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Not Your Father's Islamist TV: Changing Programming on Hizbullah's al-ManarIcon indicating an associated article is peer reviewed

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Firmo-Fontan determined al-Manar to be a substitution channel, not watched constantly but viewed for particular programs.[28] Increasing numbers of Lebanese noted to me the stray away from the ideological platform of the party to topics important to Lebanese generally.[29] Some Lebanese and Arabs refuse to watch al-Manar, rejecting all things religious, and these often watch the Christian-affiliated station LBC. Others are attracted to the station, citing its good programmes. Some individuals said that the station does air some extreme statements, but also many good points not found elsewhere. Many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon have differences with the station over al-Manar’s close relationship with the Shi’a and the Da’wa party in Iraq. Al-Manar appears to be popular in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon due to its coverage of Palestine and news there. Many Christian constituents of the Free Patriotic Movement, led by former General Michel Aoun, allied to Hizbullah from early 2006, watched the station’s news regularly.[30]

 

While the removal of foreigners from Lebanese soil pushed Hizbullah and its media al-Manar into a deeper reliance onto the Lebanese scene, this orientation was challenged by the 2006 war with Israel, known in Lebanon as the July war. The resistance and militaristic side of al-Manar was heightened, and the station was used as a tool of psychological combat and target of war similar to its origins.[31] Both the television station and its web site were the objects of military attacks by Israelis, government and civilians. Al-Manar was among the first targets hit, and bombed repeatedly. The station stayed on the air, moving to another (secret) location.

 

Israelis briefly interrupted the broadcast to air their own messages, such as "Your day is coming, coming, coming" with a drawing of Hizbullah's leader.[32] Another depicted a picture of Nasrallah, Hizbullah's leader, with "no signal" on top of his face and a message in Arabic, telling members of Hizbullah to watch out.[33] They also broadcast pictures of Hizbullah's dead on the station.[34] After Israelis used Google Earth to demonstrate the Hizbullah locations Israel bombed in Lebanon, al-Manar responded similarly, broadcasting Hebrew messages and using Google Earth to demonstrate potential targets in Israel.[35] Al-Manar launched other public relations campaigns against the Israelis, and both Hizbullah and foreign observers declared al-Manar a weapon allowing Hizbullah to win the public relations contest of the war.[36]

 

The 2006 war showed the military value of the television, but its use for this purpose proved temporary. The end of the 2006 war revealed new challenges. Lebanese backed Hizbullah during the war, but subsequently questions about the proper place of the organization and its arms in the country surfaced.[37] The television switched back to predominant human-interest programming, and continues to follow that practice, interrupting the tone of programming on the occasion of events interpreted as threats to Lebanon, Hizbullah, or the Palestinians, or religious holidays.

 

Current Programming: Dual Identity of the Television

 

            Like Hizbullah, al-Manar holds a dual nature; it is both a politically-oriented and military-supporting media, and one airing programs separate from politics and its militia. While Hizbullah has relied upon its military legitimacy and provision of social services as pillars of its claim to be a crucial organization in Lebanese society, al-Manar is laying the foundation for Hizbullah’s future beyond sole reliance upon the organization’s military credentials. Simultaneously, through human-interest programming Hizbullah inserts itself deeper into Lebanese society by discussing popular issues and presenting forward-looking perspectives.

 

The inclusive, multi-confessional programming on al-Manar does not indicate that the station has abandoned its fundamental support for Hizbullah; rather, the programming demonstrates a broadening to encompass other communities and lifestyles without forsaking the key Hizbullah positions of the moment.  The television reflects the combined political, social, and military goals of Hizbullah, goals that have changed over time to encompass the views of other communities. The balance of programming depends upon the presence or absence of threats to Lebanon or Hizbullah. During periods of crisis or military threat, Hizbullah is able to capitalize upon popular fears and return to emphasizing the importance of its resistance (militia).[38] Such threats demonstrate the continued need for its military abilities. During these periods, human-interest programming takes a backseat, although it is still present. In the absence of such threats and once the peak of the crisis has passed, al-Manar returns to its usual programming, reversing the balance: now the affirmation of the military abilities of Hizbullah constitutes the smaller portion of airtime.

