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Russia reaches out to Arab world through TV

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Amani Soliman of BBC Monitoring on 17 May

    Rusiya al-Yawm or Russia Today is a state-funded, Arabic-language satellite TV news channel which was launched on 4 May 2007. It is widely seen as the latest front in a Kremlin drive to restore its Soviet-era influence in the Middle East.

    The Arabic-language channel was set up by RIA-Novosti, the state-sponsored news agency and umbrella organization for Russia Today, which also launched the state-funded Russia Today channel in 2005 to deliver a Russian perspective on news to English-speaking audiences.

    Top Russian officials say the world's view of Russia is tarnished by biased reports by foreign journalists.

    "We will be able, as much as possible, to inform Arabic viewers about what's happening in Russia and, most importantly, to convey to them our viewpoint on the issues around Russia and abroad," Rusiya al-Yawm's editor-in-chief, Evgeny Sidorov, told Reuters.

    

Russian content

    This is exactly what the TV channel is doing. The channel looks like any other modern Arab satellite TV station. Its programmes are broadcast from its Moscow studios via satellite for 20 hours a day. They are delivered in a professional style, and its graphics are prepared using the latest technology in the industry.

    The content, however, is reminiscent of any other Arab state-run television channel acting as a mouthpiece for the government.

    Every news bulletin at the top of each hour features the activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first 15-20 minutes. This includes his local activities such as meetings with other Russian officials, presidential visits both in and outside Russia as well as Putin's meetings with foreign dignitaries.

    In its coverage of international news, Rusiya al-Yawm seeks to extend Russia's influence abroad, particularly in the Arab world. Particular attention is paid to Russian-Arab relations and events.

    "Russia wants to build a system of influence in the Arab region," Russian political analyst Alexei Makarkin said.

    "There are interests in Iraq where Russia is keen to preserve the contracts signed under Saddam Husayn and to remain an effective sponsor of the Middle East peace process."

    On its first day, the channel carried a pre-recorded video showing Putin speaking on the telephone in a birthday message to Egyptian President Husni Mubarak about the launch of the Arabic channel. Mubarak congratulated Putin on the launch, saying that it would "bolster relations between the two populations."

    Makarkin said that Russia was determined to deliver its news to Arabic speakers independently and "not as re-told by Western or Arab media."

    "After all, this is a channel controlled by the state and conveying the state's position first-hand," he added.

    The rest of the international news is covered through Russian eyes, whether Arab or non-Arab news. A lot of airtime is given to religious events in Russia and its neighbouring countries, accompanied by Arabic translation to explain the event.

    

Russian focus

    In addition to news and current affairs, the channel carries business, cultural and sports programmes. There are several politically oriented talk shows, weekly analytical programmes, special reports and documentaries, all with a Russian dimension.

    "We hope all this will allow our audience to learn more about our country and to present Russia's position on many important issues to Arabic viewers all over the world," Makarkin said.

    One of those programmes is "Panorama", a half-hour programme broadcast five times a week. It discusses different issues and topical events in Russia. It is fronted by an Arabic-speaking Russian presenter. The majority of the guests on the shows are Russian speakers only. Therefore, there is a lot of reliance on Arabic translators in both the programmes and the news segments of the channel.

    Cultural programmes such as "Persona" focus on an interesting personality in Russia, through a weekly 30-minute interview.

    The documentaries shown on the channel are predominantly Russian-focused, covering Russian history, art, culture and any other aspect of Russia. These are voiced over in Arabic.

    The image of the channel cannot be differentiated from any other independent news channel. The content, however, is that of a state-run TV station.

    Rusiya al-Yaum employs about 500 staff, including some 100 journalists from Arabic-speaking countries. All of the Russian on-screen staff are Arabic speakers.

    The channel broadcasts on Badr 4 [11996 MHz, horizontal polarization], Nilesat 103 [10892 MHz, horizontal polarization] and Hotbird 6 [11013 MHz, horizontal polarization] satellites.

    Its official website is www.rtarabic.com

    Source: BBC Monitoring research 17 May 07

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