An announcement was recently made in the Saudi capital Riyadh, launching a new satellite news channel named Alarab, owned by Prince al-Waleed Bin Talal and in partnership with Bloomberg, an international channel specializing in business news. Alarab comes as the latest initiative in a marketplace already densely crowded with Arab news outlets. In such an environment, several channels have had a great impact upon the Arab conscience, such as Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. This prompted non-Arab countries to enter this domain, and we saw the launch of the American-sponsored al-Hurra, the British BBC Arabic, the French France 24, the German Deutsche Welle, the Russian “Russia Today”, the Chinese CCTV, and the Turkish TVT Arabic language channels. We should also not forget the efforts exerted by news channels based in the Arab world such as the Saudi al-Ekhbariya, the Egyptian Nile News, and the Lebanese al-Mustakbal News.
According to the press conference announcing the launch, the news channel Alarab is a highly ambitious project, for its partnership with Bloomberg represents a significant and distinguished step, due to the latter’s reputation for professionalism and elevated coverage of business news, which led to other giant television stations launching their own specialized business channels. We saw NBC launch CNBC, CNN launch CNNFN, and Fox News launch Fox Business. Alarab will be headed by established journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which gives grounds for optimism for the success of the channel. According to the press conference, a comprehensive funding plan is also in place that will cover “the channel’s financial requirements for the next ten years”. This is in fact a pivotal point, because the financing of news channels is totally different from funding other satellite channels of general interest. This is because with conventional satellite channels; the higher the viewing figures the greater the advertisement revenue. Meanwhile, in the case of news channels; the higher the viewing figures (as a result of wars, disasters and emergencies), the lower the advertisement revenue. This is because a distressing war scene cannot simply cut away to an advertisement broadcast, or a message from the sponsor, let alone the fact that news channel costs rise incredibly in order to finance satellite dispatches, and send correspondents to extremely dangerous hotspots.
According to a survey by the famous Forbes magazine, Al-Jazeera is the most established Arab news model, to the extent that it has become a world renowned trademark and it has been referred to as ‘the channel that created a nation’. Having achieved such success through its Arabic-language channel, Al-Jazeera then launched an English language equivalent to compete with CNN, Fox News, and Sky. It enjoys substantial viewing figures in the third world, namely in Africa, the Indian peninsula, and eastern Asia. Al-Arabiya then emerged as a credible rival for Al-Jazeera, offering a different model of neutral, non-oriented media discourse by relying on the “news story” itself, rather than opinions. Al-Jazeera has an ideological and oriented media discourse, a style that has its audience, whilst al-Arabiya alternative style also attracts viewers.
Al-Jazeera, when first launched, adopted the BBC style, whilst al-Arabiya adhered to the Sky News school of media broadcasting – presenting short news items, diverse material, sophisticated directing and lighting, and young reporters and presenters. Today, Arab satellite channels are offering a new concept of “Pan-Arab media”, a phenomenon that was limited in the 1970s and 1980s to Lebanese magazines such as al-Sayyad, al-Hawadith, and al-Ousbou al-Arabi. These were all promoted and marketed by a group of beneficiaries from Lebanese advertisement firms. Two magazines emerged later on; al-Majallah and al-Wasat with the aim of reaping the benefits of that particular period. However, these two latter publications soon realized the decline of Arab news magazines, which ultimately shifted into extinct dinosaurs, earning a handful of dollars out of the courtesy of some Arab governments. In the printed press, the only remaining serious newspapers, which cover the general Arab sphere, are the Asharq Al-Awsat and al-Hayat dailies. Thus the mission will not be easy for the new Alarab satellite project, which chose its name after the events of the Arab Spring. It is thanks to the Arab Spring that the Arab viewer has become wiser and more experienced, and can now distinguish between the sincere and the idiotic, such as the Syrian state news channel and the Libyan one prior to it. However, one should not overlook the fact that news channels still have ideologies, orientations and targets that they seek to achieve. But today, news channels have shifted from the airwaves into the world of genuine influence.
CNN was the star of the Kuwait liberation war, whereas Al-Jazeera and Abu-Dhabi were prominent during the Iraq invasion. Now the Arab Spring is witnessing the brilliance of both Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, encouraging others to step into this area. Alarab is a new addition (soon to face the rivalry of the Arabic-language Sky, the Arabic-language Fox News, and the Arabic-language CNN), but the market and the viewer alone will be the judge.