TBY talks to Mohamed Issa Al Zadjali, Chairman of Muscat Press & Publishing House, on the media and publishing scene in the Sultanate.

Mohamed Issa Al Zadjali
Mohamed Issa Al Zadjali is the Chairman of Muscat Press and Publishing House, which publishes Oman’s oldest private English newspaper, The Times of Oman, as well as its sister Arabic paper Al Shabiba and a number of other publications. In 1990, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Information Resources Management. He worked in the government for 22 years. His last government position was Director of Planning and IT, which he left in 2008. He has been the Chairman of MPPH since June 2013. Mohamed has a passion for the desert, and can often be found leading convoys of 4x4s through the Shariqah Sands with The Guide Oman.

How did The Times of Oman develop and what are the main achievements?

It actually started as a weekly newspaper (in 1975) and then went to a daily in 1990. Then we started coming up with many supplements like Thursday Magazine and so on to keep up with the changes, face the competition, and make sure our readers didn't get bored. Now, with the internet we have the electronic site, and we have also moved into mobile to reach the audience. We also had a deal with hotels around the world and our paper used to reach anywhere around the world on the same day. People used to print out pages of The Times of Oman. We used to send free newspapers to colleges around the world, too.

How do you compete with other newspapers in the Sultanate?

We respect other newspapers, and we don't put them down at all. In fact, we help them. If their printers are down, we print their papers on our printing presses. At the same time, we like competition because it fosters creative thinking. We have many loyal readers and prefer not to print gossip. We have a wide variety of products for advertisers and readers. Now, we are trying to restructure and enhance our products with separate sections for health, entertainment, news and politics, and other subjects. We also help other organizations print their products for free with us, like the Beacon, from SQU. We don't look at the commercial side and the money; if it's benefiting the community, we will do it.

When did you introduce the online version of The Times of Oman? How is it evolving?

The website started in 1997. In the beginning, it was a static page with news, but before the fuller evolution of the internet, we also developed the e-paper; the entire paper was online. We continued by adding more technology to the site, and when social media came we added our own videos, again to keep up with change. We are also using mobile apps developed in-house to make it easier for people to reach us.

What are the local trends in terms of printed versions versus online versions?

The printed paper is two-dimensional, while the online version is multi-dimensional. We are therefore also trying to enliven the printed version. We have developed our own engine so that people can scan the paper with their phone or tablet and have videos or audio clips come up. People still like to read the paper. We are investing a lot of money in terms of technology so that we remain present, both electronically and on paper.

What is your target in terms of readers? Can you elaborate on the evolution of the readership in Oman over the years?

When it started the number of readers didn't even reach 1,000. It was very limited in range, and mostly read by foreigners, because many Omanis didn't speak English. In 1999 I remember we set a vision to be number one for readership, number one with the advertisers, and number one with the employees. Today, we are trying to become a regional newspaper. We have often been quoted by Al Jazeera, the BBC, or other international media and news entities. We want to be known widely as a source of the accurate news from Oman. We also want to become the number one source for quality news.