Lebanon …Without A Daily Star Until Further Notice

By Thair Abbas, Asharq Alawsat, 30/01/2009

Beirut.
The Lebanese English-language newspaper The Daily Star has been temporarily shut down since the middle of January due to a financial lawsuit between the newspaper and Standard Charter Bank. The newspaper was the only source of internal Lebanese news for many of the Lebanese “orphans” living abroad and for foreigners living in Lebanon, who would use it to follow the news of Lebanon which is rife with contradictions, events, and crises.

This is not the first time that The Daily Star has been “temporarily” shut down, indeed the newspaper has been closed down three times since its foundation, but it returned to print each time as a result of the market’s need for a publication to fill this niche.

Sanne Gram, the Middle East correspondent of the Danish Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten newspaper said that she has been cut-off from Lebanese news since 14 January 2009; no new editions of the newspaper have been printed and nor has the website been updated since this date. Gram, who is based in Lebanon, said that she has been cut-off from internal Lebanese news since she traveled to Gaza in order to cover the war and its ensuing repercussions. She said that she was hit by a near-total disconnection from the situation in Lebanon, and that the Daily Star provided a general picture [of Lebanon] that is difficult for foreign news agencies to present.

When Kamal Mrowa founded the Daily Star newspaper in 1952, his goal was to inform foreigner nationals in Lebanon and the region of regional issues and the Palestinian cause. Beirut was the center for this as it contained the largest community of foreign nationals in the Arab world, along with the oil communities that already existed in the region such as Tehran or Baghdad, who also had large foreign national communities.

This picture changed with the passage of time, and according to Jamil Mrowa [son of Daily Star founded Kamal Mrowa, and current Daily Star publisher], the newspaper was transformed into “a bridge for understanding and exchanging information and articles, especially to the second generation of Lebanese born abroad and who are more in harmony with the English language. And so instead of remaining a bridge for foreigners, it has become a bridge for the Lebanese who have emigrated abroad but not forgotten about their homeland”

Mrowa admits that the newspaper, as an English-language publication, is not the only one of its kind within the region, but it is definitely unique in that it is the only one of its kind to reach Lebanese emigrants, from their motherland.

The Daily Star was the first Lebanese newspaper to establish a website which it did in 1997, and so has been involved in the internet revolution since the beginning. This is what allows for the newspaper today to be considered [by many] an e-newspaper “with regards to how it is used or read” rather than a printed newspaper. Before its closure the newspaper would distribute around five thousand copies, and sell around 3500, while its internet readership stood at around 500 thousand, resulting in one million two hundred thousand hits a month, according to the newspaper itself.

The distribution of the Daily Star was not always this size; in 2006 during the crises the newspapers distribution reached around 26 thousand with sales of around 17 thousand, according to Mrowa. But the war that took place that summer [Lebanon July War with Israel], in addition to the tense situation in Lebanon following the death of former Prime Minster Rafik Al Hariri in 2005, cancelled out many of the triumphs achieved by the newspaper.

In the face of difficult economic realities local companies were forced to reduce their advertisement, which was a blow to the Daily Star, said Mrowa. As a result, the newspaper had shrunk to half its size, from twenty pages to ten, by 2006.

The solution was severe, and the newspaper had to shut down its publication in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Untied Arab Emirates. It also ceased publishing the International Herald Tribune.

Mrowa does not merely view the newspaper as one of his children, rather for him the Daily Star is a “mixture of father and child” since the newspaper was founded when he was only 2 years old, and for this reason he says that he knows nothing in the world “other than the Daily Star“.

Mrowa insists upon the re-issuance of the newspaper, saying that it still has a role to play in the future with regards to the “the serious agenda” i.e. in the economic sphere “because Arab expression is lacking” and so he expects the Daily Star will have an active roll.

Jamil Mrowa was involved in journalism early in life and holds a degree in Economics from the American University in Beirut in 1973. Immediately after graduating he took over running the Al Hayat newspaper as well as The Daily Star from his mother Salma El-Bissar who ran the newspaper following the assassination of her husband [and Jamil’s father] in 1966.

Upon taking over Jamil Mrowa wanted to expand the newspapers circulation by publishing an edition in Saudi Arabia, but the Lebanese civil war [and the ensuing suspension of the newspaper’s publication] prevented him from fulfilling this wish, and so he left for the United States of America in order to continue his studies. He returned to Beirut in 1982 and worked with his brothers Malik and Karim in publishing the Daily Star, but the renewal of the war forced them to close down the newspaper once again in 1986. Jamil Mrowa emigrated from Lebanon once again, this time to London, where he revised the Al Hayat newspaper in collaboration with Prince Khalid Bin Sultan. He returned to Lebanon in 1993 and re-launched the Daily Star a third time.

The readership of the Daily Star

According to statistics reported by the Daily Star itself, the internet readership of the website is 500 thousand, 90 percent of whom are university graduates, 85 percent are graduate students, and 35 percent hold PhD’s.

35 percent of the readership are Arab-Americans

60 percent of the readership are aged between 25- 54 years of age.