The fat lady probably has yet to sing, but this Iraq War is over as far as satellite TV is concerned. Not the coverage, of course—a percentage of the TV news is devoted to the continuing mayhem—but the special journalistic regime, the talking heads crowned with tin hats, the near round-the-clock attention, and the re-deployment of resources that these called for. Which means that it's time for the retrospective. The Arab Media Summit, with which this issue leads, might have seemed like an obvious starting place for self-examination, and indeed both UAE information minister Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and CNN International's managing director. Chris Cramer addressed what they saw as the failures and challenges of satellite TV in their keynote speeches, reproduced here. But TBS was more impressed by the curious disjunction between reality and the Summit itself. "Arabsats? What Arabsats?" asked managing editor Humphrey Davies as he pondered the conspicuous absence of the Arab channels on the podia.
As at most Summits, however, as much went on in the corridors as in the meeting rooms, and in the margins, TBS was able to interview Abu Dhabi TV's Ali Al-Ahmed and Nart Bouran and get an overview of their war in Iraq and future prospects, as well as Jihad Khazen on the LBC/Al Hayat joint venture, which had its first experience on the ground during the war. We were also able to catch some out-of-the-region visitors: Riz Khan, formerly of CNN, shared some of his plans with us, and Danny Schechter, one of Western TV's most committed critics and a panelist at the Summit, provided us with a thought-provoking essay-"Media Can Serve the Needs of Peace"-from the Israel-Palestine Journal, distributed at the conference.
With Al Jazeera nowhere to be seen in Dubai, TBS zipped down to Qatar for a visit to their headquarters. Unbeknownst to us, a major management change was in the offing (see Stop Press: Al Jazeera Gets New Manager), but we made good use of our time talking to editor-in-chief Ibrahim Helal and reporter Amr El-Kahky—the latter just back from a second stint in Iraq—and with the channel's then manager Adnan Sharif. Earlier, in Cairo, TBS had been able to catch the channels best-known investigative journalist, Yousri Foda. Together, these interviews provide some fascinating insights into the channel's origins and past and how it sees itself and is seen by others now; while the "Stop Press" story may give some of idea of where it hopes to go. Whatever Al Jazeera's future, few will dispute that the Arab 24-hour-news satellite channels have changed the picture on our screens.
Whether that change has been good or bad, however, is disputed. In "Arabsats: the Debate," TBS brings together writers with views that run from almost total condemnation, as in the case of Abdel Moneim Saeed of Al-Ahram's Center for Political and Strategic Studies, through nuanced appreciation, as in Marc Lynch's piece from Foreign Affairs, to a vision of the Arab satellite channel as the most effective instrument of political change in the region, as Palestinian-American scholar Hisham Sharabi would claim. Salih Al-Kallab of Al Arabiya provides a channel-based perspective and rounds out the debate by wondering how anyone could satisfy all the differing agendas.
Dubai is indubitably the Middle East's media hub, and it had more than the Media Summit to offer. CNBC Arabiya, the newest Arabsat and the first devoted to round-the-clock business news, launched in the summer from Dubai Media City. TBS talked to CEO Zafar Siddiqi and program director Ward Edmonds, as well as to two presenters of the new channel's fare, Lena Sawan and Cyba Audi, and picked up some of the excitement that goes with venturing into new territory and getting good feedback too. In the unlikely event that the region ever becomes "less political" in its approach to the news, this may be where people turn for a different approach.
Leaving the Arabsat-Arab Gulf nexus, "The Region and the World" looks at developments in Egypt—where pay-TV is losing millions to piracy, Orbit is launching direct-to-home broadcasting, Nilesat claims expanded viewership, and ERTU made a belated pitch for Egyptian TV film products at Mipcom in Cannes. It goes outside the region too: Oliver Da Lage's translated "CNN, French-style" on the proposed 24-hour news channel in French both gives the background to this important demarche and signals TBS's interest in expanding its own language range; also in this section is Bassam Tayyara's article on the new Arab satellite media stars, translated from Arabic. In the same section, Chris Forrester reviews developments at "behemoth" Discovery Communications, and Brian McNair examines British satellite and other coverage of the Iraq war.
Delving deeper into the issue of coverage, its conditions and consequences, TBS's continuing Media on Media archive brings the record on what the press had to say about satellite broadcasting during the Iraq war up to date with a further 27 pieces to add to those included in the archive's first installment, in TBS 10. As an opener, we also reproduce the executive summary of the Independent Television Commission's own report on British TV coverage and audience response to the conflict.
TBS 11 doesn't stop there. We have reports from three regional academic conferences, book reviews, and an essay by TBS's publisher and senior editor S. Abdallah Schleifer on some of the broader issues that the field raises, plus the usual calendar of relevant media-related events.
TBS draws on the work of many others. We are particularly pleased to notice that News Xchange list us as a media partner, and we look forward to their upcoming Budapest conference, which we expect to cover in TBS 12.