Provocative commentaries on international issues, social development, and people and places by a veteran journalist
Responses to questions from Arabies Trends (a business publication in Dubai)
Published on October 17, 2006 By Pranay Gupte In Current Events
Response to questions from Arabies Trends (Dubai)

By Pranay Gupte

Arabies Trends: When you landed in Dubai, did you ever imagine it would be over in all of 13 days? What was going through your mind?

Pranay Gupte: I had long been intrigued by Dubai and its development under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. As a journalist who's covered and monitored the Middle East for more than three decades, I would be hard pressed to name another leader who's demonstrated this sort of extraordinary vision for his society – and the tenacity to implement his plans. At the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which were held in Dubai in 2003, I got a chance to see for myself how Sheikh Mohammed interacted with global leaders. I was impressed by his good will, personality, and clarity of thought. Since that occasion, I followed Sheikh Mohammed's work even more closely – and it occurred to me that although Dubai itself was receiving tons of positive publicity in the international media, there wasn't much analysis and examination of Sheikh Mohammed's thinking. Moreover, I was distressed by the unfortunate episode earlier this year when a Dubai-owned company sought to run the New York and New Jersey ports. I thought that media coverage in America didn't fully attempt to offer Dubai's perspective, let alone that of Sheikh Mohammed.

I became more and more keen to obtain an opportunity to write about Dubai, and about Sheikh Mohammed's leadership. In accepting Khaleej Times's offer to re-invent its business section and to launch a weekly business review, such an opportunity sprang unexpectedly. Several friends – including those who'd been associated with Khaleej Times – cautioned me against joining the paper because of its fraying reputation. Virtually every one of them averred that I wouldn't last very long. But even the most pessimistic of them wouldn't have predicted that my tenure would be 13 days.

Arabies Trends: The new management says you were dismissed because your salary was proving to be too expensive. You have claimed that you resigned following the change in management. What is the truth?

Pranay Gupte: If the new management is saying that my salary was proving too expensive, I would urge it to examine the salaries that Khaleej Times is paying to consultants and unqualified and unproductive members of its current staff, including expats. My monthly salary and allowances were decent by Dubai's international standards, but scarcely so huge so as to break the newspaper's treasury. Khaleej Times would have been more than compensated for my salary through the ads and sponsorships that would have come the paper's way through my work and global contacts. As for my "resignation": I never claimed to have resigned. What I did say was that once Khaleej Times became, in effect, a government-owned newspaper, it would have been difficult for an American journalist accustomed to an unfettered press to offer fealty to such a publication. For better or worse, I happen to believe in a free press. It exists in the country where I was born – India – and it exists in the country where I've lived most of my adult life, the United States.

Arabies Trends: Do you see the reshuffle of the management only as a means for the government to take control? Wasn’t the restructuring done because the Galadaris failed to pay up?

Pranay Gupte: The government did not explain to me why it took 30 percent of the Galadari Group. Reportedly, that unspecified amount represented the monies owed by Mohammed Galadari, the newspaper's chairman and editor in chief. Who really knows, and who will really tell? In the Middle East, nothing is what it seems, and nothings seems what it is.

Arabies Trends: You also reportedly had a showdown with the editor during your tenure. What really happened?

Pranay Gupte: The so-called "showdown" was a silly bit of power theater. The man who was then the editor – and who reportedly resisted my hiring by Khaleej Times's chief operating officer – summoned me on my third day in Dubai to rudely ask where I'd been the previous day. I explained that the COO had asked me to compose a lengthy memo about the re-invention of the business section, and that I'd sent him as well as the editor, an e-mail saying that I would be working in my hotel room – partly because of jet lag from a 12-hour nonstop flight to Dubai from New York. The editor inexplicably lost his temper. (My 2,500-word memo was sent that morning to both the editor and the COO, as promised.) The COO later invited us both to his office to smooth things out. I'm a veteran of news rooms, so it didn't particularly bother me that an editor might feel threatened. After all, I hadn't come to Dubai to displace anybody; I'd come to add value to Khaleej Times. The editor's perception notwithstanding, he had no problem accepting a gift of a very expensive Montblanc pen that I later gave him.

Arabies Trends: Do you think Khaleej Times will survive this turmoil? What impact will this episode have on the region’s media industry?

Pranay Gupte: I sure hope that Khaleej Times will survive and succeed. It's a great brand in the region. Sadly, the paper was allowed to deteriorate dramatically in its editorial content, management, and circulation. It now has an excellent chief operating officer in Kamal Raj Shah, who impressed me with his vision for Khaleej Times and his low-key, emollient style. Its marketing director, Burjor Patel, is a legendary figure in the business world. The human-resources administrator, P. Krishna Raj, is similarly very smart and energetic. Khaleej Times also has some marvelous young journalists such as Gita Rajan, Anshuman Joshi, S.N.M.Abdi, and Lucia Dore. I predict that if these journalists and the management are allowed to exercise their creativity, Khaleej Times will become a superb newspaper and elicit great loyalty and appreciation from readers. About the region's media industry: Any government takeover of a media institution is bound to send a frisson of fear up the spines of news organizations. (That's assuming they have spines.)

Arabies Trends: Did you get all your dues before you left Dubai?

Pranay Gupte: No. Khaleej Times owes me a lot of money for breaking the contract, bringing me across to Dubai deceptively when it knew that it was being taken over by the government, causing grave damage to my name and reputation globally, and subjecting me to incalculable emotional and physical anguish. How the paper chooses to deal with the issue is, obviously, its prerogative. I can only hope that common sense will prevail. Fortunately, I have recourse available to me. Why would Khaleej Times want to let this matter become any more serious than it already is? Does the paper truly believe that by creating and continuing an unseemly controversy, it is helping Dubai's global image at a time when Sheikh Mohammed is working so hard to establish it as a crossroads for the world?

Arabies Trends: On a lighter note, do you miss the red car you used during your stay in Dubai?

Pranay Gupte: I miss the friends I made at the paper, particularly the younger journalists and the support staff. I miss many of the people I met in the larger community outside Khaleej Times. Dubai is a wonderful melting pot of scores of ethnic groups; the harmony that Sheikh Mohammed has created is evident and palpable. I have never seen so many people smile with so much sincerity. I miss Haroon Mian of Bangladesh, the driver of the red Mazda that had been assigned to me during my 13 days in Dubai. He was always cheerful, just like his boss, Mureed Shah of Pakistan, who had the unenviable task of calibrating the unrelenting schedules of drivers.

Arabies Trends: Would you like to come back to Dubai if you get the right opportunity?

Pranay Gupte: I would return to Dubai in a shot. What an opportunity it offers for a writer and journalist who's genuinely interested in charting economic growth and social progress! I don't know how Sheikh Mohammed has done it, but he has certainly figured out how to build a sustainable society for both the present and future generations. I wish him well. I also wish I were there to witness the development of his dreams.

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