Al Jazeera, Radio Sawa Founders Report on Media in the Middle East
Al Jazeera founder Omar Al-Issawi describes the Middle East's most dynamic television station, Norm Pattiz reports on America's new radio outpost in the Arab world.
[Omar Al-Issawi, founder of the influential Qatar television station and satellite news network Al Jazeera, joined California broadcast magnate Norm Pattiz, who has led in the recent creation of a chain of U.S. government FM radio stations in several Middle Eastern countries, for a discussion of "Media in the New Middle East" at UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management October 30. The wide ranging examination of the role of Al Jazeera, the U.S.-backed Radio Sawa, and state-run radio and television in various Arab countries was sponsored by the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. The discussion was moderated by Geoffrey Garrett, director of the Burkle Center and vice provost of the UCLA International Institute. The program was part of UCLA's ongoing commitment to providing a forum for the wide range of views on key international issues for the campus community and beyond. Because of the great interest in the subject and the speakers we are providing a full transcript of the event, beginning with Geoffrey Garrett's introduction of the speakers.]
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[Welcomes the audience, then introduces the two speakers.]
This is Omar Al-Issawi's first speaking tour in the United States. He was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents, and he attended college in Iowa and Virginia. He is one of the original creators of Al Jazeera, the satellite news operation serving the Arab world, and he continues to be both a reporter for the network and a producer of television content, including a large documentary series for the network. Mr. Al-Issawi worked previously for the BBC and has covered events as far flung as Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Croatia. He has developed a reputation for hard hitting, hard nosed but dispassionate reporting. And as a result he has garnered several accolades in mainstream American media. I would just like to give you some of them. The first is that he has become a regular contributor, interviewee I guess, on the Larry King Live show, an extraordinarily important disseminator of information in the United States. According to a recent New Yorker profile, Al-Issawi has become something of a celebrity, "emerging as one of the more eloquent and cool headed commentators on the Middle East." Newsweek said "he has quickly become a respected source of information for Western reporters and a very popular interviewee. The White House has been watching Al-Issawi closely." I'll leave it to him to tell us exactly what that means, and how he feels about it, but I am sure there is a way to deconstruct that sentence, the White House has been watching you closely.
Our second guest, to his left, is Norm Pattiz. Norman J. Pattiz is the founder and chairman of Westwood One, which is America's largest radio network company. It owns, manages, or distributes NBC Radio Network, CBS Radio Network, the Mutual Broadcasting System, CNN Radio, and Fox Radio News. In addition, Norm is a committed supporter of education. Most notably in this venue I think we should all recognize that Norm serves as a dedicated and very engaged regent of the University of California. But there are at least two other strings to Norm's bow. First, I think he is in some informal sense an honorary member of the Los Angeles Lakers family. And given that it is a family that seems to be having some internal squabbles at the moment I'm thinking that being a member of the family is an honor that brings with it some considerable responsibilities.
In addition to that, Norm has come to play in the last few years an extraordinarily central pro bono role working with and for the American government in the area of international media. In May 2000 Mr. Pattiz was appointed by President Clinton to the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors. And he was then reappointed by President Bush in September 2002. The BBG oversees all U.S. nonmilitary international broadcasting, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Worldnet Television, Radio and TV Marti, and Radio Free Asia. The services reporting to the U.S. BBG provide programming in over 60 languages to over 100 million people outside the United States. Within the BBG, Norm serves on its executive committee, he is chairman of the Middle East committee, and he is cochair of the Language Review Committee. Most importantly for today, I think, he spearheaded the creation of the BBG's new Middle East radio network, Radio Sawa. And he is currently leading a development of a new U.S.-sponsored Arabic language satellite television channel that would be distributed throughout the entire Middle East. So I think it is fair to say that we have two of the best informed and most knowledgeable commentators on the new media in the Middle East that you could find. They are not only commentators, they are doers, so I will leave the stage to them so they can do it. Our first speaker will be Mr. Al-Issawi.
