Have I Got News For You

As Sky News Arabia and Al Arab add to the region’s existing basket of Arabic news channels, can they gain marketshare?

The Middle East’s latest broadcast news offering, Sky News Arabia, began operations last week, promising to offer “objective” news coverage to the region’s viewers.

The 24-hour Arabic language news channel, based in Abu Dhabi, is co-owned by News Corp’s BSkyB and Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation.

“The region demanded an Arab news product which incorporates both the technological developments and the fast changing media consumption habits that are transforming how news is gathered and disseminated,” Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, the channel’s chairman, said in a statement.

Sky News Arabia, which has a team of around 400 journalists, producers and technicians, will offer a “new and fresh approach to news across the Arab world,” he added.

But it may not be an easy task to pull in the viewers. The channel will be competing with regional broadcast leaders Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, which have been operating for many years and currently enjoy the entire news market space.

So will Sky News Arabia be able to create a niche for itself?

“It may well be one of those situations where the market grows and develops to make room for the new players,” explained Alexander McNabb, the director of Spot On PR agency.

“It’s kind of like the mobile market in the region. In Egypt and Jordan there were 80,000 mobile lines each, but when the competitor came, the overall market grew to over a million lines within the first year. So the fact is that competition grows the market and grows the demand,” he said.

The region has also been traditionally underserved with great news channels and great journalism, he added.

“And if competition comes and not just competition for the eyeballs or viewers but also competition for news and competition to present news in a fresh and challenging way, that has only got to be good for journalism,” he said.

For instance, Al Jazeera’s coverage of the unrest in Egypt was effective, he said.

“If you look at the dearth of news out of Syria, there’s obviously a kind of need of what Jazeera did at Tahrir. So let’s say Sky brings more of that, then it would then help in the process of opening up that market, giving us viewers more reason to view them,” McNabb added.

But it’s not just Sky News Arabia that will be adding to the competition, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is also launching another Arabic news channel, Al Arab, early next year.

The channel, launched in partnership with Bloomberg, will be headquartered in Bahrain.

Al Arab will adopt an evolutionary approach to news and will neither be the channel of the masses nor the channel of the government, Prince Alwaleed told Gulf Business earlier this year.

“Al Jazeera is considered as the channel of the Arab masses and Al Arabiya is thought to be the channel of the governments. I don’t believe that it is the right choice, or the only choice that the Arab people should have,” he said.

“A great many changes are needed in the Arab world, and these can be achieved by orderly means and not necessarily by violence. Revolutions are not only disruptive and exact a heavy toll in lives and material, but they also often have unknown and unpredictable consequences,” Alwaleed said.

So is that the approach that is needed?

“I think good honest reporting, high quality journalism that doesn’t consider it to be the voice of anybody except the truth, that will be nice,” said McNabb.