There’s no embarrassment in providing a service

The press often gets attacked for reflecting the society in which we live. It was certainly true with the death of the UK’s Princess Diana — the public sanctimoniously criticised her hounding by the tabloids, while buying extra copies of those very newspapers and lapping up every word about her.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  January 15, 2006

There’s no embarrassment in providing a service|~||~||~|The press often gets attacked for reflecting the society in which we live. It was certainly true with the death of the UK’s Princess Diana — the public sanctimoniously criticised her hounding by the tabloids, while buying extra copies of those very newspapers and lapping up every word about her. Yet they wouldn’t accuse doctors of cashing in on somebody’s misfortune by making a living treating them. However, newspapers’ doing their jobs seems to attract a different view. A few eyebrows have been raised this week at the very large amount of revenue earned by the daily papers in carrying condolence advertisements following the sudden death of Dubai’s ruler and UAE prime minister Sheikh Maktoum. You can see why some people might criticise the taste in how events unfolded. Barely had the radio stations replaced normal programming with prayers when newspapers such as the Khaleej Times were e-mailing out special rate cards for condolence ads. Our back-of-an-envelope calculation suggests that on the first day alone, the Gulf News, for instance, cleared about half a million dollars’ worth. On the face of it, it feels a little ghoulish. While the rest of the country is plunged into mourning, the newspapers are making money. And while the sentiments of the advertisers were entirely genuine, being seen to place the advertisements was still viewed by many as a business imperative, particularly when competitors were doing the same. It was the same story in Saudi Arabia last year with the death of King Fahd. But should the newspapers be turning a sad day for the UAE into a multimillion dollar industry? One of our letter writers this week suggests the cash should instead be donated to a charity supported by Sheikh Maktoum. But bear in mind that the mourning period will have an economic effect for the newspapers. 7Days, for instance, went from being stuffed with full-page launch advertisements for the Dubai Shopping Festival, to what is now going to be a very thin month. Over the course of January, many papers will earn less revenue than otherwise would have been the case. The condolence advertisements help redress the balance. And over the years, these papers have built themselves strong business positions, meaning they are viewed as a natural medium through which to communicate messages. It’s called advertising. Why shouldn’t that be during bad times, as well as good? Ultimately, they are businesses, operating in a business environment championed by Sheikh Maktoum. His work was to turn Dubai into a hub where people, including media, can run businesses. If a business is legal and honourable, nobody should feel embarrassed at making money from providing a service. Even in tragic times.||**||

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