Middle East Media before Al Jazeera
Good afternoon, thank you very much indeed. I think when talking about the new media in the Middle East it is important to set the stage for that. The situation was, when I was growing up in Kuwait, but in Kuwait it was no different than in any other Arab country, there was the nightly news bulletin. And that was started with whatever the Emir, the president, the king, whoever, whatever the activities were that day. And then it progressed to crown prince and vice president, and then you had the interior minister, foreign minister, blah blah blah blah. And sometimes the news bulletins would go on for an hour of absolute nothing. And at the same time we were expected to believe what was said to us in those news bulletins.
We didn't have a choice. The only choice came from abroad, from the BBC. The BBC had the Arabic World Service Radio. The BBC was smart enough to realize in the 1930s, in the runup to World War II, the importance of launching an Arabic service radio. And so they launched the Arabic radio in order to combat Nazi incursions into the Arab world. And it was again left to the BBC to start the first independent broadcaster in Arabic television, back in 1994. I was part of that group. The agreement between the BBC and the Saudi satellite provider called Orbit was that Orbit would finance it while the BBC would maintain editorial independence and integrity.
And so it went, until one day the government of the United Kingdom was trying to deport a Saudi dissident living in London, Mohammed al-Massari. I was instructed to go and interview the man. The instructions from our chief editor, a British national, were, you don't let him launch a diatribe against the Saudi government. You hear what he has to say about his case, because we can't go on air with unsubstantiated allegations. See, that is one important thing I learned at the BBC. There was a style and libel guide. So I interviewed the man, and limited his answers to the topic. But the end result was that Orbit broke the contract with the BBC and we ended up on the streets. Because that was not what was required in Saudi Arabia, to beam dissidents back to them.
An Invitation to Go to Qatar and the Dangers of Being a Journalist in the Arab World
During the period when this was going on, the Emir of Qatar issued a decree launching the Qatari news network, later to be called Al Jazeera, while we were still working for the BBC in that last year, in 1996. The Qataris made good use of our misfortunes, as employees of the BBC, and they offered us jobs. They promised that it would be exactly like the BBC. And so we went. We believed them. We took them at their word. And we went there. I'll get more into Al Jazeera in a while, but you might find some other details about Arab media interesting.
The press was also shackled, except in Lebanon there was a relative degree of freedom. And the Kuwaiti press was quite vocal at times. They would often, in collusion with the Kuwaiti parliament, force the government to resign, which is why parliament was dissolved. But that was about it, and even then there were limitations. There was a publisher of a Lebanese magazine called al-Hawadess. His name was Salim Al-Lawzi When the war in Lebanon broke out he felt he could no longer report from there, so he went to Paris. In 1981 he had to return to Lebanon on a family emergency. On his way back to the airport to head to France, his car was stopped. His wife and driver were let go. Salim Al-Lawzi disappeared for about ten days to two weeks, only to reappear as a body amidst some bushes. His writing hand had been almost skinned to the bone, either by the use of acid or by sharp instruments. And his body had been pierced in several places before being finished by a shot to the head.
Other journalists also paid with their lives in Lebanon. Other journalists throughout the Arab world are today in prisons. Because torture has become an art form. Torture is not only the preserve of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. It happens in all Arab governments. And journalists know that. And that is why we have very special welcoming ceremonies in whichever Arab airports we arrive at. They always take very good care of us. Make sure that we know we are not welcome. But, we go.
There is baggage that comes with this because you realize that when you go back to your home country, unlike Western journalists, Arab journalists don't have governments to back them up. If one of us disappears it is usually the work of our government. So nobody is going to try to find us or help us out. I have had colleagues at Al Jazeera who have gone back to their countries on summer vacation, and they were invited for coffee or tea at the intelligence headquarters. They were asked questions about what goes on at Al Jazeera, people, personalities. You know, to build up the files, because we have files everywhere. In terms of press freedom, most Arab countries are classified either as having noticeable problems or very serious problems.
The First Independent Arab Broadcaster
Al Jazeera is a breakthrough in the Arab world. It's the first independent Arab broadcaster to broadcast from within the Arab world. That was very very important. We are the first broadcaster to have the name of Israel on our maps. We get many complaints from viewers, asking us to remove the name Israel from our maps. But you see, we are not in this business to pull the wool over our people's eyes, as governments have done for so long. Because these same governments who claim that when they are talking about political negotiations they want UN Security Council 242 to be the basis of that, which recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist, will not come out and tell their peoples that.
We do that, and that is why we also broke the mold and began hosting Israeli politicians, journalists, commentators. Which is why we interviewed former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. And which is why former minister Natan Sharansky [leader of the Russian immigrant party in Israel] was physically within our studios at Al Jazeera. Now we are accused of being agents for normalization with the state of Israel. And to us we will take those accusations, no problem. But we believe that we are in the business of dealing with facts. And reality. The dissemination of information, not hiding things.
The Osama bin Laden Tapes
Unfortunately Al Jazeera is best known for broadcasting Osama bin Laden's messages. And that is widely reported in the Western media. However, the Western media neglects to report that after such a message is broadcast, what we do is we have analysts and commentators come in and analyze, criticize, critique what has just been delivered on the air. Because it is important for our viewers to learn what the other side of bin Laden's argument is. Now thankfully after all of these messages, either by bin Laden or by his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri -- the last one of which by al-Zawahri was a call on Arabs and Muslims to hunt down Westerners wherever they may be, even at shopping centers, and to kill them in ones, twos, or threes -- nobody has taken them up on their word, because our viewers are more sophisticated and more intelligent and smarter than that.
But we don't believe in a blackout on bin Laden. We know that if we don't broadcast that, somebody else will. Because bin Laden is news and people want to know. But we have criteria, which is why we have an interview with bin Laden that has not been broadcast and will not be broadcast, because it was conducted by one of our staff, and we deemed his questioning of bin Laden not challenging enough. This was not the case of a tape being delivered to us. It was one of our own. This isn't recent by the way, don't think that we know something the rest of the world doesn't know.
The Photos of American Troops Killed in Iraq
We were criticized for broadcasting the images of the America KIAs and POWs during the Iraq war. I was reporting from the [U.S.] Central Command base that night. It was night time, at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, and I was surprised to see them on the air. Nobody called up from our headquarters and said, these pictures are coming. And there they were. What I remember is, all of the world media was represented in that media center and everybody rushed into our tiny office, that tiny space. American networks, British, European, but it was mainly the Americans who were most interested. You know what their journalists did? They got paper and pen out and they started writing down: how many bodies, how many POWs, their names, their home towns. Nobody raised any ethical or moral issues about whether we should have broadcast these pictures. That was their immediate reaction, which was like ours, this is news.
We were accused of violating the Geneva Convention. Broadcasters don't violate the Geneva Convention, countries do. The graphic images? We weren't the first to broadcast such graphic images. When the Vietnamese police chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executed the Viet Cong captain in the middle of the street, those pictures went out to 20 million American viewers in 1968. The little girl running down the street with her skin peeling off as a result of the napalm bombing. It wasn't Al Jazeera that broadcast those pictures. We are not breaking any international protocol here.
Al Jazeera Airs Documentaries on the Holocaust
And at the same time, we broadcast lots of documentaries, historical documentaries. When masses of humanity were treated like trash in the Nazi concentration camps, we broadcast these pictures in documentaries for our people to see. Because that is the part of the world that we come from, that we live in. It's unfortunate, but it's a very very violent part of the world. The Americans remembers that 243 marines paid with their lives at the Marines barracks bombing in Beirut 20 years ago. 150,000 people were killed in the Lebanese war. When a car bomb goes off, we know what it means. When a bomb goes off in a movie theater with people sitting around, we know what it means. And that is why we broadcast these pictures.
Now, we are not infallible. We make mistakes, yes. But there is no malicious intent on our part. We are only seven years old. The BBC is 80. And look at how the BBC messed up in the weapons of mass destruction reporting. We come on with the 5 Ws of journalism [What, When, Where, Who, Why] and with an honest desire to maintain objectivity and professionalism. And we try as hard as we can. But it is really very very difficult. It's not just that the Americans criticize Al Jazeera. Our governments have sent delegations to Qatar, to the Emir, complaining about us. Which just makes us want to work even harder.
Programming for Women
We have a program that is dedicated to women. It is called "For Women Only." Female moderator, anchor; guests are women. And they discuss women's issues, issues like, should the woman be the sole breadwinner in a house? Actually that is a very very simple question to answer, because the Prophet Muhammad's first wife was his boss, she was his employer, he used to work for her. But unfortunately we are bogged down today in the Arab and Islamic world in arguments over things that really and truly hinder development. Which is why we try to do something different to what's been done. We have talk shows that bring people from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. And they go at it. And it's up to the viewer to judge. We have had people, Arabs, calling for American intervention and occupation of Arab countries because they think that Arab countries can change for the better that way. Arabs are saying that, and have said that.
There are people who came out in defense of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, just as people who opposed it on our screens, but it is important. This is the effect of Al Jazeera. It breaks this psychological barrier, to always have to look over your shoulder because somebody might hear what you are saying and you will get a knock in the middle of the night on your door and you might disappear for god knows how long.
We have been accused of being agents of Bin Laden and Saddam and the CIA and the Israeli Mossad and the Wahabis. As employees we don't make enough money to be agents of anyone.
That's why it's important to have more efforts in our business, to have competition. Other broadcasters are starting up now. Norm will tell you about Radio Sawa and what they do, but they also have a message. What they do is also very important, because it gives a voice to the people. A voice that hasn't been heard for decades. And that is what we also try to do, because ultimately it should be a message of enlightenment, not hatred.
Unfortunately, news is bad. It's not something that we control. We don't control the making of it. We are just in the process of reporting it. And in that very very difficult part of the world where we have no friends it gives us a greater incentive to work, because we know the risks of either losing your job or being imprisoned. It doesn't matter, because there are people who are dedicated. Because we know that an incident that takes place in one part of the world is no longer restricted due to boundaries and borders. The repercussions will be felt everywhere else, and that is why there is a very important need for communication. There is a program that goes out of Baghdad weekly, live, on Al Jazeera, where Iraqis are encouraged to come out and talk about the developments in their country. Not just about attacks and bombings and killings, no. they can go and discuss the things that are happening in Iraq. It's a live program.
There is a live program that goes out from Washington, weekly, in which Americans have a platform. And when our reporters were in Iraq during the war, yes, they reflected the Iraqi viewpoint, just as I reflected the American viewpoint from the Central Command base. That's what we were there to do.
I thank you for listening.
Nobody Listened to Voice of America's Arabic Short-Wave Radio
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. And it's good to see Omar, who I met two and a half years ago when we were in Qatar talking with [Qatar Emir] Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani and also with the foreign minister and many others in the government about the idea of putting on an American Arabic language broadcasting service that people will listen to. The state of the art for us in the Middle East was that the entire commitment to broadcasting in Arabic to the Middle East until the advent of Radio Sawa was seven hours a day of Arabic language programming produced by the Arabic service of the Voice of America, distributed over short-wave that nobody listened to, and out of a very very weak medium wave signal out of the island of Rhodes which was only audible at night and then only most of the coastal areas of the Levant.
When I was appointed to the Broadcasting Board [of Governors] by President Clinton, I was in fact the only broadcaster who was on that board. The board was created in 1998 when the USIA, which used to oversee international broadcasting, was moved into the State Department. Congress created the Broadcasting Board of Governors on which I serve to oversee the broadcasting end of what was USIA, because they felt that broadcasting had a separate and distinct public diplomacy mission as opposed to what was going into the State Department. So they created the board. The board is composed of nine members: eight private citizens, all presidentially appointed and confirmed by the Senate. But private citizens. This is a part-time job. I have a full-time job, even though frankly my shareholders have been very helpful to me by not screaming and yelling about the fact that this part-time job has turned pretty much into a full-time job. But it is such an incredibly important job, and it is one that is so exciting and so vital and so interesting that it is something that I just could not say no to.
