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Arab News Channels -- Warmongers or Peacemakers?

Experts argue about the role of satellite news stations in the Middle East, but it's clear that they have a major influence on the region's media.

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Are Arab news channels trustworthy?

The founding of the transnational Arabic satellite station Al Jazeera in 1996 was the equivalent of a media revolution in the Arabic world. The channel -- along with now Al Arabyia -- was able to assert itself within only a few years as the most important news source in the Arabic-speaking world.

Over 35 million households are reached by Al Jazeera each day. Thus, the station has broken up the monopoly of Western media in the Middle East, foremost that of the BBC and CNN.

According to Sultan Al Hattab, a media expert and director of the Oroba Publishing Company for Political Studies in Amman, one of the most important reasons for the channel's success is the added value of their reporting of events in the Arabic world.

"We have a feeling that western media is mostly presenting one side of the truth about our region," Al Hattab said. "They subordinate what is happening on the Arab side."

Al Jazeera and al Arabyia have filled this gap, added Al Hattab, "They came to the Arabic public like water to the desert."

State reporting too one-sided, boring

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Al Qaida mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri is seen here in on Al Jazeera

Hussein Amin, Director of the Department of Media and Press at the American University in Cairo, sees a different reason for the success of al Jazeera and al Arabyia. Not so much in the reporting of Western media but rather the fact that Arab state media outlets present official events from one perspective and in a boring manner.

Another reason for success lies in the direct -- and according to Amin partly exaggerated -- live broadcast of crisis areas in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Palestinian territories. This kind of reporting makes the Arabic satellite stations attractive. But does this way of working also foster violence in the region?

"In many cases al Jazeera grants more room for bloody pictures in its news shows. Nevertheless one cannot argue that the reporting of this channel is too provocative and brings about more violence," said Amin. "In media research there are schools that advocate detailed war reporting in the style of al Jazeera. The right to elaborate information is often given as an argument for this."

The role of objectivity

Al Hattab refuted the allegation that Al Jazeera grants more room for violence in its reporting.

"This might only apply to critiques of Arabic regimes and their dictatorial regimes," Al Hattab said. "Otherwise the station is objective and close to the truth."

Though the importance of new online news sources should not be underestimated, especially among Arab youth, it was the Arabic TV stations that had the greatest influence on the mood in the streets after Sept. 11, 2001. This was displayed by the mobilization of mass demonstrations in Cairo, Casablanca and in other Arabic cities during the Iraq war and later the dispute over the Mohammad cartoons.

The transnational Arabic stations' global influence has also opened the eyes of the West. It became clear that it could lose its influence in the Arabic world, a region is of vital politically and economically importance, especially as a source of energy.

This realization led to the startup and expansion of western Arabic language channels as a counterbalance. DW-TV, which began broadcasting in mid-2002, and later the American station Alhurra were the first such projects.

George Bush im Fernsehen Al Jazeera in Irak Reaktionen

Satellite television is a main source for information in the Arab world

Western Arabic stations respected

Even though Arabic-language Western news channels cannot compete with their Arabic counterparts, they are nevertheless important for the Arabic world, according to Al Hattab.

"Western satellite stations like DW-TV and BBC present us events from the perspective of their respective countries," said Al Hattab. "Through this one can understand the other side better, especially if it is objective reporting and this happens often. Additionally, Western media exhibit a high degree of freedom and professionalism from which Arab media could learn a lot."

Amin said he considers western media important because they inform the Arabic world about events from a different perspective.

"This information is filling a gap and contributes to convergence and better understanding between people and cultures."

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