Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Newsweek Sets Up Local Shop

Newsweek, the American publication that labeled Pakistan "the most dangerous nation in the world", is about to set up shop in the same dangerous place.

A nice way to corner the market?

According to Islamabad-based Farhan Bokhari's piece on March 4 in the Financial Times of London, the local franchise / edition will be launched with 30,000 copies (four times the current circulation of 7,500 according to Newsweek itself) in September under a license agreement with a "local media company," called AG Publications. According to Adil Najam of the All Things Pakistan blog who carried a report on this precise topic first, the editor of the local edition will be Fasih Ahmed, former City Editor of the Daily Times, Newsweek correspondent as well as former Daniel Pearl Fellow and cited in Bokhari's piece as the Managing Director of AG Publications.

 Iqbal Z. Ahmed: LPG King

Now most people have probably never heard of AG Publications - perhaps because they don't actually publish anything of note yet and don't even have a web presence - but they may know the AG Group, of which it is a venture. The AG Group, of course, is owned by the well-known / notorious (take your pick) businessman / philanthropist Mr. Iqbal Z. Ahmed, who has been in the news a lot the last few years for having a near monopoly on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Pakistan, his push for the controversial rental power projects (RPPs), his ties with American businessmen entering Pakistan's energy sector, his largesse towards generals, politicians and bureacrats, and his closeness to both General Musharraf and Asif Zardari.

It should then not surprise you too much to learn that Fasih Ahmed is the able son of Mr. Iqbal Z. Ahmed and is himself a director of the Jamshoro LPG manufacturing plant. Here he defends daddy's companies against allegations of price-gouging and corrupt practices on Aaj TV's Bolta Pakistan (worth watching).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Now, I don't wish to offer an opinion at this time on the merits of the allegations against Iqbal Z. Ahmed's business practices - for all I know, Fasih Ahmed's defence may be perfectly reasonable. But my question relates to what Daroon e Khana had been speculating yesterday about why we never see negative stories in the media about certain big businesses. I am not so naive as to think that all big media is not owned by big corporate houses with multiple business interests (although I do think this is where a lot of the problems of the media lie). But wouldn't having an editor who is also a director in one of the largest energy sector companies in Pakistan be some sort of clash of interests? Unless of course Newsweek intends only to do PR-type stuff from Pakistan and not really cover anything politically edgy.

There is also speculation about why exactly Newsweek is entering the Pakistani market, hardly a great market for English-language media. Despite the high-sounding rhetoric from Newsweek publishers about the "very vibrant media" in this country and a "strategy to broaden out into different markets", some have speculated that this is part of the new push by the American government to "engage" the opinion-forming media in Pakistan by doing what comes naturally to it, i.e. throw money at it. (On a side-note, let it be placed on record that according to my sources, among others, former Daily Times editor Najam Sethi has submitted a proposal to the Americans to fund a new channel, headed by him, which would help present the "liberal", "anti-Taliban" viewpoint to the Pakistani public.)

But of course this may be unfair to the strategists of Newsweek, who may have nothing to do with the plans of the US government. On the other hand, Adil Najam has speculated slightly differently about why the weekly would chose to enter a market where English language TV channels have converted to Urdu and where the circulation of the English press is, to put it mildly, pathetic:

"[I]t seems that Pakistan edition will be in English and aims, eventually, for a South Asian market, with both international and local content. Given that Indian laws regarding foreign publications are more stringent, it is speculated that although Newsweek is setting up shop in Pakistan, the real market it is eying is the much bigger Indian market."

Hmmmm. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice might have said in Pakistanland.

: : : UPDATE : : :

Adil Najam may have got some of his details wrong it seems. As Nadir Hassan and Umair J have pointed out in the comments, Ejaz Haider, formerly of Daily Times, and currently with The Friday Times and Samaa TV, was announced publicly (on a Facebook page!) as having signed on with Newsweek Pakistan in mid-January.Other sources indicate that his last day at Samaa will be March 21. 

Nadir as well as other sources have indicated that Najam Sethi will also be part of the new editorial team. If indeed these reports are correct, he will almost surely be the editor and Fasih Ahmed (who worked under him at DT) may in fact NOT be the editor but simply the publisher of Newsweek Pakistan. That would take care of the clash of editorial interests I had expressed concern about and put the management's clash of interests at par with the rest of the media in Pakistan (and elsewhere).


Nadir Hassan said...

It'll also be interesting to see what happens with The Friday Times since both Najam Sethi and Ejaz Haider are going to part of Newsweek Pakistan.

CPM said...

@Nadir Hassan: Interesting Nadir. I had heard that Ejaz was leaving Samaa TV but did not know that he and Najam would be part of Newsweek. Surely, if Najam is going to be part of the project, then HE will be the editor, not Fasih Ahmed. Will check up more on this and post an update.

Umair Javed said...

Ejaz Haider was signed up by newsweek Pakistan nearly a month ago....check out their facebook page. Fasih announced Ejaz's hiring sometime in early feb i think

Umair Javed said...


here's the link...Jan 16th to be precise

Unknown said...

Good information.
Newsweek Pak would be a great addition. Najam Sethi's proposed channel is very big news for me.
There should be one channel against Talibani TV (Geo etc).

Rahma said...

I don't think Adil Najam's Indian market theory makes sense. All major international publications and news media have a presence in India. Magazines like Vogue, GQ, Rolling Stones among many others have Indian editions. Same for web (reuters india) and TV (national geographic, cnn, i can go on...)
If newsweek wants to have an indian edition, they can. (if they dont already have one - im not sure)