The Arab Satellitesthe
Pros and Cons
By Salih Al-Kallab
The Americans are more
than critical of the Arab satellite channels, specifically Al Arabiya, Saddam
Hussein's people inside and outside Iraq (those outside being the more important)
are distinguished by their rancor and fury, the members of the Interim Governing
Council wave their stick and make threats and promises, and all of the above only
see the cup half full, while every party sees itself as having right on its side
and believes that these satellite channels ought to be its mouthpiece and a weapon
in its hand to be used against the others.
The Americans cannot stand
the word "resistance" and feel bad about seeing pictures of masked men on the
screens of these satellite channels. They shudder whenever Saddam Hussein's image
or voice is projected from these screens, and are disturbed by the way these satellites
cover the daily occurring incidents, preferring to describe operations attributable
to this "resistance" as "sabotage operations."
The members of the Interim
Governing Council are against the description of American forces as "occupation
forces" and sometimes abandon hints in favor of open declarations, pressing for
"liberation" to be used instead of "occupation." It may be no disservice to the
truth to say that some of these, when their turn comes to be president, will not
hesitate to follow Saddam Hussein's example even if they do not wear military
uniforms or gird themselves with custom-made revolvers or laugh with the old,
familiar laugh that the deposed president used to use, when he had time to laugh.
As for the followers of
Saddam Hussein inside and outside Iraq, the sparks fly from their eyes, for according
to them these satellites, even though they broke the isolation of the deposed
president by broadcasting his messages, his tapes, and his "Ottoman-style" instructions
are atheists, imperialists, and "Marines-ists" as long as they attempt to be impartial
and to deal with information as information, news as news, and the truth as the
The Shiites don't like
these channels and nor do the Sunnis. The Kurds have a thousand and one points
to make. The Turcomans are critical and the Assyrians and the Chaldeans complain
of neglect and unfairness. And the countries around Iraq, with a few exceptions,
have observations and objections and some of them do not shrink from swearing
by the mightiest oaths that there is a conspiracy behind which lie global arrogance,
Donald Rumsfeld, Bremer, and Nabil Khouri.
How is one to please all
these contradictory, conflicting parties, each of which grabs the other by the
throat and claims that the truth is on his side, that his case is the just one,
and that the aforementioned satellite channels must take his part and adopt his
point of view?
At the Arab Media Summit
held recently in Dubai, the meeting rooms and peripheral "workshop" tables witnessed
the sort of scenes that make children's hair turn grey. The cavaliers of the hot-blooded
sentence and those who conduct their struggle from distant, comfortable capitals
want these channels, or some of them to be precise, to work miracles, putting
an end to corruption and the corrupt throughout the Arab World and then doing
the same for the Islamic World, restoring Saddam Hussein to a throne that he couldn't
defend like a man, and replacing Asian oppression with democracy.
At this summit, some of
whose sessions turned into cock fights and were taken over by battles of eloquence
and slanging matches, these satellite channels were subjected to every variety
of high-flown rhetorical assault and all the censorious and furious Iraqi currents
emerged: Saddam Hussein and his helpers and disciples abroad, and those who consider
the American forces to be liberation forces and not occupation forces, and those
on the side of the Interim Governing Council who insist that they, and they alone,
Some of the speakers demanded
that the satellite channels rub the noses of the Americans in the dirt and direct
the fatal blow at Israel and be the spearhead for the Arabs in the Conflict of
Civilizations and empower the Arabs and Muslims of the United States to vanquish
the Zionist lobby and solve this arid wasteland's water problem.
There can be no doubt
that the satellite channels made many mistakes in Iraq, and perhaps elsewhere,
but these were, primarily, professional mistakes. In general terms however it
may be said that some of these channels aspired to the highest possible degree
of accuracy and tried to avoid favoring any side against others and to be a vehicle
to convey the facts and correct information to the viewers without regard for
whether this would anger or please them. Their first concern, duty, and mission
were to act with professionalism.
The regime of Saddam Hussein
fell with unexpected speed. These channels then found themselves in the midst
of a raging sea of unfolding news and events in which they were obliged to swim
without getting battered by some huge wave and, as they moved through a forest
of guns in the midst of that great crowd of armed militias, parties, clandestine
organizations, and arms of the intelligence services of neighboring and distant
countries, to avoid being considered as belonging to one side or another and finding
themselves in the pocket of one organization or another.
There had to be balance
and precise calculation in the midst of that churning security free-for-all. The
hard hearted, those conducting campaigns against the Arab satellite channels,
and those targeting them, whether out of ignorance or for sinister purposes of
their own, may not be aware that the correspondents of these channels found themselves
and still find themselves moving in mine fields where any slip would inevitably
lead to a disaster of terrifying proportions.
It should also be known,
and here I address myself to those who are unaware of this and not to the campaigners
and loud-mouths, that a satellite channel is not a belief-based party and it is
not a nationalist or religious rallying point. It is a media tool, and the successful
news medium is the one that speaks the truth when it conveys what it sees or hears
and is honest in communicating the facts, and only the facts, to the viewers.
When Saddam Hussein issues
a tape recording it is the duty of the satellite channel, as a news medium, to
obtain that recording and broadcast it as soon as possible. This is our job and
this is our duty towards our viewers and we cannot waver in carrying out that
duty, even if the Americans get angry or the Interim Governing Council complains
and some neighboring countries grumble.
And when the Interim Governing
Council holds a press conference or the American civil administration issues a
statement or the American army a communiqué, it is up to the satellite channels,
in order to be truthful and successful and to fulfill their duty, to convey all
of these to their viewers, even if Saddam Hussein's followers inside the country
and abroad get angry and even if some neighboring countries grumble.
The task of the independent
satellite channel that does not belong to any state with positions and policies
or to any party or public or clandestine organization or other partial body is
not to keep this or that group among the struggling, contradictory, sometimes
competing and sometimes collaborating groups in Iraq but to convey the truth to
its viewers, even if this truth angers some and fails to meet with their approval.
There are correspondents
who have shown unjustifiable partiality to this side or that, and there may be
channels that have tried to ride the waves of those who made bids for their favors
at some stages of the developments over the Iraq issue, but we can say in general
terms and in good conscience that there are channels that seize on the truth as
one would on a glowing ember and never stop trying to be objective and avoid taking
any side but that of their profession, despite all the complexities of the Iraqi
situation and despite the fact that our correspondents were and still are exposed
to the bullets of the various currents, forces, criminal gangs, war-time mafias,
and security lapses.
It would be impossible
for any satellite channel in a situation such as that of Iraq to avoid angering
all these diverse and competing parties. The fact of the matter is that the anger
of all these parties, whether competing or collaborating, at any given satellite
channel is an indication that that channel is doing its job well and that it is
a successful and outstanding news medium. To please all these Iraqi parties and
forces and those who revolve in their orbits is an unattainable goal.
Salih Al-Kallab is political
advisor to Al Arabiya channel. This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat,
#9087, October 15, 2003.