By John Irish
Arabic news television channel Al Arabiyah to be launched amidst calls of a “balanced alternative” to Al Jazeera.
While the status quo in the Middle East remains unchanged and the world holds its breath, an Arab media battle is waiting to erupt on Feb 20, when Middle East News (MEN), a Dubai-based production company launches Al Arabiyah news channel to rival the heavily criticised Al Jazeera.“We are going to offer Arab television viewers a wise and balanced alternative,” said Ali Al Hadeithy, head of MEN.The new channel will focus on news and talk shows and has Lebanese, Kuwait and Saudi financial backing. Although, several other broadcasters from Iran, US and Israel are planning to launch television channels to the Arab world, Al Hadeithy predicts that Al Arabiyah will be able cement its position by covering the issues rather than “any deliberate provocation.” Al Jazeera’s policy of open debate irrespective of the speaker’s views has seen it come to blows with several GCC countries and in particular Saudi Arabia.“Besides credibility concerns, to succeed, a channel needs broad news coverage, speed in broadcasting news, rigorous stands and the freedom to inform,” said Mohammed Jassem Al Ali, director general of Al Jazeera. In the short term, the novelty factor is expected to help Al Arabiya take viewers from the Qatari-based channel. However, once it has established itself, issues such as credibility, financial backing and political leanings will ultimately decide its fate.“We intend to give Al Arabiyah a council of wise men who will be responsible for policy and the editorial line at the channel to protect it from the influence of shareholders,” said Al Hadeithy.Al Arabiyah will run for 12 hours a day until March 3, when it will go head to head with Al Jazeera, as a 24-hour news network.