Super News Center
Setting Up in London for Al-Hayat and LBC: An Interview with Jihad Khazen and
By TBS Publisher and Senior Editor
S. Abdallah Schleifer
Khazen has one of the most impressive track records in Arab journalism, both in
Arabic and in English. Khazen was managing editor of Beirut's English-language
newspaper, The Daily Star, until the civil war put that paper out of existence,
then managing editor of Arab News in Jeddah, from where he moved to England to
set up and serve as editor-in-chief of Al-Shawq Al-Awsat-the first Saudi-owned
but pan-Arab newspaper to be satellited to re-publishing and distribution points
throughout the region. Finally, he moved to Al-Hayat, where he set up the newspaper
and served as its first editor-in-chief. Now Al-Hayat's senior columnist and eminence
grise, Khazen was called on not long after 9/11 to put together a news gathering
alliance of LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation) and Al-Hayat, which is already
partially operational. He is now editor-in-chief of Newsroom Ink.
The hands-on head of
the new operation is managing editor Salameh Nemett, a Jordanian who worked for
the BBC Arabic TV service and BBC Arabic radio and more recently with Al-Hayat
as Amman bureau chief.
S. Abdallah Schleifer
interviewed both men at Al-Hayat's smart Kensington Centre building on Hammersmith
What is going on between LBC International, and Al-Hayat?
all started about a month after 9/11. The chairman of LBC, Sheikh Pierre El-Daher
and the leading figure in advertising in the Arab world, Antoine Choueiri, who
heads up his own agency selling advertising time for LBC and also serves as director
of Tihama, which represents Al-Hayat, contacted me. LBC wanted to go into partnership
with Al-Hayat to improve their political coverage-LBC was and remains tops in
entertainment but it is weak in news. They wanted to improve their news product
and Al- Hayat had a great name and an extensive staff and they had confidence
I didn't want to leave
my current job as columnist which I like and move into uncharted territory in
television but then on the instructions of Prince Khalid (owner of Al-Hayat and
Tihama) we negotiated with them and we have had several meetings since then and
we have definitely have reached an agreement, which has not yet been signed only
because the lawyers are hammering out the details.
The idea is this-we have
established in London, at Al-Hayat's offices, Newsroom Ink (the obvious name,
Newsroom Inc., was already owned by Rupert Murdock). This newsroom is in charge
of all news and political programs for both the newspaper and the TV channel (LBC
I). We have conference calls in the morning; the editors exchange ideas and information
about stories available; the Newsroom commissions the stories and follows up our
staff around the world, which is mostly Al-Hayat staff. Al-Hayat and LBCI own
Newsroom Inc. fifty-fifty.
For that to work you have to train print journalists in TV journalism.
We sent most of our staff to the Adma headquarters of LBC just outside of Beirut
in batches of about five or six journalists week after week and each staff member
became familiarized with TV news production. We have 69 correspondents around
the world. There is an order of importance. We want to use all of them eventually
but I expect daily TV stories from Damascus, Cairo, Beirut, Washington DC, the
Palestinian territories, but not necessarily from Bonn, Rome, or Nouakchott, or
Khartoum, where we have full-time correspondents.
We have just started producing
packages, helping with breaking stories, which usually come quite unexpectedly,
like the story about the people who occupied the Iraqi embassy in Bonn, so we
did a phoner with the correspondent's picture on screen. Take today-the attack
on Al-Qa'ida in Yemen-we had that covered both by phone with our full-time correspondent
and they uplinked picture by satellite from local television and the correspondent
voiced over the video.
Even though we are still
learning on the job, so-to-speak, we have already done two half-hour interviews
with Arafat-when he came out of the last (the second) siege. He did it with us
before talking to everyone else. And we did two with Abu Mazin and most recently
after the Jerusalem explosion that killed 14 people, we did a video interview
with Dr. Ramadan Shallah, head of Islamic Jihad. Al-Hayat also interviewed the
two Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talebani in Northern Iraq for LBC and we've interviewed,
on several occasions, Montasser Zayyat.
We are contributing news stories, interviews, and packages done by correspondents
to LBC. We have 70 correspondents-both full-timers and stringers -across the world
and many need more training but what is amazing is how quickly some of them can
get right into preparing packages, writing scripts for editing.
Zayyat interviews were particularly interesting for us, since we were the first
victim of Egyptian Jihad's switch from internal to external terrorism at the same
time it was merging into Al-Qa'ida with its global agenda and all of this in response
to my column rebutting Ayman Al-Zawahiri's booklet published in 1996-97 which
attacked Zayyat. Letter bombs were sent to us here in London where we have a scanning
machine and an X-ray unit. But the person responsible for those machines accidentally
set off the letter bomb and he lost an eye.
Where does Newsroom Ink, this super news center go from here?
Definitely this is at the back of everyone's mind. If it succeeds, then it could
naturally lead to an LBCI/Al-Hayat 24-hour news channel. We just started and we
are feeling our way. This merger in news gathering is new; we want it to serve
the interests of both the newspaper and the TV station. That can be a problem.
Suppose Al-Hayat gets hold exclusively of a good story; maybe you want to sit
on until late at night, instead of immediately putting it out for broadcast, so
Al-Hayat's newspaper competition does not get it. This is going to be a learning
process. We already have a managing editor and we have four news editors, and
we have two TV presenters and a technical staff and a studio. Still a few technical
facilities have to be installed.
think this could turn into a multimedia organization 24-hour news service supplying
print and audiovisual material via LBC which we are already doing and online in
its own name-which we don't have yet-and if we are ambitious, we can turn this
into an international news agency, both in print and then in TV, using the Associated
Press as a model with its wirecopy service for print and its APTN service for
How are you recruiting?
haven't advertised job vacancies. We just ask around and find out who are the
talented people who might be available. On 1 December, Hani Konnasy, who is the
editor of APTN's Middle East customized coverage and a graduate of your Adham
Center, joins us as news editor. Take our London anchor, who you were talking
to earlier, Ghada Fakhri. She used to work with Al-Shawq Al-Awsat newspaper and
then for Al Jazeera as a correspondent in New York and then she worked for Abu
Dhabi Television as a correspondent and now we have succeeded in tempting her
to join our project.
Al-Hayat's name has prestige
and glamour. Al-Hayat stands for high standards in Arab journalism. Looking forward,
I can see the audiovisual material that we will generate setting new and higher
standards for Arab television. It will be the first time that television news
is based on a widely respected network of print journalists and an editorial department
staffed by some of the best writers in the Arab World. There is no other station
or channel in the world that has done that. The transition is very laborious and
difficult but it's worth the run. TBS