The number two at Al-Jazeera, deputy chief editor Ayman Gaballah shrugs it off. “It’s normal, everyone now is launching an Arabic news channel.” While he didn’t want to comment specifically on Al-Alam, Gaballah stressed in general that with Arab audiences, the “prescription” is credibility. “Whatever you do or whatever you try to convince them of, or manipulate them, they will discover later on and they will judge you and know and decide which category to put you. Don’t be a mouthpiece of any government, trend, political party, commercial group. With time they will know if you are credible or not, and according to this, the effectiveness of channel will be categorized.” Executive Editor of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya channel boldly asserts, “We don’t consider Al-Alam competition,” and when asked if the Arab world needed a state-run Iranian channel, he responds, “I doubt anyone needs it.” Khatib says the quality of journalism on Al-Alam is poor. “They can’t compete with someone who gives an editor a free hand. Whenever a channel needs to go to hierarchy of bureaucrats and censors to get any piece of news, it can’t do good journalism.”

Despite Bush administration plans for launching a Farsi-language TV channel, neither Arabic network is thinking of starting its own Farsi-language channel to broadcast into Iran. Gaballah of Al-Jazeera laughs at the proposition “at least not for now.” Khatib of Al-Arabiya says his parent company, the Middle East Broadcasting Company (MBC), wouldn’t do it unless it were proven profitable. For now, MBC has two channels available to Iranians that have done well, but neither are news based; the first features Western movies and the second targets female audiences, including rebroadcasts of American network programming and shows like Dr. Phil and Oprah.

IRIB UN Chief Morteza laughs at the idea of an Arab-run Farsi language news channel. When asked if maybe some Iranians would watch it, he responds, “No, absolutely not. They don’t believe propaganda.”


Alia Malek is an assistant editor at CJR.