The Arab world's most storied English-language daily newspaper has suspended publication because of financial woes, the publisher said Thursday.
The Daily Star, which until 2006 was distributed throughout the Middle East alongside the International Herald Tribune, has been in trouble for years. But nobody expected such an abrupt fall for the Lebanon-based daily.
One morning last week, without any notice, the Daily Star was not available on newsstands. It has not been published since, and the website has not been updated.
The shutdown was ordered by a court after months of negotiations with a Lebanese bank over debt of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the publisher and editor in chief, Jamil Mroue, told The Times. There were no indications that the sometimes-controversial paper was closed because it broke a taboo or offended a politician, as sometimes occurs in the Middle East.
Mroue said that he had been discussing his financial troubles with the bank for months and was taken aback by the swiftness with which the court stepped in and ordered the newspaper to shut because of its unpaid debts. The newspaper offices were sealed within an hour of the ruling, he said.
On-and-off for decades, the Daily Star had been a unique English-language source of information in the Arab world. In the last few years, however, websites began challenging the newspaper's reign.
The Daily Star's fate is also a symptom of the tough business environment for independent newspapers in the Middle East. Most news publications depend on generous contributions from wealthy political figures or parties. Others are owned by political groups or government agencies and reflect their benefactors' views.
Newspapers such as the Daily Star, where opinion pieces by neoconservatives run side-by-side with articles by radical Islamists, struggle to cover expenses by selling advertisements.
Mroue said Lebanon had suffered through nearly four years of assassinations, political intrigue and wars, which hurt the newspaper's revenue. He complained that these factors were not taken into account by bank officials judging the company's solvency.
The newspaper's staff members said they were shocked when security officials suddenly showed up Jan. 15 and ordered them to leave immediately. They said they were not even allowed to remove their personal laptop computers.