Newsletter No 6 08 November 2005
Editors Voice:
Photojournalism Enters the UAE

Traditionally, Arab newspapers do not have a strong culture of photojournalism. However, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), competition with new media and the increasing number of English-language newspapers have led editors to change their view on the use of photos.

“Pictures have become far more important for Arab newspapers. As we say: ‘a still photo stops the world’. Television is always moving, but in order to describe events we think in still images. Therefore, pictures describe events better, and play an important role in attracting readers. The new trends are about introducing color and larger pictures and more graphics to have a bigger impact on readers. However, for the time being, photography in the region does not meet the standards,” says Paul Velasco, director of photography at the daily Gulf News says.

The Gulf News went through a complete redesign in 2003. The paper turned into what they call visual journalism. Color and more pictures and graphics were introduced in order to facilitate the reading of the newspaper. After its redesign, the circulation of the Gulf News increased to 91,000 copies. “Changes like this can be seen in every newspaper in the region,” says Velasco. “The ultimate goal is to attract readers visually. Also Arabic-speaking dailies are going more visual. Although they do not have a strong tradition of using photos, they are beginning to do it.”

Michael Kennedy, professor of journalism and photojournalism at the Zayed University in Dubai, is more severe. He says there exists no photojournalism in the Arab-language newspapers. “They do not tell stories with their pictures. When it comes to local news, images are just gripping pictures. Nevertheless, newspapers use photos for international news, like the war in Iraq. Those pictures, however, come from international wire services.”

But it seems as if a change is slowly taking place. Over the last two years several tabloids have been launched in the UEA, all of them in English except the recently launched Al Emarat Al Yaum. These tabloids carry more photos than the traditional Arabic-language broadsheets. Velasco from the Gulf News says: “There are two separate worlds in the UAE newspaper market: the English-language newspapers and the Arabic ones. The nature of their respective readership makes the use of images different. The English-language papers, and in particular the tabloids, target a readership of young locals and the large expatriate community (about 70 percent of the population), while traditional Arabic-language broadsheets are read by an older local readership. The competition from the English-speaking newspapers has led the Arabic ones to rethink their design, including the role of pictures.”

Haider Fuad is photo editor of the leading Arabic-language daily in the UAE, the Al Khaleej daily, which has a circulation of 85,000 copies. “In the last two years we have witnessed more concern about the use of images in newspapers in the UAE. It has led to the creation of a position that did not exist before in Arabic-language newspapers, that of the photo editor. Formerly, Arab newspapers were only devoted to the written word. In Al Khaleej we give importance to pictures in every section of the newspaper. They are also an essential component of our supplements.”

Fuad believes that the reasons for this change can be found not only in the competition from the English-language press, but also in the arrival of new technologies. “We have seen a development in the profession. Making pictures, developing and sending them has become easier and cheaper, what facilitates their inclusion in the newspaper.”

Gulf News has a total editorial staff of over 250. Sixty of them are photographers, none of which is Arab. Al Khaleej employs seventeen photographers, most of them foreigners, for a total of over 160 employees in their editorial department. For Gulf News photo director Paul Velasco there are two reasons for the high number of foreign photographers: “The locals represent about 30 percent of the population and have a wealthy economic situation. Therefore, they do not see photography as a potential profession. Furthermore, those interested in photography have to go abroad for training as there are no facilities here.”

Michael Kennedy at the Zayed University adds: “Locals do not get into journalism easily. In fact, the government encourages them to do it because they are the ones who have to speak about what is going on in their country.”