business News, based in Dubai Media City, produces a weekly half-hour English-language business show for CNBC Europe. TBS Managing Editor Sarah Sullivan talked with MEBN Chairman and CEO Zafar Siddiqi about the company's decision to establish itself in Dubai.

Sarah Sullivan: Why did you choose Dubai generally and Dubai Media City in particular as a base of operations?

Zafar Siddiqi: We've been looking for opportunities in the Middle East for some time now and we reviewed the whole area, and Dubai Media City was the first in the Middle East to offer several things: first, the freedom to report as we wish to, with no restrictions. We've been in operation now for six months, and we've never been told, this cannot be covered, or this has to be covered. Second, Dubai is becoming the focal point for most multinational companies operating out of this area, and that helps us to get more interviews because more CEOs and chairmen are stopping over in Dubai.

Sullivan: Does Dubai Media City offer you the infrastructure, support, and facilities you need to operate, better than other places in the region could?

Siddiqi: Yes. For one thing, most countries in the region have restrictions on uplinking, and that's one area we looked at seriously. We have been told by DMC that this will be available should we wish to utilize it, by the first quarter of 2002. We'll use that if it turns out to be cost-effective for us.

Sullivan: What would you like to see happen in the next phase of the Dubai Media City project?

Siddiqi: I think they're going about it in the right way. They're encouraging graphic designers, writers, producers, and at the same time the whole infrastructure is very geared to providing the large anchor clients that will be based here. They have the support services in place. I think for a would-be broadcaster this is an ideal place to be, as far as broadcasting in the region is concerned.

Sullivan: You're producing a half-hour weekly show for CNBC. Is anyone other than CNBC Europe carrying the program? And what other programming is Middle East Business News working on?

Siddiqi: The program is being carried on Dubai terrestrial channels, and also shortly will be on Oman TV, and we're talking to other countries in the region about carrying the program as well. It will also be carried, in a matter of weeks, on CNBC Asia and CNBC World in the United States. We are negotiating currently with Dubai TV for producing daily programming, and are looking at the suitability of a business channel for the region, broadcasting from Dubai with bureaus throughout the area, with most of the programming in Arabic but also programming in English.

Sullivan: Al-Jazeera is looking at creating an Arabic-language business channel with CNBC—does that affect your plans?

Siddiqi: I think there is room for two business channels. It's definitely a growth market.

Sullivan: In a region where political reporting can sometimes be difficult or restricted, how would you characterize the climate for business reporting?

Siddiqi: There's complete freedom. That's the focus of most regional governments; they're opening up, they have investments, privatization processes, and I think there's more focus now on business being done.

Sullivan: As you look toward MEBN's future, your plans for starting a channel, does it give you an advantage that you're already in Dubai Media City?

Siddiqi: Absolutely. I think having the experience and the working relationships are a big plus, and also being based in Dubai if you're looking at a business channel. You'd either choose Dubai or Bahrain—I don't think you'd look at a third country in terms of starting a business channel. Dubai is an ideal location—the human resources are here, which is key, and there's a great infrastructure in place.

Sullivan: We've also heard you have plans for a Pakistan-based news service?

Siddiqi: Through one of our subsidiary companies, we're seriously looking at an Arabic-language news service based in Islamabad, providing news to organizations across the Middle East. We saw a need, after the development of the current crisis, and moved in. Work has started on it, we've spoken to potential clients who are very interested. I think it's a great opportunity.

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