UAE paper launch targets Filipino market

Picking up a copy of the newspaper, Atallah Habib leafs through the bright, still-warm pages before holding it aloft for a photographer to capture the moment for posterity.

Most of his small editorial team have gathered to see the first edition of the Kabayan Weekly roll off the presses.

The 40,000 copies are printed in just an hour, but it is an idea owner Mr Habib says has been in the making for several years.

In an era of falling global newspaper sales, launching any paper feels, at best, bold.

But the Kabayan Weekly is pinning its hopes on a specific target audience - the estimated 600,000 people from the Philippines living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Despite making up about 12% of the population, until now there has been no newspaper for this community, says Mr Habib.

"There are papers in Arabic, in English, in Hindi, in Urdu but nothing for the Filipinos. We've thought for a while that there was a real market for this."

'Purchasing power'

About 60% of the stories are in the Tagalog dialect - with the rest in English, mainly taken from news agencies.

And with journalists hired in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Philippines, running a paper does not come cheap.

With a cover price of just two dirhams (30 pence; 50 US cents), advertising revenue will be crucial to its survival.

While about a quarter of the UAE's Filipinos are in white collar, managerial roles, most are among the lower earners - commonly employed in shops, cafes and restaurants.

No adverts have been sold for this first edition, but Mr Habib says this a market with enough disposable income to attract advertisers.

"The Filipino community is certainly a purchasing power," he says.

"All Filipinos send money to their home land every month, so all the money exchanges will being interested in advertising.

"And Filipinos love the fast-food restaurant chains, so we're talking to them.

"Then there's banks, visa agencies, tourist agencies, all these companies and much more have interests in the Filipino pie."

Fighting loyalty

The paper's publisher says it could take six months to turn a profit. But it is launching in a competitive market, where many papers are free.

A publication with such a specific audience has a good chance of succeeding, says Middle East and North Africa Media Guide editor Ben Smalley, but there are obstacles.

"It's quite difficult to launch, especially in the current market conditions and to get people to pay for a paper," he says.

'"People tend to be loyal to the newspaper that they already read."

The Kabayan Weekly is not the first attempt at such a venture.

Image caption Besides a main newsroom in Dubai, the Kabayan Weekly has reporters in Abu Dhabi and the Philippines

Its launch comes seven years after that of the Pinoy News, which had a similar agenda but collapsed within months.

"Back then the only companies interested in advertising to Filipinos were those who had them as their core customers," says Albert Alba, who moved from Manila to Dubai in 2004 to be Pinoy News editor.

"But in the last couple of years I sense more big brands - like hypermarkets - are seeing us as part of their broader customer base."

The growing size of the community was also a factor in this, he adds.

But Mr Alba fears that, even though it will have a website, the paper's biggest problem will be its weekly publication.

"It will be a struggle to bring things that are new, which the readers don't know about yet," he says.

"If you tackle the same issue that they've read about on the web, or sometimes even on Facebook, you have to give them something more, so they continue patronising and reading the paper."

Government voice

Kabayan Weekly editor-in-chief Camcer Ordonez Imam plans to carry news from the UAE and back home, as well as a smattering of celebrity gossip and sport - this week's front page carries a photo of Philippines boxing hero Manny Pacquiao.

But there will also be a focus on helping the community - with warnings about scams, and how to protect yourself from unscrupulous employers.

Each edition also hands over space to the UAE government and the Philippines embassy, for practical information that could be tough for non-English and non-Arabic speakers to access.

"Any policy, any new guidelines that will effect the Filipinos who are living and working here, will be published concerns," Mr Imam says.

"Details on how Filipinos can renew their passports, or their visas, this kind of thing, are not being brought to the homes of our people, and so we have to provide them with this," he says.

Mr Habib runs a business recruiting nurses and decided to launch the paper after hearing how some Filipinos had been tricked by illegal recruiters and promised non-existent jobs in the UAE.

Image caption The paper's owner says there is a gap in the crowded UAE media market

"I learned a lot about the hardship some people face coming to my country and it made me feel bad," he says, adding that copies of the paper would be given free to airlines flying between the UAE and the Philippines.

"If just one person read the paper and learned about this country, its laws, and their rights as workers, it might save them from being cheated.

"That would make it all worth it. It's not just about making money."