Kuwait's third newspaper in 18 months shuts down its presses

All three were among a raft of new publications since 2006. Analysts expect more to fail as they struggle to attract readers from their older, more established competitors.

KUWAIT CITY // The Arabic-language newspaper Arrouiah published its last edition yesterday, becoming Kuwait's third newspaper to close for economic reasons over the past 18 months. All three were among a raft of new publications that opened after parliament liberalised the country's media licensing laws in 2006. Analysts expect more to fail as they struggle to attract readers from their older, more established competitors.

Arrouiah's editor-in-chief, Saud al Sebeiei, said in an editorial yesterday that the newspaper had tried to continue despite "the financial hard times that had resulted from the global economic crisis". Mr al Sebeiei said Arrouiah was "an enlightened platform that emerged from pure Islamic tenants". "It was the only daily newspaper in the Arab world that was voluntarily under Sharia censorship. We have refused hundreds of advertisements - that cost hundreds of thousands - for not being compliant with Sharia law," he said.

The newspaper is owned by Al Imtiaz Investment, a Kuwaiti shareholding company. Mr al Sebeiei said the chairman of the company, who is a prominent Qatari businessman, Ghanim al Saad, had withdrawn support for the publication. "The government of Qatar supports the chairman, and [they say] there's no need for a newspaper in Kuwait," Mr al Sebeiei told The National in a telephone interview. Al Imtiaz Investment declined to comment on the closure.

The local English-language daily, the Kuwait Times, reported that the former minister Shareeda al Maousherji, who is among Arrouiah'sfounders and co-owners, had expressed a wish to buy the newspaper, but was unwilling to purchase it with its current debt. A source close to the issue, who asked to remain anonymous, said the owners have been discussing the future of the newspaper for the past three months and sent a letter to the management instructing it to close "temporarily" on Wednesday.

"Arrouiah was always losing money," but the salaries of around 120 staff were always paid, the source said, adding that the closure will give the Islamist-leaning newspaper an opportunity to look for alternative backing. Before parliament relaxed the press licensing laws in 2006, Kuwait had only five Arabic-language newspapers: Al Watan, Al Qabas, Al Seyassah, Al Anbaa and Al Rai. Almost a dozen new publications appeared on the news-stands within a couple of years, and the established press reacted by making advertising space cheaper.

The new batch has struggled to compete. Assawt was the first to fold, in February 2009, followed by Awan, in May 2010. Awan's editor-in-chief, Mohammad al Rumaihi, blamed the closure on "extremely harsh economic reasons". He had previously said most of the newspaper's revenues had come from advertising, with sales accounting for just five per cent of the total. He said many copies were handed away for free to airlines, clubs and hotels.

"Of Kuwait's population of three million, only one million are Kuwaiti, and they are the ones who read the Arabic newspapers," said Ali al Kandari, an assistant professor in the department of mass communications at the Gulf University of Science and Technology. Even among citizens, young people prefer to get their news from television and the internet, leaving newspapers with a small market, he said.

"Some newspapers have only 5,000 subscribers. Companies are looking at this, and thinking, 'Why should I advertise here'," Mr al Kandari said. "I looked at Al Watan during Ramadan, and around 60 out of its 100 pages were filled with advertisements. Arrouiah might have had around five advertisements in its 40 pages." Many of Kuwait's newspapers are backed by political groups in order to push their agenda. Mr al Kandari said: "Arrouiah was known as the voice of the Salafis in Kuwait."

Salafism is a conservative branch of Islam that is popular in Kuwait. The sect's supporters run a large charity known as the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society and hold seats in the parliament. He said: "The Salafis have Al Furqan, a kind of party-affiliated magazine. "Maybe they found that they are not reaching a new target audience with the newspaper and decided to focus on that." Faisal al Qanai, the general secretary of Kuwait Journalists Association, said the reasons for the closures of the three newspapers since 2009 were "all related to finance".

"I'm sure another one or two newspapers will close soon," Mr al Qanai said. @Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae