Muhammad al-Saqr has been editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas since 1983. Although he has a business background, the paper’s reputation for balance and accuracy has grown under al-Saqr’s leadership. Al-Saqr was detained and interrogated a week before he received a Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists on October 21, 1992 in New York. Avner Gidron, CPJ’s Research Associate for the Middle and North Africa, interviewed him the next day.
How do people in the Arab world get news they can trust?
Certain newspapers are trustworthy. Before the invasion, al-Qabas had an international edition that was self-financed. We had the best correspondents in the Arab world working for us. There are still newspapers that are trustworthy, like al-Qabas. But al-Qabas cannot take a stand. They are afraid of the Saudis.
It seems that Saudi financiers have a stranglehold on the transnational Arab media.
That is true. They have their eyes on the international media, not only the pan-Arab media.
Compare the Kuwaiti press with that of the rest of the Arab world.
The Lebanese press is the most sophisticated. They are professionals. But in Kuwait, with the help of Arab expatriates, new technology and vision, we pulled ahead of everybody in terms of press freedom. But after liberation I think we have dropped by maybe 50 percent. Now only al-Qabas is truly independent.
Has al-Qabas recovered from the Iraqi occupation?
The Iraqis took everything — the mainframe computer, the furniture, the typesetting, everything. We need at least five years to recover. The [Kuwaiti] government is not supporting us, and never compensated us after they took over the international edition in London.
Will the international edition return?
It will. We are currently restructuring al-Qabas. We must continue to rebuild our domestic edition and then within six to nine months we will restart the international edition
Who owns al-Qabas?
It is owned by five merchant families. Two of them are related to the ruling family. My own family is the majority shareholder.
What about Kuwait’s other dailies?
Al-Watan is owned by one of the royal family, Ali al-Khalifa — the former oil minister — who bought it from the al-Salih family. Al-Fajr al-Jadid is owned by the Ministry of Information. Sawt al-Kuwait is owned by the government. Al-Siyasa, al-Ra’y al-‘Am, al-Anba’ and Kuwait Times are all owned by pro-government people. Only al-Qabas is not.
What is al-Qabas’ main source of revenue?
Do you accept government advertising?
We do. But we are not dependent on it. And al-Qabas is not subsidized [by the government] in any way.
Why is al-Qabas unique in the Arab world?
The owners of al-Qabas do not interfere. They are merchants but they do not ask al-Qabas to defend their interests. You will find in the paper Shi‘is, Sunnis, Bedouins, Jordanians, fundamentalists, radicals, everybody. At the same time we are very careful about getting our facts right.
Are there still Palestinians writing for al-Qabas?
Four or five, the people for whom [the government] gave me permission. They are those who did not leave the country. Everyone who had worked for al-Qabas before the occupation and removed in the country, I brought back.
Is there going to be a new press law?
Our original press law was canceled in 1986 after the dissolution of Parliament. It was replaced with a more repressive press law. It is this law which has been suspended since the elections. Now we are to have a new press law within three months, which I think will be a good one.
What do you look for in a good press law?
Protection. So I will not be taken to the public prosecutor’s office every time I write anything. So I will not be charged with silly offenses like slander. But I do not think the other newspapers care about having a good press law.