As the TBS editors spent the summer planning our special coverage of the Arab world, we had no idea that the question we were asking—how Arab news organizations cover the world, who their audiences are, and which organizations are shaping up as key players in regional media—would suddenly take on a new significance.
After the tragic events of Sept. 11 and the beginning of the American airstrikes in Afghanistan, all eyes turned to one channel: Al-Jazeera. The Qatar-based satellite channel has, until very recent and limited access granted to foreign journalists, held an exclusive position inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, having established offices in Kabul and Kandahar two years ago. It was to Al-Jazeera that Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda group has delivered, as of our publication in early November, three videotapes, first of bin Laden with an aide, then of an Al-Qaeda spokesman, and most recently another videotape of bin Laden himself. While Washington criticized Al-Jazeera for airing these tapes—later changing its policy and sending top officials for exclusive interviews with the channel—broadcasters from around the world flew to Qatar to try to make deals for Al-Jazeera's exclusive material. TBS headed to Doha for an inside look at the channel that was no longer just a regional powerhouse, but now a truly global broadcaster.
In this issue's cover story, we spoke with Al-Jazeera Chairman of the Board Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani about the vision behind the channel and the criticisms coming out of Washington. Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali talked with us about their coverage from Afghanistan and how the channel has handled the Al-Qaeda videotapes. In "The Courting of Al-Jazeera," Managing Editor Sarah Sullivan looks at Al-Jazeera's exclusive resource-sharing deal with CNN, and talks with anchors, producers, and editors about how the channel covers the news. Senior Editor S. Abdallah Schleifer puts the dramatic success of Al-Jazeera in the context of the Middle East's lack, until very recently, of TV journalism at international standards, in "The Sweet and Sour Success of Al-Jazeera."
This issue also looks at a particular kind of project that has been making news across the Middle East in recent years—the media free zone. We spoke with Dubai Media City CEO Saeed Al-Muntafiq about the big names, like MBC and Reuters, that are making Dubai their new home and about plans for DMC's growth, and also look at what broadcasters have to say about working from DMC. Contributing Editor Chris Forrester reports on the Egyptian Media Production City, which, it is hoped, will give much-needed boost to the city that has long positioned itself as the region's TV and film production leader. In Jordan, Arab Radio and Television is already operating out of a new, private media free city that got quickly off the ground, despite the fact that Jordan has yet to pass a media free zone law.
As part of our special Arab-world coverage, we've talked with some of the leaders in regional and global broadcasting. MBC News Director Steve Clark; APTN CEO Ian Ritchie; Reuters TV News Editor Rodney Pinder; Zafar Siddiqi, CEO of Middle East Business News; and Hany El Konayyesi, APTN senior editor responsible for the Middle East Custom Coverage division. Nabil Dajani, in an extremely valuable and in-depth study, looks at Lebanon's very influential satellite channels in the context of the country's media history. We report on the latest in pay-TV developments in the Middle East, take you to this year's Cairo TV Market, and more.
Last but certainly not least, this issue features a transcript of a panel discussion held at the News World Asia conference in Singapore in May. This long-planned feature turned out to be more relevant than we would have imagined several months ago. In the discussion, British and Asian TV journalists talk about the particular problems of covering race and religion, in particular ethnic clashes and religious violence, in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and elsewhere in Asia. They raise examples of times when journalists have been unsure of how to cover a story because of the magnitude of events and sensitivities involved. They talk about times when they themselves made decisions to hold back footage out of fear of sparking more conflict, of how they've balanced between journalistic responsibilities and human conscience. These are some of the same questions that we put to Al-Jazeera in the wake of the current crisis. Given the events of the day, they are questions that will likely become ever more critical for media practitioners and scholars. These questions, and the other themes raised in this issue, are ones we will continue to follow.