[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
Arabic media under the spotlight
The latest crisis in the Middle East is being played out minute by minute in the Arab media. The BBC's Sebastian Usher examines the coverage and impact of the Arabic TV and press.

Smoke lingers over a Beirut suburb after an Israeli attack
Smoke lingers over a Beirut suburb after an Israeli attack
Arabic language satellite TV channels have been giving non-stop coverage of events in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The station that most Arabs turn to is still al-Jazeera, which has revolutionised TV news in the Arab world in the past 10 years.

But there are other major Arab channels getting a lot of viewers too. Al-Arabiya is funded by Saudi businessmen and based in Dubai; Future TV, a Lebanese station is owned by the family of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; al-Manar is the Beirut-based channel run by Hezbollah, which has continued to broadcast despite being targeted by Israeli warplanes.

Many Arabs say they watch al-Manar in order to have a better understanding of Hezbollah's actions, while some sympathise with its uncompromising anti-Israel stance.

Air raids

The general thrust of much of the mainstream Arab media has been in support of Hezbollah as staging a legitimate resistance against Israel.

It's a completely different situation today with all these satellite channels competing to show what's really happening
Marlin Dick,
Media analyst

Al-Jazeera has shown the full impact of the Israeli air raids on the Lebanese with many images of the dead and wounded. The station has a string of correspondents posted around Lebanon and the region.

For professionalism and impact, it still outdoes its competitors. But is it telling the whole story?

Israeli officials do appear on the station. Footage of the destruction wreaked by Hezbollah shells in Israel is not ignored. But the overriding message is of Arab defiance of Israel.

Some feel the station is ignoring some of the strong criticism voiced by many in Lebanon against Hezbollah for helping plunge the country back into war.

A Israeli bus is searched after an attack by Hezbollah
A Israeli bus is searched after an attack by Hezbollah
Bassam Andari, a Lebanese journalist working in London, said: "I don't think they're giving the complete version.

"They're giving the complete picture of the destruction and moving from one area to another to show what the Israelis have been doing. But certainly they sound as if they are on the side of Hezbollah.

"They are reflecting Hezbollah's ideology and policy and they are talking to people who are mostly supporters of Hezbollah."

In the past, al-Jazeera has been accused by the US and others of radicalising its millions of viewers and encouraging militant violence with its highly-engaged coverage of the conflicts in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

Al-Manar has been banned in much of Europe and the US. Can al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite stations that have followed in its wake be dismissed as anti-Western propaganda?

'Demand for coverage'

The answer is a definite no, says media analyst Marlin Dick, speaking from Beirut where he is following the news with more than usual intensity.

"There is a demand for this kind of coverage in the Arab world," he said. "If you were in an Arab country 20 years ago when there was only state TV, then each state could play down any situation that didn't suit them.

Iranian men hold posters of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah at an anti-Israeli protest in Tehran
Anti-Israeli protests have been held in Iran's capital
"They could just limit their coverage or not even mention what was going on. It's a completely different situation today with all these satellite channels competing to show what's really happening."

In the Arab press, there has been much rhetoric praising Hezbollah for taking the initiative and reigniting resistance against Israel.

There is much condemnation of Israel and accusations of double standards against the West for not stopping Israel's military offensive while denouncing any Hezbollah or Palestinian aggression.

This line from an editorial in the London-based, independent paper al-Quds al-Arabi, is typical of much of the coverage: "Mere talk about ceasefire is a defeat to Israel and a victory to the resistance because the psychological and moral harm which befell the Israelis is much bigger than the harm which hit the Lebanese people and the resistance protects them."

'Illusory victories'

But other voices critical of Hezbollah have appeared too, particularly in newspapers either Saudi-owned or based in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities in Riyadh have uncharacteristically made clear their anger with what they see as Hezbollah's provocation.

One paper, al-Riyadh, has an editorial headlined "Irresponsible wars" which argues that the time for "illusory victories" and "slogans and songs" is over.

A commentator in the Saudi-owned al-Sharq al-Awsat, which is based in London, wrote this week: "It is clear that Hezbollah has fallen in a trap and will pay the price alone."

Over the last 10 years public opinion has been mobilised by what people have seen on al-Jazeera and other Arab TV stations.

More pressure has been put on regional governments to act, and a new - though still very limited - culture of accountability has emerged in the Arab world thanks in great part to the impact of satellite TV.

What is happening in Lebanon looks like being another stage in this process, with the Arab media not just reporting on events there but playing a part in how the situation evolves.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific