Satellite Tv Is Key To War Zone

Arlen Harris


London appears strange after nine months away in the Middle East. Although the Tv culture is pretty similar there - apart from odd gaps you can't help but spot in Hollywood films where the censors have got steamed up about the sex. But  'reality Tv' shows still dominate the channels here as they do in large chunks of the Middle East, where Pop Idol is massive and Lebanese starlets are chat show staples.


A week after getting back, I bumped into Marc Wadsworth, the Editor of The-Latest.  "So what have you been doing?" he asked. I mentioned nine months in Muscat and the Gulf and side trips to Iraq and Iran and he asked me to contribute a piece about the latest crisis in the region.

I have to admit that writing, filming or recording feel futile when the bombs are falling. However, it is important because satellite Tv and the large American networks are the media that reaches the audiences that matter: viewers, listeners and readers in the US and the Middle East itself.

The US is a vital audience to reach. Public opinion in America has played an important part in furthering the objectives of President George W. Bush and Israel. Bush's support for Israel, with arms and cash, is influenced by American public agreement particularly of the Christian fundamentalist right who makeup his core vote. Guardian newspaper columnist Jackie Ashley says they see  "the country (Israel) as God's covenant to a chosen people". Without US aid Israel would have to come to an agreement with its Arab neighbours. So any change in the public's point of view in the US will have a disproportionate effect on the affairs of the Middle East. In Bush's global  "war against terror"-only a global media - satellite TV - can provide global coverage and be seen virtually everywhere

One of the the keys to the current crisis is how the US networks and satellite stations are reporting the war in Lebanon: when American voters finally get tired of sending their troops to the region, this will change the shape of the Middle East in a way that the British and other European countries have not been able to intervene since Suez.

The other key audience are the Arabs and Israelis. In the Middle East it is possible to get satellite Tv almost anywhere. CNN, BBC World, Sky News, Euronews and the Arab satellite networks and of course MTV are available even in war zones. I was in Um Qasr, in southern Iraq, a few days before the 100th British soldier died and in the barracks the troops were watching Sky, while in town Iraqis sat in front of Al Arabiya.

Satellite coverage in this war zone is more important than terrestrial. Even in the heart of the Tehran  "Axis of Evil", CNN and BBC World are available. Perhaps it is not surprising then that Al Jazeera, the most successful of the Arab satellite stations, has been targeted in war zones. One of their correspondents was recently hauled in for questioning by the Israelis.

Historians may eventually have a different view of the war in Lebanon from the Israeli and US governments.  "Born of the ambition of one wilful, reckless man, Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon was anchored in delusion, propelled by deceit and bound to end in calamity." wrote Israeli historians Schiff and Ya'ari about Ariel Sharon, Olmert's predecessor, whom they blamed for the last war in the land of the famous cedars.

* Arlen Harris is an Independent documentary producer working for Channel 4 and the BBC who also writes for The Guardian, Financial Times and Lloyds List.


1 Response to "Satellite Tv Is Key To War Zone"

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contribs editor

Tue, 08/01/2006 - 00:26
<p>It appears that the State of Israel, as it battles with Hizbullah (Shiite Lebanese organisation), is prepared to use every facet of mass communication in a propaganda campaign directed at the beleaguered people of South Lebanon. Mobile phone users are being bombarded with text messages which appear as news bulletins, with the aim of discrediting Hizbullah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah. Titled &ldquo;News&rdquo;, a message sent earlier in the week reported that Nasrallah had prepared a secure bunker for himself and other senior Hizbullah officials to escape to in Syria. A previously defunct local radio station has also started to broadcast reports from the Israeli governments point of view. Speaking in Arabic, the commentator on the old Voice of Lebanon station&nbsp; asks: &ldquo;Why do those people blame Israel for defending itself against terrorism?, &ldquo;Why should we let terrorists bomb our homes?&rdquo;<br /></p>