History and profile
The National was first published on April 17, 2008 by Abu Dhabi Media. The government owned media company ran the newspaper along with other publications including Aletihad, Zahrat Al Khaleej, Majed, and National Geographic Al Arabiya (in partnership with National Geographic.) In 2016, it was acquired by International Media Investments, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, a private investment company owned by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan that is also part-owner of Sky News Arabia. The National has had three previous editors-in-chief: Mohammed Al Otaiba served from February, 2014, to October, 2016; Hassan Fattah from June 2009 to October 2013; and Martin Newland, who was the launch editor, from April 2008 until June 2009.
With its pledge to emulate Western newspaper standards and to “help society evolve,” The National claims to be an anomaly in the Middle East, where most media are tightly controlled by the government. Before The National moved to private ownership there were several high level resignations across the editorial team regarding spiked stories and the newspaper’s impotency when covering stories on Abu Dhabi. However, a major goal in establishing the paper was to have respect from the international community on the part of the government.
In a 2012 article in the American Journalism Review, former foreign desk editor Tom O’Hara contended that coverage was skewed to favor the agenda of the government of the United Arab Emirates. He said that the newspaper had a “meticulous censorship process” that directly influenced coverage and word usage in the newspaper, such as prohibiting use of the term “Persian Gulf“. He said that the newspaper engaged in self-censorship, suppressing coverage of subjects deemed as casting an unfavorable light on the UAE royal family. He said that, among other things, coverage of the Libyan uprising was suppressed, as were articles about Wikileaks and gay rights.
The New Republic reported in February 2013 that The National had failed to live up to high expectations that had been raised when it was established. The magazine said that the newsroom has had a series of crises during the preceding five years, and that “tensions over the management and direction of the paper have been simmering behind the scenes, with leadership changes, budget cuts, infighting and allegations of rampant self-censorship conspiring to trigger a series of defections that have depleted the paper of much of its marquee talent”. The article described examples of rampant self-censorship, and said the newspaper’s story was “a cautionary tale about pursuing journalism in a censored society”.