♦ The World speaks to the Arab world—in Arabic
Since the Arab world represents a highly strategic area, many foreign powers have launched their own Arabic-speaking TV channels to spread their views and outlook on major world events.
In other words, الرَّأي العـــــــام (public opinion) of Arab nations has become, more than ever, المصلحــــة القوميـــــــة (the national interest) of many powers in the world.
سكـــــــاي نيـــــــوز عربيـــــــة (Sky News Arabic) is the newcomer among the Arabic-language Satellite channels who address the Arab world from “foreign skies.”
Rupert Murdoch, the well-known tycoon of Fox News fame and fresh shareholder of Rotana (the Arab world’s largest “entertainment company”), controls nearly half of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB), parent company of Sky News Arabic.
The co-owner of the newly-launched Arabic-speaking channel is Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, half brother of the current UAE president. He is also the owner of Manchester City Football Club, and is described by the British press as having US President Obama “on speed dial”!
- Shortly after invading Iraq, the US pushed for Al-Hurra (in Arabic “الحُــــــرَّة“, which stands for “The Free“), the brainchild of American businessman Norman Pattiz while he was still sitting on the board of a Government information agency, the new face of the now-defunct USIA (United States Information Agency.) Today, Pattiz switched to the board of the government outfit which operates the well-known Los Alamos National Laboratory. How much Al Hurra has been effective in winning over the hearts and minds of Arab viewers is still up for debate, although a 2010 WikiLeaks cable quotes two Saudi media executives in a meeting with a US official at a Starbucks in Jeddah as saying: ”The American programming on MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that al-Hurra and other US propaganda never could.” It remains unclear, however, whether the two Saudis were referring to Desperate Housewives or the fifth season of Jersey Shore.
- Although the British government recently cut public funding to the BBC, it decided to maintain its sponsorship of BBC Arabic, in order to “continue its valuable work in the region.” This is not the first time the British government attempts to address the Arab world: It tried and failed to do so back in the mid-1990s, when it concluded a partnership with a cousin of the former Saudi King to launch an Arabic version of the BBC. However, a documentary of the parent company deemed too critical toward the ruling Saudi family brought that partnership to an abrupt end, prompting the journalists of the short-lived British channel to join what was soon to become Al Jazeera.
- Similarly, France launched “France 24 Arabic.” It seems that the French desperately needed their voice to be heard in Arab lands, especially in the Maghreb region where the youth are more often than ever switching from French channels like TF1, France 2, and M6, to Arabic-speaking channels like Al Jazeera.
- Through its state-owned RIA Novosti which controls the channel “روسيـــــــــــــا اليوم” (“Russiya Al Yawm“, or “Russia Today“), Russia presents its view of the world to Arab audiences. This channel has for some time hosted Al Jazeera’s former Moscow correspondent, Akram Khuzam, who subsequently left to work for the American “Al-Hurra.“
- CCTV Arabic broadcasts the official Chinese views—with very fluent Arabic-speaking Chinese journalists!
- Officially, إيــــــران (Iran) has three main Arabic-speaking channels:
- العــــــــالــــــم (Al-Alam, meaning “The World” in Arabic), which has been extremely sympathetic in its news coverage to the Shia-led protests in Bahrein, while turning a blind eye on the Syrian uprising against Iran’s main ally in the region, Syrian President Bachar Al Assad.
- The Al-Kawthar channel, which is the Shia counterpart of Saleh Kamel‘s Iqraa (initial founder of the MBC) or Al-Walid bin Talal‘s Al Rissala (part of Rotana.)
- And finally iFilm, a channel that exclusively broadscasts Iran-made movies and series to Arab TV watchers. The Iranian iFilm is not to be confused with the other channel by the same name owned by the MTV network“! Unofficially, Iran actively supports pro-Shia TV channels in the Arab world, such as in Iraq with “Al Furat” channel, and in Lebanon with the Hezbollah-backed channel Al Manar.