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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 14:34 GMT
Profile: Al-Arabiya TV
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring

Al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite TV channel banned from reporting from Iraq by the country's interim government, is consistently rated among the top pan-Arab stations by Middle East audiences, although it was only launched in February this year.

Al-Arabiya logo
Al-Arabiya satellite TV was set up as a rival to Al-Jazeera
The US-installed Governing Council banned the channel for what it called "incitement to murder" after it broadcast an audio tape on 16 November purportedly made by the deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Al-Arabiya rejected the allegation that its broadcast incited murder, and insisted its news coverage was "objective and precise".

Media watchdogs said the ban raised questions about the future of a free press in Iraq.

Competing for Arab viewers

Al-Arabiya was launched nine months ago with an investment of $300m by the Saudi-controlled pan-Arab satellite TV pioneer MBC, Lebanon's Hariri Group, and other investors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Gulf states. It was set up as an all-news channel to compete directly with Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.

We are not going to make problems for Arab countries... We'll stick with the truth, but there's no sensationalism
Al-Arabiya bosses
However, the shareholder composition is said to have altered since then, with unconfirmed reports that the Kuwaiti investment has been withdrawn.

Its rival, al-Jazeera, has ruffled feathers among governments in the West by screening videotapes from al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. And by giving a platform to exiled Middle East dissidents, al-Jazeera has upset Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria and the Palestinian Authority, among others.

When al-Arabiya went on the air, it promised its audience objectivity and accuracy.

Its bosses pledged: "We are not going to make problems for Arab countries... We'll stick with the truth, but there's no sensationalism."

Coverage of Iraq angers US

But under pressure to deliver scoops of its own, it was not long before al-Arabiya angered the US with the focus and tone of its coverage of the escalating violence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

In August, US officials strongly criticised al-Arabiya for broadcasting pictures of masked men who threatened to kill members of the US-appointed governing council.

US State Department spokesman Philip Reeker judged al-Arabiya's decision "to air the remarks of these masked terrorists to be irresponsible in the extreme".

In September, the Governing Council restricted the operations of al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera in Iraq for two weeks, after the channels showed more footage of masked men calling for attacks against US-led forces in the country.

The Governing Council's latest ban, announced on 24 November, came three days after US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld criticised al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera, saying they were openly hostile to American interests.

But despite the misgivings of US officials, al-Arabiya has proved popular among Iraqis with access to satellite TV, now estimated at one-third of the population.

A poll by the US State Department in seven Iraqi cities in October found that among Iraqis with satellite dishes, 37% named al-Arabiya as their preferred news source, followed by al-Jazeera (26%), with the US-run Iraqi Media Network (now renamed al-Iraqiyah TV) well behind with only 12%.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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