Shane Farrell

Al Mayadeen: Political pandering or objective media?

What do a resistance fighter, an unveiled woman, a kiffeyeh-wearing youth and a prisoner have in common? They are all among the faces of billboards for Al Mayadeen, a TV channel scheduled to launch across the region on June 11. The channel aims to present an alternative view to mainstream Arab satellite media, largely dominated by the Qatari and Saudi Arabia-based heavyweights Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, respectively.
According to al-Akhbar, the new TV channel “is promising to be an independent and unbiased commentator.” Al Mayadeen’s editorial line, according to the same article, “insists that Palestine and resistance movements wherever they are found are its point of reference.” The channel’s news broadcast will include a daily segment entitled “A Window into Palestine,” content for which will be provided by reporters based in Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem. The network will not host officials, however, in accordance with its position against the normalization of relations with the Jewish State.

Despite numerous attempts to speak with an Al Mayadeen spokesperson over the course of several days, one could not be reached before this article was published.

What is clear is that the station will be headed by Ghassan Bin Jiddo, the former head of Al Jazeera in Beirut, whose departure from the Qatar-based channel due to diverging views on its coverage of Syria has been well documented. Bin Jiddo has accused his former employer of abandoning professional standards, stressing that Al Mayadeen will be objective and unbiased.

But some observers question the likelihood of this aspiration. Habib Battah, journalist and media critic who blogs at Beirutreport.com, believes that the launch of Al Mayadeen should be seen in the context of a wave of TV stations and satellite networks in the region that are battling it out for hearts and minds. “The advertising market is not big enough to support the amount of TV channels we have today,” he says, a point explained at length in a blog post wrote in April. Investors, the post says, are willing to lose money on cash-guzzling media tanks for an intangible commodity: to present their view and gain influence.
With Al Mayadeen’s studios in world capitals, across the Arab world and in Iran, and with a current staff of around 500, according to reports, question have inevitably been raised as to the source of its very sizeable funding and whether the channel will reflect the agendas of those providing the money.

For Imad Bazzi, a journalist and activist who blogs at Trella.org, the answer is unequivocal. “It will be one more brain-washing machine, like other political TV stations in Lebanon,” he said.

Bazzi feels that the fighter on some of the billboards is a clear reference to Hezbollah and is suggestive of the channel’s agenda. Indeed, Bin Jiddo himself is said to be a supporter of Hezbollah, and some people NOW Lebanon interviewed have pointed to the unparalleled access he got to Hezbollah bunkers during the 2006 war as evidence of his ties to the party.

When questioned on this, specifically why Hezbollah would need another TV station since it already has Al-Manar, Bazzi and other journalists NOW spoke with, who preferred not to be identified, believe Al Mayadeen will appeal to a different demographic of resistance supporters, namely secularists and leftists. This, they said, was not dissimilar from al-Akhbar’s audience.

If Al Mayadeen does have links to Hezbollah, Bazzi is concerned about its impartiality when confronted with domestic issues. “If there is conflict in Lebanon, what is Al Mayadeen going to do? Will they cover news from Hezbollah’s point of view or will they be neutral?” he said.

But while Bazzi sees little positive in Al Mayadeen’s launch, Battah supports the proliferation of news channels. “The more voices, cameras and journalists the better,” he said. Al Mayadeen, as he sees it, will present the alternative view to pro-Western satellite channels that currently dominate the market share.

Whether one is a skeptic or a supporter, it is too early to categorize Al Mayadeen. As of its launch on June 11, it will become easier to determine whether the channel fulfills the impartial objectives its bosses have voiced, or panders to a political agenda.

Luna Safwan contributed reporting.

  • MMM

    “If there is conflict in Lebanon, what is Al Mayadeen going to do? Will they cover news from Hezbollah’s point of view or will they be neutral?” Sorry, which media in Lebanon covers the country in a neutral manner? The Daily Star, Now Lebanon, Nahar etc are all biased - and even OWNED by Lebanese politicians. How much neutrality is that? I agree with Tamer K

    June 22, 2012

  • nothing to see here

    This is nothing but the audio visual counterpart to Al-Akhbar invented to defend Syria and Iran and as with Al-Akhbar an alleged "broad secular" outlet to spread propaganda, Al-Manar's religiosity would not fit the bill. Ghassan Bin Jiddo has a built in audience and with his family held hostage by the regime in Syria he's the perfect candidate for such endeavor. The Iranians are replicating with some success the US VOA strategy during the cold war. I bet Muntadhar al-Zaidi will be soon recruited if not already.

    June 7, 2012

  • t.k

    Does anyone find it ironic that such a partisan news outfit would question the objectivity of a yet to air news channel. when will the day come when nowlebanon will criticize the future/m14 instead of linking any negative event in the country to hizb/iran?

    June 6, 2012

  • t.k

    why does everything y'all write have to be linked to "hezbollah" After 2 years of terrible coverage on the problems in yemen, bahrain and egypt when will this news organization do some real investigative reporting into the shortfalls and bias' of al jazeera and al arabiyah instead of hypothesizing as to what al mayadeen slant is.

    June 6, 2012