 

Al-Manar is available throughout the Arab world by satellite, in Lebanon over land, and globally over the worldwide web. Many polls list al-Manar as one of the top stations in the Middle East, particularly for news on Palestine. Some estimate ten million viewers tune in to the station, a figure often cited but without attributing a source.[39] Others simply list al-Manar among the top influential outlets in the Arab world.[40] The top four news stations, which capture 70-80% of satellite viewers, are often listed as including al-Manar.[41] According to the Jerusalem Media Communication Center, the majority of Palestinians watch al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, and al-Manar.[42] Jorisch reports a poll in 2003 that found those in Jordan turned first to al-Manar for news of Palestine (28%), followed closely by al-Jazeera (27.5%).[43] Audience figures go up in any time of crisis, local or in Israel/Palestine.

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* Author’s note: The views here are the author’s alone and not that of the U.S. government or any other institutional affiliation. The author thanks the AMS editors and reviewers for help and comments.

[1] This view is most polemically portrayed by Mark Dubowitz, "Watching Al-Manar: Violence in the Media," National Review Online, no. 17 July (2006). On Islamist television of the Salafi variety, fitting much of this description, see Nath Field and Ahmed Hamam, "Salafi Satellite Tv in Egypt," Arab Media & Society, no. 8 (2009).

[2] Hizbullah and al-Manar maintain that they are separate entities, but Hizbullah almost wholly finances the television, and the ties between the two are not seriously disputed. The question of journalistic and professional independence of the station, and goals unique to media (audience share) remain to be investigated.

[3] Assessing how audiences receive and process programs is a complicated and multi-faceted issue; I do not deal with it here but instead depict the media presentation of interaction with other communities on the station.

[4] By non-political I refer to the human-interest programs distinct from news, political talk shows, religious programs, documentaries and spots overtly promoting Hizbullah and its military. These human interest programs form a significant percentage of all programming and air on prime time, including the prized Thursday night spot. To date, there has been scant academic analysis of these programs; writing has focused on overtly political programs, not common concerns, or what some would view as everyday politics. This bias reflects one common in social science. As I argue below, by neglecting this realm, analysts remain ignorant to the future that Hizbullah views for itself and that is projecting to viewers, including its constituency.

[5] This article is the beginning of a larger project on al-Manar's multi-communal public sphere and the influence of political constituencies and audiences in Hizbullah. Al-Manar over the internet can be found at http://www.almanar.com.lb/NewsSite/ManarLive.aspx, accessed through the home page of almanar.com.lb. Alternative portals also provide access to the station over the web.

[6] Joseph Elie Alagha, The Shifts in Hizbullah's Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program, Isim Dissertations (Amsterdam: ISIM/Amsterdam University Press, 2006), Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

[7] Mona Harb and Reinoud Leenders, "Know Thy Enemy: Hizbullah, 'Terrorism' and the Politics of Perception," Third World Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2005).

[8] Walid Charara and Frédéric Domont, Le Hezbollah : Un Mouvement Islamo-Nationaliste (Paris: Editions Fayard, 2004), 170.

[9] Hugh Dellios, "With an Eye toward Politics, Hezbollah Recasting Its Image; Savvy Tv Campaign Credited in Group's Battle with Israel," Chicago Tribune, 13 April 2000.

[10] Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 59.

[11] For academic accounts of the early al-Manar see Frederic M. Wehrey, "Hizbullah's Psychological Campaign against Israel in South Lebanon," Small Wars and Insurgencies 13, no. 3 (2002), Ron Schleifer, "Psychological Operations: A New Variation on an Age Old Art: Hezbollah Versus Israel," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29, no. 1 (2006).

[12] Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah, 60.

[13] Robert Fisk, “Television news is secret weapon of the intifada,” The Independent (London), 2 December 2000.

[14] Avi Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah's al-Manar Television. Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004. While based on research, Jorisch’s work is also directly tied to a political goal, that of banning al-Manar, and lacks an understanding of context. As an example, the lack of context is apparent in the interpretation of a phrase used by the station, “Jerusalem, we are coming,” as a threat. The line actually comes from a well-known song by the Lebanese (Christian) singer Fairouz, about religious unity, worshiping in Jerusalem by all religions, and Jerusalem as a city of peace. The viewing audience would know this song and tie the phrase to it. Avi Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah's Al-Manar Television (Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004), 67, 85. See Fairouz's song in Arabic at http://www.fairouz.com/fairouz/special/poem.html#arabic.

[15] One of the chief programs substantiating the claim that al-Manar is anti-Semitic was a Syrian-made drama that the station said it purchased quickly without viewing the entire series in advance (the Diaspora). The series repeated stereotypical myths about Jews. When this came to light, al-Manar reportedly stopped airing the series. Whether this version of events is true or not is arguably less important than the station’s realization and public statement that airing the series was a mistake. Charara and Domont, Le Hezbollah, 171.

[16] Avi J. Jorisch, "Al-Manar and the War in Iraq," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin 5, no. 4 (2003), Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred, ch. 5.

[17] Caroline Drees, “Manar TV as ‘Terrorist,” www.washingtonpost.com (Reuters), 17 December 2004; “Al-Manar TV to go off Dutch platform,” aljazeera.net, 17 March 2005.

[18] U.S. Department of the Treasury, "U.S. Designates Al-Manar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity; Television Station Is Arm of Hizballah Terrorist Network," ed. Department of the Treasury (2006). Two men were arrested for installing al-Manar in the United States. Pincus, Walter, "New Yorker Arrested for Providing Hezbollah TV Channel," The Washington Post, 25 August 2006; p. A10. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/24/AR2006082401461.html. One, a businessman providing access to a wide range of stations including pornography, was sentenced to six years in prison. Larry Neumeister, Associated Press Writer, April 24, 2009, “6 years in prison for airing Hezbollah TV in NYC,” posted, among other locations, at http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=251&sid=1659031.

[19] For example, Daniel J. Wakin, “Hezbollah Seen Making Subtle Changes After War in Iraq,” New York Times, 11 May 2003.

[20] Dellios, "With an Eye toward Politics, Hezbollah Recasting Its Image."

[21] Qasim Qusayr, "Hizbullah Rearranges Its Information Organization to Confront Changes in Lebanon and the Region (in Arabic)," al-Mustaqbal, 9 March 2006.

[22] Daily Star, "Hizbullah’s Broadcasting Arms Garner Awards," 12 July 2002.

[23] Juhayna Khalidiyya, “Is this another step toward Lebanizing al-Manar? "Word to the nation": the opinions of prominent personalities regarding the maintenance of the resistance's arms...not its removal (in Arabic)." al-Safir, 17 August 2005.

[24] Lebanese Ministry of Information, 24 June 2005, Shameem Rassam, 19 November 2008.

[25] John Lancaster, “Hezbollah Tunes In On Profits; Party’s TV Station Airing U.S. Movies,” Washington Post, 19 June 2005.

[26] Madouna Sama'an, "'al-salam 'alaykum wa rahma allah wa barakatuhu' min kaneesa ghazeer waraqa al-tafahum taftah khataan askariyyan amam 'al-manar' fi fatouh kasrawan," al-Safir, 4 April 2006.

[27] Whether this is due solely to Hizbullah’s new direction or to a parallel professionalization of the media in its search for an audience has yet to be determined.

[28] Firmo-Fontan, Victoria. "Power, NGOs, and Lebanese Television: a Case Study of Al-Manar TV and the Hezbollah Women's Association." In Women and Media in the Middle East: Power through Self-Expression, edited by Naomi Sakr, 162-79. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.

[29] Over 50 random street interviews were conducted in Lebanon and Jordan on al-Manar in June 2005, in addition to intermittent interviews with Lebanese and other Arabs watching regarding al-Manar in 2006-present.

[30] Author interviews with Lebanese of Aoun’s party.

[31] Conway, Maura. "Terror TV? An exploration of Hizbullah's al-Manar television." In Countering Terrorism and Insurgency in the 21st Century, edited by James F. Forest, 401-19. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

[32] Eli Lake, "Israel War Effort Extends Even to Hezbollah Tv," The Sun, 2 August 2006.

[33] Matthias Gebauer, "Broadcasting from the Bunker: Hezbollah's Al-Manar," Spiegel Online, no. 8 August (2006).

[34] "IDF broadcasts Hizbullah's dead on al-Manar," ynetnews.com, 8 August 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3288442,00.html

[35] Hasan M. Al-Rizzo, "The Undeclared Cyberspace War between Hezbollah and Israel," Contemporary Arab Affairs 1, no. 3 (2008): 400.Marwan Kraidy, "Hizbollywood. Hizbullah's Information War Viewed from Lebanon," The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 17 October 2006, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1426&fuseaction=topics.event_summary&event_id=201758.

