• Lebanon
  • July 27, 2006
  • 22 minutes read

Arab Media And The 6th War

 How to follow the crisis on Arab media? There is no question that AlJazeera has seen a most dramatic resurgence during this crisis. AlJazeera of course proved its lead in pan-Arab coverage in the past, but this is a story with local dimensions. So it was not clear that AlJazeera would win against the strong Lebanese TV competitors. But it won, hands down. AlArabiya has been quite weak, and less reliable during this crisis. Some of its reporters did a good job though: including `Ali Nun in South Lebanon. And its coverage changed over the days: it went from the fake detachment of “fair and balanced” to more overtly critical-of-Israel coverage. Al-Arabiya’s most well-known correspondent, Najwa Qasim talked about “Israeli terrorism”–she saw it first hand. But AlJazeera was so clearly in the lead, and acted on that assumption. They could get anybody for an interview, and you can’t see a person in Lebanon, or elsewhere turn down the skillful Beirut bureau chief, Ghassan Bin Jiddu, for an interview. When Hasan Nasrallah appears for a lengthy interview on AlJazeera and not on Al-Manar you realize how strong the coverage has been, and how widely watched it is. AlJazeera not only won among Arab viewers but ALSO among Lebanese viewers–and that is a new development. The resources of AlJazeera and the leadership of Bin Jiddu were just not matched by any other channel. LBC-TV has been dragging its feet during this crisis: its one-sided, pro-Lebanese Forces coverage is not reliable, politics aside. But it had to break its unspoken taboos and hire some Muslims and some non-Lebanese Forces Christians, and that brought about a change of tone and substance of coverage. Its correspondents in the Biqa` and South Lebanon used language (against Israel and in support of the notion of “resistance” against Israel) that never has been heard on LBC-TV. They still have the bias of the guests–mostly people aligned with Samir Ja`ja`, and that does not make for interesting TV. The winner in Lebanon over the last year has been New TV: this independent station has credibility. It is staffed by mostly leftist and Arab nationalist reporters and producers, and the owner, Tahsin Khayyat (a foe of Rafiq Hariri) clashed bitterly with Syrian mukhabarat during its domination in Lebanon, so it has credibility in its Arab nationalist and anti-Hariri Inc perspective. Its evening newscast has been winning over LBC-TV for more than a year now. In the Greater Beirut area, New TV has also been winning. The tight control that Samir Ja`ja` (right-wing war criminal) has been keen on exercising at LBC-TV has only hurt the station. I don’t get to see Al-Manar here in the US (and do you know that it is illegal for us Americans to even appear on Al-Manar or on An-Nur radio stations) so I can’t judge their coverage. But Al-Manar is widely watched in Arab countries (first in Palestine and Morocco, I am told), and in moments like this, it is also widely watched in Lebanon. NBN TV is not widely watched, and has recently been purchased by the Khurafi group in Kuwait although the deal allows Nabih Birri to keep control of the news section. They do sometimes have good live coverage, but they don’t have the resources or the staff of other competitors. For the print media, As-Safir is without a doubt the best and most reliable newspaper. It has suffered since the assassination of Hariri: Sunnis have thought that it was not pro-Hariri enough, and Shi`ites thought that it was too pro-Hariri, and many Christians have always had a problem with As-Safir due to the war years and As-Safir’s association with the Lebanese National Movement and the Palestinian Resistance. Certainly, As-Safir has been very close to Hariri Inc and Saudi Arabia in recent years. But the other newspapers are so bad that As-Safir remains the most strong newspaper–politics aside. In my opinion, it shed too many tears over Hariri’s death. In recent weeks, the publisher has become more vocal in criticizing Saudi Arabia and even–albeit timidly–the Lebanese government of Hariri Inc. Ad-Diyar is widely read in Lebanon, especially in Christian and Shi`ite areas, but it is a demagogic newspaper that has become an unabashed voice for the Syrian regime and of Al-Walid Bin Talal (although the publisher, Charles Ayyub) recently called the Saudi king “criminal” and “Zionist.”). But it does not have a unique stamp of journalism, although its sensational anti-Hariri headlines attract readership. 70% of buyers of As-Safir (As-Safir’s folks told me) are those who buy the paper based on the headline of the day. An-Nahar (the sectarian Christian, right-wing newspaper) has been in decline for years, and deservedly: not only in terms of the price (double that of Lebanese newspapers) but also because the old editors of the papers (like Luwis Al-Hajj) have either died or left in disgust (like Unsi Al-Hajj). Still, the paper has a designer name and though a very shady deal still gets the most advertisement in the country, and the best distribution system. As for Hurra TV: everybody in Lebanon would tell me: what? what? Hurra what? Now as for Arabic TV stations and newspapers: they are certainly covering the war of aggression with passion. The Syrian TV: gives the most extensive and the most emotional coverage–that is all what the Ba`th can give–propaganda. Egyptian TV and Saudi TV: are minding their own business. Frying onions, and showing soap operas, etc. But even their news coverage is very emotional concerning the plight of the Lebanese people, and is critical of Israel. Even Kuwaiti TV coverage. But if you really want to know how many surviving sons of `Abdul-`Aziz went to the airport to greet this official or that, then Saudi TV is a must see TV. Don’t miss it. The most pro-US media has been by far Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat which has increasingly been taking an anti-Shi`ite cast. Al-Hayat tries to be more “professional” in its pro-Saudi advocacy. Infant news is still in its infancy. Aljazeera’s Arabic website is quite popular, but it merely gives summaries of Al-Jazeera TV. And then House of Saud has elaph: it combines–typical House of Saud media–sleaze and House of Saud (and Bush) advocacy.

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