TBY talks to Saif bin Saud al Mahrooqi, Acting CEO of Oman Establishment for Press, Publication, and Advertising (OEPPA), on digital autonomy, multilingual publishing, and editorial quality.

Saif bin Saud al Mahrooqi
Saif bin Saud al Mahrooqi is the Acting CEO of OEPPA and Editor-in-Chief of Oman Arabic Daily. Since 1996 he has held different directorship positions in the Ministry of Information. Al Mahrooqi holds a degree in sociology from the University of Alexandria (Egypt), a post-graduate diploma in mass communications from the University of Central London, and a master’s in media and international relations from the same university.

How is OEPPA positioned in the media landscape of Oman?

OEPPA is unquestionably one of the largest integrated media organizations in the Sultanate of Oman, with interests spanning print newspapers and magazines, advertising and marketing, online and social media, digital platforms, and even strategic research and consultancy services. Around a decade ago, it made the successful transition from a state-managed publishing house to a quasi-autonomous, commercially driven media organization. In line with this transformation, various departments within the organization now function as business units that must be substantially self-funding and profitable—a mandate that requires each unit to put an emphasis on professionalism, quality, efficiency, and customer value.

How do you strive to attract readers of many different interests and lifestyles?

Our primary strength is in the government and public sectors, as well as private businesses. While our two flagship papers were initially patronized by readers at their workplaces, we have diversified our editorial content to appeal to readers of various professional backgrounds and interests. Through customer feedback surveys, we have identified shortcomings in our editorial offerings that we are continuously working to address. For instance, we have expanded our coverage of local events and stressed credible news, investigative reporting, and interviews, so readers see the benefit of subscribing or reading a local newspaper instead of depending on the Internet or social media for their information. Further, in an effort to connect with our readers, we invite them—whether teenagers, adults, professionals, or academics—to share their thoughts on topics of general interest. This form of engagement with the local community, with Omanis and expatriates alike, is helping to sustain our readership levels in the face of the ongoing onslaught by the internet and social media.

What has been the main focus of your growth strategy to keep your news outlets relevant in today's world, especially as online media increases its presence each year?

Our principal strategy is to strongly position our two flagship newspapers as local dailies. In line with this strategy, we have strengthened our coverage of local developments across the board, most notably on the economic, business, social, cultural, entertainment, sports, shopping, and retail fronts. We know that our newspapers can do well only if we can strengthen, enliven, and broaden our coverage of local developments and introduce a strong local flavor to our products. Also making a significant difference to this goal is the recruitment of young, talented Omani boys and girls who are providing us with content from their neighborhoods, towns, and cities around the Sultanate.

Do you find that the wider audience in Oman prefers the English or Arabic newspaper? Does printing in English bring unique advantages or disadvantages?

These are two distinct audiences with their own distinctive interests. The English paper is popular with the business class, the sizable white-collar expatriate community, diplomatic corps, students of international schools and community institutions, visitors and tourists, and importantly, Omanis in the private sector. The Arabic paper, on the other hand, is hugely popular in government ministries, government schools and colleges, private businesses with predominant Omani managers, and Omani readers in towns and villages around the country.

What is your outlook for OEPPA over the next 12 months?

We see the current fiscal downturn as a short-term setback. Budgetary constraints and cost-cutting measures have forced us to put on hold initiatives and projects that require a substantial upfront investment. Our focus has shifted to becoming a leaner and more efficient media organization. The goal is to eliminate waste while boosting the quality of our editorial and professional content. OEPPA plans to further enhance its online and other social media activities, and place more emphasis on digital than print journalism.