By Ray Hanania
Ever since al-Jazeera (AlJazeera, Al Jazeera) launched as a mouthpiece for the Government of Qatar in 1996, Arab governments have been slowly assessing the power of an in-house and controlled news media.
Although al-Jazeera (“The Island”) claims to be objective the Qatar-based government run news channel has drifted far away from professional journalism and has instead embraced extremism and populist causes. The channel has attacked Arabs who have supported the peace process with Israel, and favored extremist columnists and writers who promote hatred and religious extremism.
Al Jazeera has been banned and censored in most Arab countries including Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq and Egypt just to name a few. It has been repeatedly denounced by Israel’s rightwing fanatic government and the criticism by Israel has given al-Jazeera a faux shield of “righteousness” in the narrowly focused eyes of the Arab public which sees Palestine as a sacred cause that they cheer but fail to much effort in saving.
Al Jazeera has often published scurrilous columns and blog posts from fanatics in the Arab World and in the West targeting moderate voices in the Arab Community that advocate peace based on compromise with Israel. Al- Jazeera is often described as embracing the radical extremism of the Jabha Palestinian movement.
To protect itself, though, Al-Jazeera has also launched a second front to portray itself as a champion of Palestinian rights, when in fact its news reporting has done very little to expose the true crisis that challenges Palestinian freedom and statehood. Instead, the Qatar-owned satellite news station has become the political arm against the pro-peace bock of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States.
Having had enough of al-Jazeera’s one-sided political attacks, the Saudis funded and launched their own satellite TV news operation in 2003, Al-Arabiya (“The Arabic One”), which has embraced a more moderate approach to news stories and countered the bias asserted against al-Jazeera.
Both Al Jazeera and al-Arabiya began as Arabic language news operations and expanded to include English broadcasts, in part to cater to pander and curry favor with the United States. In al-Jazeera’s case, though, officials of the Bush administration branded al-Jazeera as a “terrorist” network following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in part because al-Jazeera often broadcast the propaganda of al-Qaeda.
In 2013, in an effort to try to make itself more acceptable to the powerful American public audience, Al-Jazeera launched al-Jazeera America which duplicated much of its English language international broadcasts on Al Jazeera English. But al Jazeera English was boycotted by most American cable companies and has been viewed as little more than a watered-down step-sister of Al Jazeera Arabic. To sidestep the boycott, Qatar funded the purchased of Current TV, an American based Cable TV Channel owned by former Vice President Al Gore. The content on Al Jazeera America was watered down even further and many of the on-air personalities are American journalists, Canadian and British journalists lured by Qatar’s oil-industry deep pockets.
Still, AJAM (as Al Jazeera America is often called) has failed to break into the America market. Although much of AJAM’s focus is on non-Arab topics, its association with Al Jazeera Arabic and English has marked it as unreliable.
But the media wars in the Arab World have not improved and are expanding. This week, with the support of one of the wealthiest Saudis in the World, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a member of the ruling Saudi family best known for his $4.8 million dollar diamond covered Mercedez Benz, Saudi ally Bahrain has launched the Al Arab “(The Arab) Satellite News Channel.
The Arab World clearly is no different than the West when it comes to news. In 1980, liberal billionaire Ted Turner launched CNN to help strengthen the liberal voice in America. The purpose wasn’t as much to manage America’s war against “terrorism,” as it is today, but rather to exploit the weakening of the mainstream TV networks like ABC, NBC and CBS which were losing audiences and advertising.
In 1996, to challenge the growing liberalism of CNN and the media, British media mogul Rupert Murdoch launched FOX Cable News, which has embraced a rightwing, neo-con agenda.
So why should the Arab World be any different.
Although CNN and FOX News are privately owned, the politics of the two Cable TV giants reflect the same kind of extremist politics found in the Middle East where governments, rather than government cronies, control the birth of news media channels.
Here’s the press releases announcing the launch of al Arab Satellite News Channel:
Alarab News Channel, the MENA region’s latest 24-hour news channel, began transmission at 13.00 GMT on 1st February from its headquarters in Bahrain to viewers all over the world. The launch ushers in a completely new style of news programming for the Middle East and beyond and fills a critical void in Arab-language news programming by delivering to millions of viewers with an objective, fresh and unbiased view of world events.
Commenting on the launch, Mr. Fahad Sukait, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the channel said: “We are proud of the strong start we’ve made and thank HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for his unstinting support. Our goal is to provide viewers with a new and different style, delivering impartial and accurate news based on deep analysis.” He added: “I would like to thank all our staff for their hard work which has contributed to today’s successful launch.”
Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, General Manager, commented: “We felt there was a real need for an independent and impartial channel. We are proud that our programs will go beyond the ‘normal’ to provide viewers with the stories that matter to them.”
Alarab will deliver the news objectively and accurately, providing news bulletins at the top of each hour through its extensive network of correspondents and bureaux around the world, in addition to a group of analysts and subject matter experts. The region’s leading business news will be delivered through a cooperation agreement with Bloomberg which will provide world-class information to the region’s business community.
Aside from the news, Alarab will broadcast a range of programs including a focus on Saudi Arabian affairs. Every weekday from Sunday to Thursday, the KSA bulletin – presented by Nour AlShaikh and Mefreh Al Shaqiqi – will feature news from the Kingdom. Ghanem Al Mareekhi will host “Min Al Riyadh“, a daily talk show covering a range of topics that matter to Saudis, from politics to social affairs, and which will open a dialog between the Saudi people and the authorities.
“AlMashhad Al layla” with Laila Al Skaikly will be on air every Thursday and goes beyond the story, giving answers and new angles to daily events. Taria Alaas will host a one-hour weekly program entitled “Majalis Al Arab” which looks at the decision-making processes in Arab parliaments and the role they play in modern Arab political life.
About Alarab News Channel:
Alarab News Channel fills a critical void in Arab-language news programming by delivering to millions of viewers with an objective, fresh and unbiased view of local and world events. Based in Bahrain, the all-Arabic language channel features extensive news programming as well as regular news roundups, travel, politics, social affairs, sports and culture and the channel’s cooperation agreement with Bloomberg makes it the reference point for the business community across the region.