France’s 24-hour global satellite news channel, France 24, has started airing its Arabic broadcast today. France 24 was preceded by the American Alhurra, which was followed by the Arabic broadcast of the German channel Deutsche Welle, while BBC is planning to launch its Arabic Service channel ¬– even the Russians are seriously striving towards recruiting professional cadres to launch their Arabic-speaking channel. Even the Arabs are engrossed in creating specialized channels from parent media institutions to the extent that Arab satellite channels number approximately 300 channels.
It is a revolution on the verge of chaos…
However, and so as not to lose sight of the core of our debate and diverge into other issues, let us focus on the campaign launched by major Western media organizations to attract Arab viewers on a cultural, political and economic level – especially when channels such as Alhurra and Deutsche Welle have failed to attract Arab viewers when compared to Arab satellite news channels.
Starting with the early nineties and with the spread of satellite channels, the general trend in Arab media was one that was devoted to addressing tricky and controversial issues on an ideological basis – which often led to the militarization and politicization of the material presented to the viewer. As for criticism, it is often practiced selectively. This justifies the need for an Arab media that is rich in quality over quantity.
Perhaps Arab viewers are in need of a different language than what they have become accustomed to on their satellite channels. Alhurra channel’s experience was not an encouraging one, as it was overshadowed by the official US political position, which interfered in the choice of channels on more than one level – in spite of the significant and professional attempts made by some of the channel’s staff. As for Deutsche Welle, it remained ensnared in the role of interpreter into the Arabic language that it couldn’t transcend that to reach the rank of a channel able to professionally and uniquely address issues of concern to the Arab viewer.
Without a doubt the launch of France 24, to be followed by BBC’s Arabic Service channel, are matters that warrant thought, reflection and hoping that these channels could introduce a new language that is different from those that Arab viewers have become accustomed to on Arab satellite channels. Launching channels that are rich in professional experience could pose a challenge to Arab media outlets and may even make them feel threatened so that they may realize the risks of sliding into methods that can only reverberate more tension and aggravation in our societies.
The challenge here will be posed by media institutions that possess a wealth of experience in the field of unbiased media and that operate in accordance to professional standards before being subject to the calculations resultant of political divisions and the interests of states – it is the BBC and French television and they have aspired to enter the Arab media equation.
On the one hand, the challenge falls upon the aforementioned media institutions to comply with their professional conditions, which they have habitually abided by before, while on the other, the Arab media will face the challenge of the advent of new members in the field.
As for the Arab viewers, it is for them to decide if the number of channels has only increased numerically on their receivers or if indeed they have been given more choice.