Our Mission Is a Journalistic Mission
The Secretary of State also serves as an ex officio member on the board and is generally represented by the undersecretary for public diplomacy. But one of the main reasons that the Broadcasting Board of Governors was created was that Congress in its wisdom wanted us to act as a firewall between the independence of our journalists and the pressures that might be put on us by the State Department, or the administration, or Congress, or whatever. Because the reality is that with international broadcasting around the world, and certainly being a U.S. sponsored broadcasting organization, the first thing that we have to get around is the fact that a lot of people just think of us as the mouthpiece for the United States government, when in fact our mission is a journalistic mission. Our mission simply stated is to promote and sustain freedom and democracy through the free flow of accurate, reliable, and credible news and information about America and the world audiences overseas.
In so many words, we are to be an example of a free press in the American tradition in many places around the world where there is no such thing. When the history of media is written there will be a large place in it for Al Jazeera. Because it was the first Middle Eastern broadcaster who broke the cardinal rule that one Arab country doesn't criticize another Arab country. Al Jazeera criticizes everybody. Everybody. Which is the reason why many times you will read where those of us in the trade will find out that a bureau has been closed down or a correspondent has been asked to leave the country, because, you know, government sponsorship of radio can work, but it can only work if the journalistic organization is allowed to have the integrity and the credibility to be believable. And once you don't have that you don't have any credibility and you don't attract an audience.
U.S. Propaganda Media in Iraq Has Been a Miserable Failure
There's a case in point right now. The U.S. efforts in broadcasting in Iraq. The television and radio efforts in Iraq are being overseen by the Defense Department, by the Pentagon. It's not an operation that has been given to the Broadcasting Board of Governors, even though I think that is about the change. But it has been a miserable failure. It has been a miserable failure because even with the best of intentions going into Iraq and trying to create a public radio-type scenario, using the journalists from the region, having it run primarily by Iraqis, for Iraqis, eventually to be given to Iraqis, it just hasn't worked out. Because what has happened is you are going into a country where there has been no press freedom for thirty, forty years. The journalists who were working for the Ministry of Information know how to do the kind of news and informational gathering that they did for the government. And that, of course, was going to cause immediate problems for the Defense Department people and for the Coalition people and for Bremer and his group that oversees all that.
So consequently the kind of programming that was put up was not the kind of programming that was viewed as being either reliable or credible or honest. And that whole operation just broke down to being perceived as the mouthpiece for Bremer and his group of people. You know, I think they had the best of intentions. But the problem is when you put broadcasting in places like the Defense Department or the CIA it not only has a negative effect on your ability to have any credibility. Those are organizations that are not journalistic organizations. They are not broadcast organizations. And their mission is not the same as ours. Their mission is more influencing than reporting the news straight up and letting the listeners or the viewers decide for themselves.
So consequently I think that it is in the new bill that is just coming out of the House and Senate and that will be signed by the president in fairly short order, the $87 billion. I am told there is another chunk of funding that is going to go to the Broadcasting Board of Governors for us to do a specific Iraqi stream of television programming which will be part of our Middle East television network but with roughly ten or twelve hours directed strictly to Iraq. And we anticipate getting the Middle East television network up at the end of January and the Iraqi broadcast stream right after that.
