Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Privatization of the Press and the National Carrier Part One | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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This newspaper is making a third of its shares available to the public in an initial public offering, while Saudia Airlines, is selling its shares on the open market. These developments are proof that we are entering a bold experiment; they also signal a shift in our conceptualization. Media and civil aviation are amongst several organizations previously considered very sensitive. At times, they have been nationally revered. Things are different nowadays. Their particularity renders them more appealing for buyers.

Recently, the Saudi Research and Marketing Group which owns Asharq al Awsat, and is considered one of the most influential media institutions in the eyes of the Arab public, decided to offer a third of its shares in an initial public offering. In the past, it would have been impossible to conceive of a media company being sold on the open market, where shareholders carry all the power. Not so long ago, no government could have imagined selling all or part of its national airline, which it considers as its symbol of national pride. Yet, here is the Saudi government joining other countries and announcing its intention to privatize Saudia Airlines, by selling shares to individuals on the local stock market. Do these acts herald the overthrow of old concepts after years of rejection?

In truth, ideas have remained the same but the methods of ownership, influence and administration have changed. The Saudi press was never owned by the government. It is based on private companies that operate on commercial terms. This explains its strength throughout the past decades. Offering its shares to the public is novel, as it used to be privately owned. In the eyes of its owners and followers, the media was scared; it could not be sold on the open market. Governments held similar views towards its service industry, including the national airline. But, this outlook has been replaced by the concepts of social participation and responsibility. Foreign successes in this regard have been replicated within the principles of the open market.

The change should not be attributed solely to imitation. It has occurred because of real considerations. The paternal view of the state has become difficult to implement with the increase in services, the rise in expectations and the inability to meet them. In addition, the concept of privatization has evolved as the media has become more commercial. The private ownership of media institutions reflected different circumstances and times. The technology and the market changed the situation. No longer can a government license guarantee revenues as newspapers have become more expensive to run and more competitive, especially with the growth of the internet. The size of the market has increased and it now requires investments that no private owner can provide. Time will show that private companies will not fail to uphold national interests.