Language matters; Asian newspapers in Qatar attract more reader engagement
Qatar’s print media may be dominated by the seven English and Arabic dailies. But other vernacular publications are not far behind in carving their niche among the country’s expatriate community
Anoop A, an Indian expatriate, is a designer at an advertising firm. Though fluent in English, he is a regular reader of Gulf Madhyamam, a Malayalam paper available in local supermarkets here.
“Malayalam is my mother tongue. Any article written in my language touches the heart more than an English one,” he says.
In a country like Qatar, where the number of expats out does that of nationals, Anoop says, “most of us are physically here, but our mind and heart are always back home.”
And vernacular publications provide the perfect escape. In fact, Malayalam papers like Gulf Madhyamam and Manorama, even have district-specific news of Kerala. English dailies, on the other hand, offer only a scatter of information.
Malayalam papers, he further explains, are usually associated to a political party in Kerala. “Most Malayalis follow a political party. It’s through these papers that politicians talk to the community about their vision for the State, and this is what is of interest to every Malayali.”
Exploring the market
Currently, Dar Al Sharq is one of the only publishing houses in Qatar that prints nine foreign publications. These include four dailies comprising three in Malayalam and one in Tagalog, and five weeklies: two Nepalese, one Tamil, one Urdu, and one Sinhalese. A Bangladeshi newspaper is also in the pipeline.
According to Neegal Noronha, Manager at Dar Al Sharq, each language newspaper readership ranges between 5,000-25,000.
The language of print depends on the demographics of various expat communities in order to make the project effective and feasible, he explains. And in Qatar, a major section of the population are South Asian expats.
According to figures released by National Human Rights Commission, the number of expats in 2013 stood as follows: Indians (544,802), Nepalese (340,679), Filipinos (184,648), Bangladeshis (137,245) and Sri Lankans (100,000).
“Our target audience are people who are not fluent in English or Arabic, or like to read their own language. These majorly constitute the low-income groups in Qatar,” says Neegal. “Advertisement is a huge success as clients are able reach the unreached through our publications.”
The papers are distributed across 400 retail outlets such as supermarkets, hypermarkets, grocery shops, petrol stations, etc.
Despite the elaborate distribution plans, some find it hard to find these papers. “It’s not available in every store, just the very small ones. I don’t get to read them regularly, only if I manage to find one,” says Ashok, from Nepal, who works in a catering company.
The Nepalese papers usually provide widespread coverage of political news over other kinds, which are not necessarily of interest to every Nepali reader. Ashok’s co-worker from Nepal, for instance, doesn’t like politics. “What have I got to do with politics,” he says. He prefers the lighter reads, such as poems, comics or horoscopes, and wishes there was more of such content.
Smaller audience, better engagement
Finding stories for a vernacular paper is a tricky task. “The target audience here is limited. The content needs to be more community specific than regular dailies,” says a journalist for an English daily, who freelances for one of the foreign publications. “We mainly cover events organised by associations or the Embassy. The rest of the local news (of Qatar) is taken from the parent paper of the publishing house, and translated. But it’s edited to keep only those portions that are relevant to our readers.” Since most of the vernacular publications are weekly, it’s a challenge to ensure that news published is not out-dated. “There’s also a tough competition with online news websites from local countries,” says the journalist.
Meanwhile all the country-specific news is collected from the editorial team of the parent newspaper in that respective country. Vernacular papers also go through the censor board, so discretion is a must when choosing content, the journalist adds.
In the two years of freelancing for foreign papers, the journalist has seen much more community engagement with these, than mainstream ones. “Almost every week we receive calls from people trying to get more details on the news we publish. That means people do read them. We don’t get this much of a feedback for our main paper.”