How I Came to Found Radio Sawa
Let me sort of tell you where I am coming from and why being the only broadcaster on the board has made some changes. I'm no longer the only broadcaster on the board. There are now other broadcasters on the board. But at the time that I came on, since I was the only broadcaster, they asked me to be the chairman of the Language Review Subcommittee, which is the committee that is mandated by Congress to annually determine how our resources are divided up among the 60 some odd languages that we broadcast in all over the world. And, you know, the information age has made it abundantly clear that priorities change all the time. So every year we take a look at the places where we need to put more of our focus. Well I told you what I discovered when I first came on the board about the abysmal amount of resources and the practically zero impact that VOA Arabic service was having at the time. When I reported that back to the board as part of my responsibilities in the Language Review Committee, the board said, you are absolutely right, congratulations Norm, you are now the chairman of the Middle East Committee, go fix it.
So within two weeks I was on a plane with my wife and a couple of staffers, and we visited many many countries in the region. It was a fact finding mission to find out what was possible. And where we could get access to twenty-first century transmission, not short-wave radio and things of that sort. And in going through the region we found that, certainly among the more moderate Arab governments, there was tremendous opportunity to get the kind of transmission resources that we need. We now have I think sixteen FM stations throughout the Middle East in places like Amman, which broadcast to Amman, the West Bank, and Gaza. We have an FM frequency in Ramallah. We are in Abu Dhabi, we're in Dubai, Bahrain, we're in Kuwait. We also have a new FM signal in northern Jordan that booms right into Damascus, and several others -- north Africa, in Morocco, and of course, now we have three FM stations that are broadcasting in Iraq, in Baghdad, Basrah, and in Mosul if I am not mistaken. We are a work in progress.
Market Surveys to Test the Potential Audience
Now, what is it that has made Radio Sawa so different from what U.S. international broadcasting has typically been? The main thing is that we use twenty-first century proven broadcasting techniques to put our radio station on the air. Which means that it is heavily researched. Before we ever did anything in the region we did a lot of research. We employed research companies and companies that one would use in launching a new radio or television station anywhere in the world. And when we got all the research back, we determined that [there was an] opportunity for us to have an impact, a significant impact, not reaching one or two percent of the audience, but the ability to reach ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty percent of audiences, and in some places even higher than that.
In the broadcasting business, which is my livelihood, when we do a survey to determine what we are going to program in a new TV or new radio station we look for the hole in the marketplace. Which means, where's the opportunity to present something that's not already presented? In many cases you just have to go in and be competitive with everybody who is already on in the market. But we go and we look for the opportunity. The opportunity: there was a hole in that marketplace that was big enough to drive a fleet of Mac trucks through. First of all, over 60 percent of the population in that region is under that age of thirty, and they were not being superserved by anybody, in the international media or the indigenous media. And the indigenous media, especially in radio -- not the case in television, where there are a lot of good things happening and there is a rich media environment, you know, Al Jazeera has spawned competitors who are making it a richer media environment -- but in radio everything was pretty dull and pretty drab, and it sounded like government radio. And people were interested in something that didn't sound like government radio, so we gave it to them.
An Arabic Pop Song Followed by a Western Pop Song
Radio Sawa is music driven; 75 percent of our programming throughout most of our program hours is music. Heavily researched music. We generally play and Arabic pop song followed by a Western pop song. And then we'll have news, five to ten minutes in length, twice an hour, with headlines at the top and bottom of the hour. And the wrap on Al Jazeera -- I keep giving you publicity here when I should be plugging my own thing. The wrap on Radio Sawa was, by the traditionalists in international broadcasting, well, they'll listen to the music but they won't listen to the news. Because the Arab street hates U.S. policies. The popularity of America is at an all-time low, which in fact it is. And they'll just listen to the music, they won't even care about the news.
We didn't think that would be the case. Because our research showed a lot of things. We did a lot of advance research, and one thing that was very clear was that the Arab street does not believe that the news and information that they were getting from most of their media outlets is truthful, or reliable, or credible. I mean, one of the reasons why Al Jazeera was such a fantastic success out of the box was because they were so different than everybody else. They sounded different, they looked different, and they gave the kind of news and information that people were interested in hearing. And they continue to do that. They are a very very good judge of who their audience is. And that's critical.
