A Case Study of the Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya Arab Satellite Television Channels
BY SAMAH HAMDAN NAJI HANAYSHA** | 07.09.2011
Scholars often interpret the concept of peace journalism in terms of fulfilling a ‘public duty’. Roy Greenslade proposed that peace journalism ‘evokes the image of journalism’s real place in society, not as part of commercial enterprise, not as part of the entertainment industry, not as an extension of a government propaganda machine, but as a serious activity that justifies its existence by informing the people about what is being done in their name’ (quoted in Lynch & McGoldrick 2005: x).
Lynch and McGoldrick assert that peace journalism forces an examination of the way in which the agendas and conventions of journalists affect their coverage of news in conflict regions. For example, the way that the Arab satellite televisions report the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has mislead their international audience; the majority of viewers believe that it is in fact the Palestinians, not the Israelis, who are the ‘settlers’ in the West Bank and Gaza (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005: 245). On the other hand, sensitive and responsible reporting from a peacebuilding perspective can help to reduce conflict and violence, and strengthen the appetite of the general public for peace and reconciliation.
In an interview conducted by the author with Mo’amar Orabi, General Director of the Palestinian television channel Wattan, he urged that ‘Journalism should not be without ethical principles and this is a worldwide code’ (Orabi 2010). However, few journalists appear aware of the significance of their role in promoting peace, a situation which is explained by Greenslade: ‘Journalists may not believe that their work can contribute to peace, and they may certainly bridle at the suggestion that they seem to favour war over peace. The record, however, shows that they have done so for far too long’ (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005: xi). Given that television, radio and the press are the key channels through which most conflicts around the world are reported, analysed and explained, the manner in which journalists report these conflicts has the potential to encourage and even support violence, even when propaganda is not the intention. Likewise, the power and influence of the media has enabled it to play a significant role in peacebuilding around the world for a considerable time, demonstrating its potential to be a power for peace and reconciliation.
Television Coverage of Peace and Conflict in Palestine
The opinions represented here are based on a series of interviews conducted by the author with Palestinian political and media analysts and representatives of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, in the West Bank in 2010. In these interviews, the author discussed the news coverage and the position of the two channels during the period between the boom of Arabic satellite television in 2003, and the failure of the peace process up to 2010. The interviews also focused on the extent to which the channels have contributed to peace or conflict in Palestine. The article also examines how the lack of a strong national media capable of both representing the diversity of opinion within Palestine and offering a unified vision of Palestinian national goals, impacts on the perception of peace and conflict issues in Palestine.
The author will argue that the potential for journalism to promote peace in Palestine requires the existence of effective local media channels able to present a more impartial presentation of the conflict, in part through the narratives of ordinary Palestinians. It is clear that Palestine urgently needs such channels, able to represent the diversity of Palestinian political opinion and capable of offering an alternative to the external, political and agenda-led perspectives on conflict that currently dominate the available media.
- The Birth and Growth of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya
In 1996, the launch of Al-Jazeera created a boom in the popularity of Arab satellite television channels. This launch was supervised by a professional team from the BBC (Khoury 2010). Four years later, in 2000, this was followed by the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada. Whereas previously Arab viewers had to rely on Israeli television or Arab state-sponsored channels for news and current affairs programmes, they could now for the first time watch television programmes free from state censorship.
In 2003, as violence escalated during the second Intifada, a second important and influential satellite channel hit the screens of the Arab world – Al-Arabiya – whose emergence was supervised by the same BBC team. This team drafted the code of ethics for the two channels (Khoury 2010). Since then, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have remained the two leading Arab news channels, whilst representing the two main opposing camps in the Middle East. Abdul Wahhab Badrakhan, a Lebanese journalist stated, ‘Al-Jazeera expresses a populist view that champions the culture of resistance and tries to be popular and populist at the same time, whereas Al-Arabiya speaks for what is known as the ‘Arab moderate bloc’ led by Saudi Arabia and tries to be both popular and conservative, while occasionally flirting with populism’ (Al-Arabiya Net 2008).
*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 1 | No. 2
** Samah Hamdan Naji Hanaysha is a Palestinian journalist who works as a news reporter for the Saudi satellite channel Al Ikhbarya in London, and as a freelance broadcast journalist for other channels. In Palestine, Samah worked as a news anchor for more than three years, in addition to her work with different Palestinian NGOs and the government in the field of public relations and media. Samah is active in peace and conflict resolution through voluntary work with Palestinian civil organizations, as well through her involvement in international youth events. She holds certificates in television and journalism as well in human rights. Samah was recently awarded an MA in Peace and Reconciliation Studies (with merit) by Coventry University; she gained a distinction for her graduation research on ‘The potential role of Arab Satellite TVs in Promoting Peace in Palestine’.
© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN