to the Hearts and Minds : How Arab Channels Fought for the Gulf
By Joe Khalil
and Dareen Abu Ghaida
a decade has passed since the Second Gulf War (of 1991). Since
then the Middle East has seen an emergence of TV channels, each
battling for a piece of a highly political audience. The Third
Gulf War (of 2003), was a story unraveling on the most popular
media vehicle, TV. That is where most Arabs were getting their
information. This was a not only a political war between countries,
but a war between the Arab satellite TV channels as well.
Arab viewers were drawn to the event as it was displayed on
television channels. Television channels helped foster a certain
culture, an emergent pattern of shared beliefs, norms, and values,
unique to both the individual and the community.
many channels, this paper is concerned with the works of three
in particular that covered the war for the Arab audience: newly
launched Al-Arabiya from Dubai, Qatar-based pioneering Arab
news channel Al Jazeera and the UAE's own re-formatted news
channel, Abu Dhabi TV. In the process of presenting the events
and facts of the war, these channels had some impact on the
thinking and attitude of the Arab peoples. But how did these
channels come to the position they hold today? What political
or social factors influenced their corporate culture, which
in turn affects their approach to covering the news?
from within the organization and looking outwards, we will study
which factors most affect the channels' output. These are all
news channels and regardless of the quality of their news coverage,
they have a common denominator-a news service. In their relationship
to the audience/consumer, they provide a service or "product"
that is in demand in times of war.
explain what corporate culture is, based on Edgar H. Schein's
"model of organizational culture" and how the channels
came to have their own corporate cultures. Then the correlation
will be made between their belief systems and how they were
able to translate those into reality-attracting the audience
to watch their coverage-using the latest Gulf war as a backdrop.
model we will address the 4 P's of marketing (Product, Price,
Place, and Promotion), more commonly known as the marketing
mix. These channels are the product available to the consumer/audience.
So, on what basis did the channels market themselves differently
to the public? What competitive advantages did one have over
the others? Tying in Schein's theory on organization culture
with marketing, we will focus on what he refers to as "artifacts,"
and specifically "promotion" as defined in the 4P's.
one must remember that the channels' products are a direct result
of socio-cultural and political factors that they established
from their conception, and to which they added others along
is to the organization what character is to the individual"
the corporate culture of the three organizations and its affect
on strategic processes, we are guided by Schein's concept of
to Schein, culture manifests itself in three levels. At the
top are the artifacts. Artifacts are everything that can be
seen, heard, and felt. These include the day-to-day behavior,
physical environment, and communication of an organization.
The second level comprises what he refers to as "espoused
values" which are the organization's officially expressed
strategies, goals, and philosophies. Third are the basic assumptions,
"the deepest level of culture." These are the "unconscious,
taken-for granted beliefs, perceptions and feelings about the
organization and its environment which act as the ultimate source
of values and drivers of actions" (Schein 1992). Of the
three levels, "artifacts" is the layer most commonly
affected by outside sources and factors, i.e., stakeholders.
model addresses the issue of how the culture of an organization
affects its strategic process. His proposal is that at the heart
of an organization's culture lie an interrelated set of assumptions.
Those assumptions have arisen out of a group learning process.
This learning relates to two categories of problem solving-"external
and internal." External problems are concerned with responding
to the environment. Internal problems arise from managing the
internal development of the organization. We can therefore say
that culture plays an important role in determining how environmental
developments are perceived by members of organizations, and
secondly how members of the organization react to the strategies
designed to respond to those environmental developments.
(Schein 1992; Bolmen and Deal 1991; Turrow 1994) also attribute
culture to the founder of an organization. The founders are
entrusted with the task of shaping the cultural assumptions
which in turn, determine how the environmental context is perceived.
On the basis of such perspectives an organization develops a
coherent strategic process for dealing with its environment.
light of Schein's model as well, each organization's mission
should be examined. In doing so, one should focus on the political
agenda of each of the channels. Al Jazeera claims to be "the
only channel working without a political agenda" (Schleifer
TBS 10). One can also say the same about all other
channels. Yet a close scrutiny of the channel's mission statements
and their output would clearly show the extent to which Arab
channels put forward a political agenda. This is present on
two levels at least: the channel's strategic decision (promotion,
coverage, programming, etc.) and the journalistic practices
on the ground. This paper is concerned with the channels' promotional
activities as a window onto their organizational culture.
exponential growth in broadcasting alternatives means that marketing
has become a high priority. Organizations must learn how to
market themselves with greater success, despite opposition from
each of the Product, Price, Place, and Promotion variables can
be controlled by organizations and at the same time. Taken together,
they constitute the marketing mix. An organization must come
up with a mix that will clearly differentiate its product from
those of its competitors, while simultaneously considering the
the first element of the 4 Ps of marketing, Product, focuses
on the individual goods and the product line. Here, we are classifying
news as a product since, like tangible goods, it requires the
elements of the marketing mix to reach the audience. The product
is a constant variable and in our analysis is categorized as
"the news on air." All three channels are presenting
political news and are being evaluated against the war in Iraq.
of the 4 Ps of marketing is Price. The three satellite channels
that we are focusing on are free-to-air. This plays a critical
role in strengthening the other elements of the marketing mix.
Since the customer is not evaluating them based on price, the
channels must offer other competitive advantages. Most importantly,
they must work out how to get the product to the customer. This
is where the third element of the marketing mix, Place, comes
in. It focuses on communicating with the customer and reaching
the masses through distribution. However, these channels do
not compete on place either. They're all free-to-air and reach
millions of people regionally.
important factor of the marketing mix with regard to a TV channel,
particularly an all-news channel, is promotion. This is what
is referred to in Schein's concept of organizational culture
as "artifacts"-everything that can be seen, heard
and felt, such as the day-to-day behavior, physical environment,
and communication of an organization. Thus, out of the 4 P's
these channels competed exclusively in the area of Promotion.
Channels can promote themselves by advertising, copywriting,
media selection, selling (both personal and mass), sales promotion,
and positioning. Promotion can be in-house, whether on their
own channel during commercial breaks, or outside, i.e. by advertising.
We will show throughout this paper the different promotion strategies
used by the channels that we are evaluating and which proved
to be the most successful.
important to note that a critical part of any good marketing
strategy takes into consideration the product life cycle. However,
as in the case of Place and Price, these channels do not have
the disadvantages of a short life cycle. News is ongoing, 24
hours a day, 365 days a year.
Some analysts agree that "Al Jazeera" is a controversial
channel, the first of its kind in the Arab world. Yet others
argue that the channel falls under the supervision of Qatar's
foreign ministry. It is subsidized by the Qatari government
and its underwriters and advertisers are almost exclusively
Qatari public companies. Internally, the channel is a multitude
of allegiances and agendas. Originally, the main core of the
channel's news team was the remnants of the BBC-trained Arabic
television channel. Over the years, some moved to other channels
while a group of previous government-channel employees, independent
journalists, and newly trained Qatari journalists came to replace
policy of the channel is reflected in its motto "The Opinion
and the Other Opinion." The channel's rise to fame came
during the Afghan war. At that time, they were accused of being
nothing but the "opinion of the Taliban." However
the channel refused these accusations, claiming that they were
simply the only news provider available under the Taliban regime.
Al-Arabiya had a legacy to live with since it was born under
the umbrella of the first of the Arab satellite channels, Middle
East Broadcasting Center (MBC). Its news structure was modeled
after that of Britain's ITV, and its product came to reflect
this structure and training. MBC's move from London to Dubai
prompted expansion and synergy. The political climate for its
owner Sheikh Walid Ibrahimi was ripe to attract various investors
into forming Al-Arabiya. When announced, Al-Arabiya had as shareholders
the Saudi, Kuwaiti, Jordanian, and Bahraini governments as well
as the Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Critics could not
help but notice that the common denominator within this group
was their desire to settle accounts with Al Jazeera. The latter
was heavily critical of those regimes. Some critics went so
far as to question the move of several key figures from Al Jazeera
to Al-Arabiya (chief editor, anchors, and producers). To some,
this move meant that Al-Arabiya was modeled after Al Jazeera,
while to others it meant that Al Arabiya had the advantage of
knowing Al Jazeera's practices and policies.
six months in preparation, Al-Arabiya postponed its launch date
several times, finally settling on February 2003. While its
staff was totally independent from that of MBC, Al-Arabiya shared
news-gathering resources as they both pooled with the Middle
East News Service, a company specialized in providing technical
resources for both companies.
This is a promising local/pan-Arab channel with a general audience
appeal. The channel is subsidized by the local government of
Abu Dhabi and works under the direction of the UAE Ministry
of Information. The channel has been constantly trying to find
its niche with a demanding Arab audience. It has always positioned
itself as a generalist channel providing a mix of news and entertainment.
Its aggressive involvement with the war coverage came as a surprise
to both professionals and competitors. Later on in this paper,
we will examine how Abu Dhabi TV prepared for the war.
days prior to the start of the Iraqi war, adrenaline was running
high in news rooms across the world. After all, it was the first
war of the 21st century, a 24-hour real television type of a
war. Its coverage potential could not be better, what with the
possibility of carrying the two sides of the story-from within
Baghdad and from outside. On the last day of the war for example,
audiences were given a visual treat of the same scene from the
Tigris River: one camera was showing the angle of the Iraqi
minister of information reassuring that the Americans are still
far away, while a reverse angle shot was showing Coalition forces
across the river.
had no foe and only friends as both the Coalition and the Baathist
regime vowed to encourage "balanced coverage." The
Coalition established Centcom (central command headquarters)
in Qatar, making army personnel and press conferences available
to the media. It also created the "embedding" system
that allowed journalists to travel or transmit live from the
battle field in a relatively uncensored manner. In contrast
to its behavior in previous war, the Iraqi Ministry of Information
kept a large number of journalists in Baghdad and made sure
to constantly orient them through press briefings and guided
on Al Jazeera's previous experience of war in Afghanistan, they
knew what their audience wanted. "What we want is what
the audience wants-good coverage" (Schleifer
TBS10), as Mohammad Jassim El Ali, Al Jazeera's CEO
at the time, put it, and that is what they set out to give.
On the other hand, Abu Dhabi knew six months ahead that something
was going to happen and they had "to be capable of going
24 hours as news and public affairs channel on instant notice""
TBS10). Ironically, Al-Arabiya was launched a few
weeks before the war began. Its six months of serious preparation
and training could not provide it with enough practice for the
task at hand, and, in the words of Fadi Ismail, MBC's head of
Curent Affairs and Documentaries, it was "obligated to
run before it could walk" (Schleifer
TV and Al Jazeera were working safely within the boundaries
of their respective governments, while Al-Arabiya was subject
to a wider context, one that brought several investors to counterbalance
what they considered as Al Jazeera's unbalanced views. In terms
of the organizational culture, Al Jazeera had the news culture
and experience while Al-Arabiya had excellent technical expertise
but no previous experience of handling a large-scale news operation.
Abu Dhabi TV was a new comer to the news business.
the Last P
used various tactics and promotional strategies to attract the
viewers and strengthen their brand image. The first three Ps
of marketing are ruled out of our analysis since the channels
did not have to compete on Price, Product or Place. Thus here
we look in depth at the fourth P, Promotion, and how the channels
differentiated themselves. Their strategies were a reflection
of their own individual corporate cultures, or artifacts, as
referred to by Schein, as well as by molding their product to
fit what the viewers were looking for.
On air promotion is considered the cheapest and most straightforward
way to promote a channel. By exploiting the commercial breaks
within a show to promote the channel, organizations can choose
to promote either the channel as a whole or specific shows.
In the case of a news channel, the focus tends to be on the
channel's mission, position, its well-known presenters, and
its achievements. An examination of the on-air promotion of
the three channels reveals the following.
on-air promotions during the Gulf War seemed to repeat the same
visuals used during the Palestinian intifada and the Taliban
war. Best described as a series of fast-paced montage sequences
with color enhancement, these promotions carefully juxtapose
American might with Iraqi resilience and resistance. They focus
on both players (Bush and Saddam) and victims (Iraqi women and
children). The American army is portrayed as well armed, hi-tech
units, in comparison to Iraq's primitive, undeveloped army.
In brief, the on-air promotion was an extension of the on-air
coverage that focused on the people, victimized or victorious.
Dhabi TV's staff was ready to shift to a 24-hour news center
within few hours of the beginning of the war, their on-air promotion
department was late in catching up. In the early days of the
war, its on-air promotion looked more like TV propaganda, replaying
sound bites from the UAE's information minister, the channel's
overseer, as he summarized the government's stands on the war
issue. In these, he invited Saddam to give up the fight and
offered him a safe exile in the UAE. With the beginning of the
war, the on-air promotion shifted to 'staff promotion,' which
could be used for internal and external consumption. These promotions
displayed reporters in full gear speaking against the Baghdad
skyline cut together with shots of airplanes taking off and
facing ground resistance. Thus, Abu Dhabi TV hoped to build
enthusiasm within a well challenged team working long hours,
and at the same time, win audience sympathy as a junior news
channel. In the latter stage of the war, Abu Dhabi TV attempted
to promote highlights of their coverage.
was too busy positioning itself as a new channel to spend much
time promoting their coverage of the war. On-air promotion was
used to deliver the channel's mission statement at a time when
the audience was questioning the channel's war coverage. Their
war-related promotions seemed at best a copy of Al Jazeera's,
an approach indicating that they hoped to capitalize on a tried
and tested formula. This seemed to do more damage then good.
On one hand, the viewers were suspicious of this new channel
appearing in a time of turmoil. On the other hand, on-air promotion
reflected the channel's lack of orientation with the promotional
copy failing to display whatever uniqueness the channel's coverage
might have. Running two campaigns at a time may have been Al-Arabiya's
failed attempt in winning the audience using on air promotion.
the differences, all on-air promotions seem to have made deliberate
decisions as to the choice of pictures, sounds, and copy to
attract the viewers. The pictures highlighted American military
might while at the same time focusing on the suffering of the
Iraqi people. The sounds of war were present in every promotion
whether conveyed via the choice of upbeat music, sound effects,
or ear-catching sound bites.
the 1990 Iraq war, CNN taught the world of broadcasting a good
lesson in the importance of having the right team at the right
time and place to send the exclusive pictures. These pictures
were certain to achieve a high level of audience channel fidelity
while at the same time putting the channel's logo on other channels.
This latter was one of the best promotions any channel could
receive. CNN's example was replicated in the Taliban war with
Al Jazeera being the only channel broadcasting pictures from
the Taliban strongholds this time around. Many credit these
exclusive pictures, along with Bin Ladin's exclusive videos,
with putting Al Jazeera on the map of international broadcasters.
components go into generating exclusive pictures-a large team
covering several territories from various angles, technical
capacities allowing the capture and feeding of pictures in a
timely manner. Baghdad was the center of attention of all media
and viewers, and relaying information about what was happening
within the city was the prime task of most broadcasters.
had a strong advantage in this. Their team was professional,
having survived the experience of the Afghan War. They were
risk taking veterans from the Lebanese war and the Palestinian
intifada, escorted by Iraqis. Instead of relying only on their
team, Al Jazeera had deals to supply and receive footage from
various international media. This gave their airwaves an added
value allowing the viewer the receive footage gathered and broadcast
by channels other than Al Jazeera. Yet, Al Jazeera's main source
of exclusive footage was the Iraqi authorities, who supplied
them with footage and access, most notably in the case of the
video of the killing and capture of several American soldiers.
This relationship proved valuable at times and a hindrance at
others. At one point, Al Jazeera's team stopped operating in
Iraq because it was accused by the Iraqi regime of being spies.
In short, Al Jazeera was a victim of its own self-confidence,
which sometimes hindered its eagerness for exclusive footage.
the fact that Al-Arabiya was a new channel, its was sufficiently
technically competent to allow the feeding of exclusive footage.
Yet the channel suffered from two main problems-lack of good
shooting locations and political control. Al-Arabiya's shooting
locations were very disadvantageous for proper exclusive news
gathering. In several instances when the action was taking place
on the Baghdad skyline, Al-Arabiya viewers were subjected to
their reporter's picture showing a garden at street level.
Al-Arabiya was subject to various political pressures which
hindered its news gathering capabilities. Qatari authorities
did not accredit their Centcom reporter, the Kuwaiti authorities
did not allow two of its reporters to cross its borders into
Iraq, and the Iraqi regime took one of its two fly-away satellite
uplinks in Baghdad, leaving them with no back-up. Only in the
last stages of the war, when the channel started hunting exclusive
footage and was successful in gathering archival footage of
Saddam Hussein and his family.
of its communication strategy, Abu Dhabi TV relocated veteran
reporters to Baghdad. Located in a strategic area facing the
ministry of information, it was best positioned to capture the
flaming Baghdad skyline. Exclusive footage produced by ADTV
was broadcast all over the world. Consequently, ADTV came to
be monitored by other channels and viewers worldwide, successfully
managing to get their "bug" (logo) repeated on competing
as important as exclusive pictures is an anchor or reporter
able to translate those pictures into words. In times of war,
the stars are the reporters in the field. The three channels
understood the importance of having experienced reporters doing
live injects for extended durations, and from dangerous spots.
successfully turned to their star reporters-Tayseer Allouni
and Diyar Al Omari. Famous for covering the Taliban war, Allouni
is a controversial journalist who could not win the acceptance
of the Iraqi regime. After spending a few days in Baghdad, he
was asked to leave. This incident caused strife between the
Iraqi regime and Al Jazeera management. Al Omari was not a stranger
to Iraq, his home country, and his reporting was often poignant
and cynical. As bureau chief, Al Omari was also in charge of
managing and directing a number of other reporters.
depended on MBC's reporter Ali Noun, a veteran Lebanese war
reporter. Al-Arabiya also attempted to compensate for their
lack of Iraq expertise by picking up Peter Arnett, a veteran
Iraq reporter. This American was the only foreigner allowed
to broadcast from Baghdad in the Second Gulf War; he was behind
CNN's legendary coverage. When Arnett was dropped by National
Geographic for comments made to Iraqi Television about the war,
Al-Arabiya picked him up and assigned him a translator for his
live injects. Unfortunately, this move was not well received
either in terms of television style-delay in translation and
lack of immediacy-or editorially, since Arnett already had a
TV was driven by a high sense of enthusiasm and courage. In
this war for audiences they used every single weapon including
pulling off the stunts of getting star anchors into Baghdad
in the middle of the war. In addition to a line-up of Iraqi
reporters, Abu Dhabi TV raised the performance of their team
by having star anchors broadcast during the prime evening hours.
By and large, this strategy maintained audience fidelity. Interestingly,
Abu Dhabi TV canceled "Hayatuna" ("Our Life"),
a show produced by news veteran Layla el Sheykhi and launched
her into the nightly news mix, providing a much needed news
authority figure. Similarly, Abu Dhabi TV tailored shows for
their anchors, who became household figures.
special events are an important part of any channel's news coverage.
Some, like inaugurations or summits are scheduled and planned
in advance. Others, like the outbreak of war or the death of
a world figure, may pre-empt regular scheduled programming.
News executives have the option to pre-empt programming with
breaking stories but they must operate with considerable discretion.
The decision to pre-empt a program takes into consideration
the nature of the channel's programming policy, the importance
of the event, and the editorial material available.
one of the most interesting aspects of this war coverage was
the transformation of Abu Dhabi TV into an all-news channel.
This special programming was achieved on three distinctive levels.
Firstly, a large team dispersed to cover the war, particularly
hosting shows off the rooftop headquarters of Abu Dhabi TV in
Baghdad. This hot set was ready for doing injects and hosting
a show night after night, turning it into regular programming.
A second level comprised the design of at least three distinctive
news shows concentrated in the evening for prime time viewing.
Each show had a special host, set, and mix of news and analysis.
Abu Dhabi TV was the first to introduce a special three-dimensional
set with a war map. This was coupled with the third level, that
of the introduction of special channel commentators, both military
and political. These were introduced in every show to provide
insight on the military operation and the political activities
that were taking place.
footsteps of Abu Dhabi TV, Al-Arabiya appeared more of a follower
than an initiator of special programming. In the first weeks
of the war, their coverage was more passive than active. Their
newscasts had nothing special to offer except a review of the
various hot news items. Gradually, they staffed the evening
line-up with political and military commentators. The studio
set and graphic beds came to reflect this special programming
fare. Unlike Abu Dhabi TV, these programs were closer to developed
newscasts as opposed to news programs. They lacked both depth
and analysis but compensated for those by giving a more up-to-the-minute
approach to the news aspect of the war coverage.
Al Jazeera relied on its experienced team to maintain long hours
of non-stop live broadcasting which included a mix of live injects,
news wrap, and a plethora of political and military commentators.
Interestingly, Al Jazeera did not develop new shows to accompany
its coverage of the war; instead, they revamped one of their
live call-in shows. "Manbar Al Jazeera" ("Al
Jazeera Platform") was dedicated to covering the Palestinian
intifada; the show then shifted into a platform for the expression
of views about the war and intifada. It actually repositioned
Al Jazeera as a channel for all Arab causes.
of the latest Iraq war called for special programming. So special
that Abu Dhabi TV cancelled all its scheduled programs and changed
to a news channel format while Al-Arabiya rushed to launch itself
in order to gather up enough momentum for war coverage. On the
other hand, Al Jazeera had the experience and was ready to allocate
the resources and programming strategy necessary for good coverage.
promotional techniques were used to attract the viewers to the
news product. While it seemed that the channels were not competing
on the levels of place and price, promotion was an area where
the battle for the hearts and minds was fought.
in any war, there are no absolute winners. Each channel tried
to foster its own organizational culture. In doing so, they
used their own promotional techniques. The success of each can
only be measured by those who defined the promotional goals.
Yet, some concluding remarks may be made.
consolidated itself as a pan-Arab news source and used the war
to gain audiences beyond the Arab geographic world. Yet Al Jazeera
failed to present anything new in its effort to attract the
viewers. Being a newcomer, Al-Arabiya had to live up to high
expectations within the context of the launch of their service
and the coverage of a war. While the launch drew the audience's
curiosity, their promotion could not develop audience loyalty.
Their promotional activity was split between promoting the new
channel and promoting the war coverage. Abu Dhabi TV's most
visible success was in positioning themselves as a news source
when originally they were not, a success that owes much to their
news room management and promotional effort. The synergy between
the two reached its peak in the latter stages of the war when
each newsroom success was celebrated on the airwaves.
focused on the tactics used by the channels to win viewers.
We have addressed these tactics while outlining the channels
long-term strategies. Interesting conclusions can be drawn from
understanding which channels viewers decided to watch and on
what basis. One can add a fifth P to Schein's model-People.
Statistical data about audience ratings is still unreliable,
however, and we consequently ruled out any dependence on such
limitation was the reluctance of channel employees to speak
about their operations. The ones who decided to speak did so
Recommendations for Further Research
was not concerned with evaluating the worth of the news product
delivered by the channels. Consequently, further research might
be dedicated to the value of the news product and to viewers'
perception of the product.
research might compare the tools used by international channels
to woo the hearts and minds of their viewers. Particularly it
would be interesting to compare the promotional strategies used
by Al Jazeera and Fox News, which are often described as similar
when it comes to news product.
our overview of the channels' organizational culture, it would
be a worthy endeavor to reveal the relationship between the
political and financial constituents of the Arab channels and
their news coverage, particularly in armed conflicts.TBS
is an executive producer at CNBC Arabiya, and has more than ten
years of professional television experience with MBC, MTV and
Orbit. For seven years he was an instructor at the Lebanese American
University where his teaching and research focused on transnational
broadcasting, programming and production. His writings were presented
at several conferences, and he consulted for various academic
and professional organizations on issues pertaining to media in
the Middle East. He is a graduate of the College of Communication
at Ohio University where he presented a master's thesis on television
in multicultural societies.
Abughaida is an Assistant Producer at CNBC Arabiya. She comes
from a marketing background, having received a Bachelor of Commerce
from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, as well as having
tutored marketing communications courses. She later worked as
a marketing manager at a DOT COM, focusing on corporate culture
and communication. Her articles have been featured in industry
expressed in this article are the authors' and not those of
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choice and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Schein, Egdar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership.
2d. Ed. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey Bass.
Turrow, Joseph, Media Systems in Society: understanding
industries, strategies, and power. Longman.
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