On Building Bridges and Winning Hearts…

June 25, 2008

I really can’t help being skeptical every time a European or American broadcaster announces that it will launch an Arabic channel, mostly because of what I see as the combined failure of most similar projects.

It almost seems to me that many broadcasters forget that the trick is not to simply get the channel on air, but to become an influencial voice in a very cynical region.

Amina Khairy, a fellow journalist working with Al Hayat newspaper in Cairo, summarizes the situation in a very simple and straightforward answer; when asked recently by The Washington Post about her opinion in the American Al-Hurra channel, she answered: “Nobody ever says, ‘Did you see what al-Hurra did yesterday?’ ”, and I could add that the same can be applied to most of these recent ventures, such as Russia Today, France 24 and BBC Arabic Television.

But if you are one of those channels I just mentioned, please don’t be offended with what I said, as a person whose job it is to monitor Arab and international media closely, I can safely add  that the situation is similar with even the Arab owned news channels, such as Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera.

It could be that I’ve become so involved in the news-gathering business that everything I see on screen seems dull to me, but the truth of the matter is I am looking for a channel that reveals another Abu Ghraib or gives us a talk show that ‘grills’ guests for honest answers as the original ‘Hard Talk’ did.

Sometimes, I even dare to dream of our own version of Frost Vs. Nixon or better yet, our own Watergate!

However, if Arab media is excused for not being able to achieve these honors, due to political and ownership issues, what is the Western media’s excuse? I don’t think it should have one.

Please don’t get the impression that I am against European and American governments attempts to  ‘win the hearts and minds’ of Arabs and Muslims through the media, on the contrary I say to them in all honesty: please be my guest!

In fact, the mixing of the two cultures would have tremendous value… Western journalists need to understand the region and its people better, and Arab journalists need to get exposed to Western methods of investigation and reporting… the way I see it everyone is a winner.

Even though the notion “winning hearts and minds” that we keep hearing may blow a channel’s intergrity and claim to unbaised reporting, I still respect the fact that many countries are trying to reach out to my region of the world and try to build bridges, despite the fact that the traffic on these bridges goes one way.

Sometimes, I really think things should be the other way around, we are the ones always complaining about being misunderstood, about the West turning a blind eye to our causes and agonies… thus, we are the ones who should be launching channels and getting spokespeople out there to explain and re-explain over and over again.

Al Jazeera International would have been a great tool and it still could be, if it manages to pull its act together that is. Whereas one of the most praise-worthy attempts to reach out and explain the realities of Arab and Muslim views came as a personal effort from non other than Queen Rania of Jordan.

If you haven’t checked out Her Majesty’s YouTube page http://www.youtube.com/queenrania , I really recommend you do so, simply because it portrays what a true debate should look like: opinions from people living in the West which includes even criticizing and even insulting Islam and Arabs, and postings by others (including vlogs The Queen herself) to clarify and set the facts straight.

All this is happening on YouTube, while a Western broadcaster that recently launched an Arabic channel was hesistant to report on homosexuality , because one of its Arab producers thought that the topic “didn’t fit the culture and traditions of our region”… I really wonder what is next, perhaps not report anything at all? You know, because one could argue that corruption, abuse of power, crime, rasicim and secetrianism for example are not relevant to our culture as well.        

    

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2 Responses to “On Building Bridges and Winning Hearts…”

  1. Salem Says:

    Faisal,

    Nice article mate, keep the good work.

    My question is: Is the main purpose of these initiatives really about building bridges and winning the hearts of Arabs or is it all about war of media and “Market” dominance?

    To be a genuine media source you HAVE to be biased when it comes to specific critical topics. It will be ludicrous if Al-Jazeera referred to Hizbullah as a terrorist organisation whether they do that in Arabic or English and similarly a right wing American broadcaster will always refer to them as terrorists whatever language they use. Otherwise, these broadcasters will simply be shmoosing (or probably brown-nosing) with the public and trying to tell them the things that they would like to hear trying to gain their trust and support.

    It has become clearly obvious that when it comes to active support of the Arab/Muslim community, the supporting individual, whomever he/she is, can be tagged as a supporter of terrorism or even a terrorist so can you imagine if a complete media broadcaster did take such an attitude?!

    I’m not the most optimistic person when it comes to media in general but I would like to hear your view of these initiatives next time I see you.

    Salam.

    Salem.

  2. Arnaud DUBOIS Says:

    Hi Faisal,

    Have your own opinion in visiting our office in Paris suburb as we are in the same office as France 24 channel 😉


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