Abu Dhabi, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sky News Arabia’s Director of News, Nart Bouran, spoke about the challenges of running an Arabic-language media organization in a fiercely competitive market. Bouran lauded the channel’s impartial and unbiased coverage of events, and spoke about the difficulty – and importance – of reporting some of the most prominent events to strike the region, including the Arab Spring.
Sky News Arabia is an Arabic-language news and current affairs channel that began broadcasting on 6 May 2012. Nart Bouran was hired as Sky News Arabia’s first director of News in February 2011. He previously served as Reuters’ director of television. He also served as the Director General of the Jordan Radio and Television Corporation, and Director of News for Abu Dhabi TV.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your assessment of Sky News Arabia’s performance over its first 4 months of broadcast?
[Bouran] The performance has been very positive, and this is because the Sky News Arabia project is a major one by any standard, and those responsible for this had a particular view and expectations regarding content quality and broadcast from the first moment. In addition to this, we began, since the first day, to broadcast live around the clock, as well as utilize other platforms related to the channel, such as the website, mobile apps and tablets. There are challenges that accompany this; however the staff has been able – thanks to their high standards of professionalism – to overcome these.
We are looking at the past few months and the achievements that we have made as just the beginning, because the Arab scene today evaluates any media organization to a very high standard, particularly television media. We are seeking, in a constant manner, to improve, and from this standpoint we are seeking to develop and diversify our content to meet the aspirations of our Arab viewers. This is dependent on the views and comments of our viewers and the results of studies and research that we have carried out since the launch of the channel.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does Sky News Arabia have what it takes to compete in the Arab media realm?
[Bouran] Yes, we have what it takes compete, whether in terms of the diversity and inclusiveness of our content and our promptness in reporting the news. The best example of this is that we were able, over the initial months of our broadcast, to achieve a series of accomplishments, such as broadcasting field reports, exclusive interviews and special coverage of prominent events such as the Egyptian elections, the developments on the ground in Syria as well as high-profile sporting events. We always bear in mind that our content must be important and useful for our Arab viewers, in terms of reports and special coverage of issues that concern Arab viewers everywhere and which affect their daily lives.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What professional foundation do you rely on in your coverage of the Arab Spring?
[Bouran] The core professional foundation is to be present where the events are taking place, and if we are unable to do so for any reason, we try to deal with the news in a professional and balanced manner. This is part of an attempt to survey the views and opinions of all parties with regards to the Arab Spring events and developments. The events are always related to the people and their concerns and future, as well as obtaining numerous sources to obtain information, so that completely different viewpoints are always represented. Allow me to confirm that the most important professional foundation is for us to be at the heart of events in order to try and portray the whole picture.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you find any difficulty in being fair and impartial, with regards to your coverage of the Arab Spring? Would you characterize Sky News Arabia’s coverage of the Arab Spring as a success?
[Bouran] We were very successful in providing fair coverage [of the Arab Spring], however our success in this regard occasionally depends on the cooperation of all parties relevant parties, so when we want to put forward the other point of view in our coverage, the main party must cooperate. In the event of this party refusing to cooperate, we try and find an alternative to ensure that we provide a comprehensive picture of the scene, and we present this is a different manner. I believe that the issue is not about holding the stick in the middle, because we are not going to pass judgment on any side, but rather convey the views of all parties in an accurate and prompt manner.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Arab and foreign news organizations are spending huge amounts of money to ensure the excellence of their news coverage in order to attract viewers. Is Sky News Arabia able to compete with its rivals in terms of support?
[Bouran] We consider Sky News Arabia to be a business based on a long-term strategic plan, and we receive support in this regard to ensure the creation of a successful media organization, in the professional and commercial spheres. Of course support does not aim merely to strengthen the manner that we deal with the news, but also the manner in which we deliver this to the public. From the first moment, we have delivered news to our audience via a variety of different platforms including the internet, smart phones, and tablet computers. However I believe that there are other elements that constitute real support for our operations, including our media professionalism and prompt delivery of breaking news.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Usually when seeking to launch a new media project, organizations seek out established stars to front the project. This is something that Sky News Arabia largely ignored, instead utilizing newcomers to front your programs. What is the reason behind this?
[Bouran] Firstly, I do not completely agree with your premise. There can be no doubt that Sky News Arabia has a group of well-known media names who have experience in television media; however at the same time we are giving opportunities to new faces to shine, and this combination gives our channel its unique identity. When we were choosing our staff, we were keen to ensure special standards for Sky News Arabia, away from considerations of fame and celebrity. Our standards are based on media ability, presence, broadcasting style and general culture.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you encountered any professional obstacles – as a television news channel – in putting forward all opposing views regarding a story? How do you deal with local Emirati news?
[Bouran] We cover all news that occurs in the region, regardless of where it takes place, on the condition that this is prominent news that is of public interests. I do not think this is something that has anything to do with professional inhibition or red lines as much as it relates to the value of the news for the audience throughout the region. We deal with Emirati news in precisely the same manner that we deal with all other news.
Although our presence in the United Arab Emirates has granted us the opportunity to monitor and cover a series of political, economic, sporting and artistic events from close-up – and this is due to the UAE being a regional and occasionally international hub for many sectors –our standards are based on broadcasting what concerns the viewers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sky News Arabia has been praised for its coverage of the situation in Syria. Do you not fear for the safety of your journalists who are covering the events on the ground there, particularly as a number of journalists covering the Syrian crisis have been killed in the fighting?
[Bouran] Professional journalism always requires a presence at the heart of the event, and presence in dangerous places is practically part of the life of any journalist who wants to deliver the news in an impartial and expedient manner. These days, unfortunately, Syria is going through difficult circumstances, and many of its citizens are witnessing armed conflict between different parties, therefore our priority is to ensure the safety of our staff on the ground, as well as strive to provide the most comprehensive coverage of what is happening.
The issue of the safety of journalists has become a universal one, as the professional journalists that want to get to the truth are being targeted by many parties. In such cases, the responsibility is on media organizations, as it must exert a lot of administrative and logistical efforts to ensure the greatest benefit to the viewer at the least possible risk to the staff. However at the end of the day, accidents are possible, and this is something that is outside of the control of the administration of any organization. We wish for the safety of the Sky News Arabia team, and all journalists in the world, wherever they are.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Syrian state-run media has described Sky News Arabia as biased and placed you on the list of “seditious” news organizations. What is your view of this?
[Bouran] Since we began broadcasting, we have been keen to have a presence in Damascus to cover the viewpoints of all parties. We were prepared to cover the official viewpoint of the Syrian government] at any time, and have always been keen to do so, even following our absence from Damascus.
Sky News Arabia is a neutral news channel that provides the news in an immediate and balanced manner. Accusations regarding media operations are normal, for in every conflict or event there are different and contradictory viewpoints and stories, and each party is trying to confirm the veracity of its view. We do not back or support any party at the expense of the other in our news coverage; we do not have an agenda. The viewpoint that concerns us is that of the public and the public alone. Therefore we seek to convince them, via our coverage, that we are a fair channel that puts forward all points of view.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Tell our readers about your own personal experience running Sky News Arabia?
[Bouran] This was simultaneously a great challenge and opportunity. Whenever an Arab media figure is a part of a major media organization, like Sky News Arabia, he is part of the history of Arab media, particularly during this difficult and exciting time. We have witnessed many radical changes in the region. I am honored to have a presence at this channel and to be part of a staff at this media organization which focuses on delivering the news in an excellent manner to the new Arab generation. My personal experience is dependent on the level of content that we deliver, therefore I am very proud to be part of this team.