[36] Abu-Fadil, Magda. "Hezbollah TV Claims Credit for Ousting Israelis." IPI Global Journalist, www.globaljournalist.org/archive/Magazine/Al%29Manar-2004q.html, Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict," Press/Politics 12, no. 3 (2007).

[37] Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. "People say no." Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 3-9 August 2006, Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal, and Marina Ottaway. "Hizbollah and Its Changing Identities." Policy Outlook (Democracy & Rule of Law Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) 2007.

[38] For coverage on al-Manar after the assassination of Imad Mughniyah, black ops and guerilla warfare leader in Hizbullah, see Ajemian, Peter. "Resistance beyond time and space: Hezbollah's media campaigns." Arab Media & Society, no. 5 (Spring) (2008).

[39] Estimating viewership is difficult, due to the channel-flipping characteristics of the Arab audience and concomitant lack of reliance on advertising for funding. Paul Cochrane, "Bombs and Broadcasts: Al Manar's Battle to Stay on Air," Arab Media & Society, no. Feburary (2007). A Zogby poll puts the viewership of al-Manar at 2% of the Arab world, which translates to about $10 million. See Pro Publica’s Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart at http://www.propublica.org/special/arabic-language-regional-television-news. Al-Arabiya had 9% and one of the most popular Lebanese stations, LBC, 3%.

[40] Marwan M. Kraidy, "Arab Media and Us Policy: A Public Diplomacy Reset," in Policy Analysis Brief (The Stanley Foundation, 2008), 4.

[41] Hisham Sharabi, "Arab Satellite Channels and Their Political Impact after the Iraq War," al-Hayat, 18 July 2003.

[42] West Bank and Gaza Presidential Elections, Final Report, European Union Election Observation Mission, 9 January 2005. Available from www.amin.org/eng/uncat/2005/mar/mar002.html.

[43] Jorisch, Beacon of Hatred.

[44] Cochrane, "Bombs and Broadcasts." Goldman, Dudi, "War soars al-Manar popularity," ynetnews.com, 24 August 2006, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3295190,00.html;

Mizroch, Amir. "Al-Manar TV soars into ratings 'Top 10,'" Jerusalem Post, 25 August 2006, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1154525941045

[45] See Pro Publica’s Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart at http://www.propublica.org/special/arabic-language-regional-television-news.

[46] Petra News Agency, "Winners of the Inquirer Award 2007 Announced," Open Source Center, GMP20080302966007  (2 March 2008).

[47] Assaf David and Oren Barak, "How the New Arab Media Challenges the Arab Militaries: The Case of the War between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006," The Middle East Institute Policy Brief, no. 20 (2008).

[48] Lawrence Pintak, "Reporting a Revolution: The Changing Arab Media Landscape," Arab Media & Society, no. February (2007).

[49] As a religious party, Hizbullah receives tithes from the Shi’a community, which in Islam constitute one-fifth of individual income. Iranian funding of Hizbullah dropped dramatically in the 1990s.

[50] Pro Publica, Arabic Language Regional Television News comparison chart, op cit.

[51] Magda Abu-Fadil, "Hezbollah Tv Claims Credit for Ousting Israelis," IPI Global Journalist, www.globaljournalist.org/archive/Magazine/Al%29Manar-2004q.html.

[52] Avi Jorisch, "Al-Manar: Hizbullah Tv, 24/7," Middle East Quarterly XI, no. 1 (2004).

[53] For examples of recent media campaigns see Peter Ajemian, "Resistance Beyond Time and Space: Hezbollah's Media Campaigns," Arab Media & Society, no. 5 (Spring) (2008).

[54] Interview with Rassam.

[55] Kraidy, "Arab Media and Us Policy," 4-5.

[56] On Hizbullah’s modernity that is mixed with the practice of piety, see Lara Deeb, An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). Deeb also highlights the prominent role of women in Hizbullah, corresponding to evidence from al-Manar.

[57] I have left out the entertainment series, discovery-type programs, games and children’s shows.

[58] French education and speech even at home is characteristic of segments of the Christian community in Lebanon.

[59] On Lebanon’s media sectarianism, see Paul Cochrane, "Are Lebanon's Media Fanning the Flames of Sectariansim?," Arab Media & Society, no. May (2007), Nabil Dajani, "The Re-Feudalization of the Public Sphere: Lebanese Television News Coverage and the Lebanese Political Process," Transnational Broadcasting Studies, no. 16 (2006).