Israel puts new Arabic TV channel on air

In what is seen as an escalation of the propaganda war, Israel has begun broadcasting a new satellite TV channel throughout the Middle East in Arabic.

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By  David Cass Published  June 26, 2002

On the day that Israel launches its expanded Arabic language television channel the overseas news broadcasters are putting on a brave face after threats to take them off Israeli cable systems.

It all stems from last week’s row in which CNN was accused of bias for giving more programme time to the family of a Palestinian suicide bomber than to his Israeli victims, on top of a growing discontent in the Israeli government that the international media, most notably CNN and the BBC, have become more sympathetic to the Palestinians in their coverage of the violence in the West Bank.

As has already been widely reported, CNN caved in quickly under the threat, sending Eason Jordan, their president in charge of all newsgathering operations, to Israel to placate the government and redress the balance in the reporting. It is precisely this kind of behaviour that makes Palestinian leaders believe, as Jordan himself is quoted as saying, “that CNN is the propaganda arm of the Sharon government.”

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeeb Erekat, says he is concerned that Israeli government pressure will compromise the objectivity of the overseas news operations. Both CNN and the BBC remain on the Israeli cable systems but Fox is now there too and offering a real alternative.

Israel’s most radical newspaper, Ha’aretz, has issued strong warnings to the country’s government about its attempts to manipulate the international media. In a strongly worded article the paper says the Sharon government’s approach is unacceptable. Ha’aretz says, “It's a sign of poverty of thought by the leaders of a society if, instead of campaigning to prove the justness of their cause in the arena of the world's press, they prefer to hide, turning their back on other views and reporting, no matter how unpleasant.”

Meanwhile, despite government denials, Israel’s new Arabic TV channel is also being seen as an escalation of the propaganda war.

The bulk of the programs will be guest shows and movies in Arabic. Ra'anan Cohen, minister in charge of public broadcasting, said that he was checking the possibility of expanding the amount of current affairs programs in order to "cater to the hunger in the Arab world for reliable information regarding Israel and the territories." Cohen, who proposed the creation of the channel, said that it would not be used for propaganda, but stressed that "the existence of the channel enables it to be used as a counter-balance to the sea of venomous propaganda surrounding us."

The channel will be transmitted throughout the Middle East. In Israel only people with private satellite dishes (which most Arabs there have) or digital cable television will be able to receive it.

Israel already broadcasts in Arabic on Israeli TV’s Channel One and that will remain until a way is found for the new broadcasts to be provided to those without a satellite dish or digital cable television.

During the hours when it is not showing television programmes, the channel will broadcast Israel radio in Arabic, whose frequency is difficult to pick up on a regular radio.

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