Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Approximately twenty five years ago, Saudi Arabia’s Channel Two was established, distinguished by its use of the English language. In the past years, the channel has experienced many changes and has been subject to much criticism that claims that the channel fails to offer anything innovative and exciting. In search of ways to develop the channel and to keep up with the pace of the ever-changing satellite media, Dr. Mohamed Barayan was appointed director of the channel less than two years ago following his position as general-manager of Al Ekhbaria news channel since its inception. In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat in Riyadh, Barayan revealed the major problem facing the channel regarding its identity and discussed the developments that the channel has experienced and future plans for the channel. The interview proceeded as follows:
Q: Some people believe Saudi Channel Two is one of the most effective means of communication with “the other”. To what extent is that employed in this context?
A: Saudi Channel Two is part of the Saudi media and it plays its role as part of the published, audio and visual mass media. The English language that the channel uses might have a significant role in addressing “the other”, a component that does not speak Arabic. The current direction of the channel based on the instructions of the Minister of Culture and Information, Iyad Madani, and his advisor Mohammed Qazzaz, is to define a real identity for the channel and was entitled, “Who are we in relation to the other?” In this regard, “we” refers to us as a land, as a people, as a policy and as a Saudi community. The image of Saudi Arabia might have become somewhat obscure after the 9/11 attacks, but thank God many steps have been presented [to change this].
Channel Two will play an important role in delivering the real media message without exaggeration. We have a cultural, political and economic treasure in all fields, and this is the base from which Channel Two is launched and through which it aims to portray these to others. This is through its diverse programs, reports, interviews and dialogue with “the other” and respectfully and seriously listening to the others’ point of view through live programs and talk-shows. We have cultured Saudi figures who deliberate with other cultured people from the East or the West or even with other Arabs who do not know much about Saudi Arabia.
Q: Have there been any practical steps in this context?
A: We are presenting our country under the title, “This is Our Country” through which we demonstrate our country’s distinctiveness, culture and individuality.
Conferences for dialogue are part of the intellectual union between the Arab and Islamic world and the other whether it is the western or the eastern world. We enjoy a state of individuality in Saudi Arabia and we will make “the other” delve deeper to understand it. We also enjoy a state of religious uniqueness that is represented by Mecca, Medina, Islamic Shariah and the Holy Quran which is our constitution. All of these factors are our base for the delivery of our media message and spreading it wider than before and in a new language that is flexible and rapid. We will work to transmit the channel to other parts of the world which have no access to our broadcasting. The discourse will be addressed to the world with this content and in a balanced and realistic manner. All that will be broadcast on Channel Two will serve the aim of [representing] who we are in relation to others and what our Islamic and Arab interests are. This is an important part of the language of dialogue and interaction with other cultures and nations. The channel had intensified its coverage of various national dialogues, especially the fifth intellectual dialogue which was entitled, “We and the other”. Simultaneous interpretation was soon conducted for the sessions of dialogue, besides hosting many intellectuals and academics from within and outside of Saudi Arabia to participate with their views on the subject of dialogue.
Q: Channel Two is not broadcast to Western Europe and North America, which are the two of the most important areas that must be addressed on the media level. Are there any developments to broadcast in these regions?
A: The channel will start to broadcast in North America and other parts of Western Europe as well as some parts of Asia, which do not receive the transmission, in March 2007.
Q: At an earlier stage, the channel targeted foreigners within Saudi Arabia; have they been incorporated in your new plan?
A: When it was first founded, Channel Two did address foreigners residing in Saudi Arabia. At that time, there was no outburst of satellite channels and communications in the field and there was a large segment of foreigners in Saudi society. The channel was entertainment for them, in addition to highlighting some of our local activities. We now live in a wide-scoped satellite world. In order to find a space to deliver your media message, it should be done in a professional manner, whether it is in the field of drama and entertainment programs, or in the area of news, economics and other fields. The channel broadcasts now around the clock and there are detailed as well as concise news bulletins and a network of correspondents, which is widely spreading throughout the world. The eminent future step will be creating a network of correspondents all regions of Saudi Arabia, and each governorate and village will have a share of our media discourse. There is another approach towards presenting news bulletins in the French language; we now present French programs and series that are dubbed into English.
Q: Does the channel suffer from a lack of Saudi media cadres or English-speaking figures?
A: A media figure doesn’t necessarily have to be a graduate of the faculty of media and many of those who work in television are talented and creative without having obtained any qualifications in media or technical television work. Media creativity in Saudi Arabia does not come from the universities and we find it difficult to find media figures who are fluent in the English language and this is very important.
Universities have four curriculums for media in the English language but they are insufficient. I’m fully convinced that the media departments in our universities do not produce proficient media figures, and that creative figures come from other fields. Working in television is an integrated process where everybody works within the same team.
Q: Are you not worried that this would affect the future of the channel?
A: The plans of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information are based on training, training and more training! I think that without continuous training, development and success will not persist in the television sector. There will be two aspects of the training in the ministry, especially for television. The first will be finding experts in various disciplines of television and training personnel according to their specialty and field. The other aspect is the selection of some workers in television and dispatching them to learn at international institutes and centers that are specialized in the field of television with all its technical and editorial fields. Even inside Saudi Arabia, training will continue in the light of economic development which will certainly affect the media sector.
Q: The channel broadcasts Arab series that are dubbed into the English language, is this a sign of taking this step to a larger scale of production?
A: Channel two will soon include the production of local dramas, comedies and others in the English language. In these series, there will be Saudi and Arab actors who speak English as part of plans to develop the channel’s programs.
Q: After establishing Al Ekhbaria news channel and working on Channel Two, what have you found to be the main differences between the two channels?
A: The aim of Al Ekhbaria news channel is quite different from that of Channel Two, which was developed under certain circumstances that are different to Channel Two. If you want to compare fairly between the two experiences, then I must say that managing Al Ekhbaria news channel was difficult and made me stronger and more proficient in the media field. As for my experience at Channel Two, this channel enjoys a greater scope of creativity, establishing distinctiveness and media success compared to the rest of the channels. Channel Two also enjoys more diversity and the ability to find new types of programs and wonderful ideas and this is more flexible than Al Ekhbaria channel. Channel Two also has the ability to enrich ideas and creativity.