We have a new five-year plan at the Broadcasting Board of Governors that is called "marrying the mission to the market." Which means, we know what our mission is. I had said what our mission was. It is a journalistic mission but it is to be an example of a free press in the American tradition. But the market, we had never spent any time looking at the market, because basically there weren't any broadcasters on the Broadcasting Board. And there aren't a whole lot of broadcasters at any of the services. There are primarily journalists. Now journalism is the product, and there is an awful lot of really great journalism that nobody is getting to hear because not enough time is being spent marketing the product in a way that will appeal to a mass audience.
So what we did was go out and not only research our music on a weekly basis in six different cities, but we also research the kinds of features that will resonate with our audience. And when we started going out and asking what kind of features are you interested in hearing on a radio station, before we ever launched, we got back things that, you know, you might be surprised. They were interested in features on marriage, dating, computers, the internet, sports, entertainment, religion. An awful lot of the same kind of features that any fifteen to twenty-five year old, which is who we primarily target, would be interested in all over the world.
So what happened when we launched Radio Sawa? Well, from the very beginning it sounded so different and it was so appealing -- because it really sounds like a Western contemporary music station, a pop station. It clearly attracted an audience. Some of our detractors would say, "Well, we shouldn't be in the business of playing Western music. We should be giving them the information." Well the fact of the matter is, they don't like most of the information they get about the United States, because most of the information about the United States comes from the indigenous media. And most of the broadcasters in the indigenous media, you can imagine that there is a good deal of anti-American sentiment. Not just because of our policies, which are completely unpopular in the region, but because many of the broadcasters know who their constituencies are and they broadcast to appeal to their own constituencies.
You know, back when I made my first trip to the region, it was not unusual to hear hate speak on radio and television. Incitement to violence. Disinformation, government censorship, and journalistic self-censorship. And it was from within that kind of environment that the Arab street was getting its impressions, not only of U.S. policy, but of our people, of our culture, of our society. So we really felt that at the very least the United States needed a horse in this race. So what were we going to do? Go out and lead with policy? Well that wasn't going to attract an audience. People thought that they knew what the American policy was. And of course we continue to report on American policy.
42% of Young People Listen to Radio Sawa in Five Arab Countries
So instead of doing that we went out and we used music as a tool to attract a younger audience. And it has worked phenomenally well. We've been doing research on a weekly basis since we first went on the air. So some of the information I am going to pass on to you now was not surprising to us when we contracted with A.C. Nielsen to do an independent study of how Radio Sawa was doing, and how it is doing today. And this is a study that was just completed just a few weeks ago. We surveyed Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE [United Arab Emirates], and Kuwait, because those were the places where we had been broadcasting to the longest.
It's really quite spectacular. When you take a look at those countries that I just mentioned, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait, we reach an average of 32% of the fifteen plus audience in those countries. What's really amazing about those kinds of audience shares is that in many of the countries, like Egypt, we have a powerful AM signal but we don't broadcast from inside Egypt, so that signal is only audible from dusk to dawn in most places, and not audible at all in other places. And in Jordan, for instances, where we have a 30 share of fifteen plus listeners, that's only half the country, because we are only heard on FM stations that reach half the population. So when you go in and you take a look at a place like Amman, for instance, we're being listened to -- as a matter of fact the first research we did on Amman we asked the question, What is your favorite radio station? This was within thirty days of going on the air. 50% said Radio Sawa, and over 90% said they listened to it on a regular basis. Then we asked the question, which station do you listen to for news? 1% of our audience said Radio Sawa. When we asked those same questions six months later, 50% still said we were their favorite radio station, over 90% of the people still listened to it on a regular basis. But 41% said Radio Sawa was the station they listened to most for news.
So what does it mean? It means that you have to develop credibility by walking the walk. When we asked the question going in, would you listen to a radio station that was brought to you by the American government? 60% said yes, which meant that 40% said no. But a 60% number to somebody in the radio business is a giant number. These kinds of shares of audience are incredible. They are the kind of shares of audience one might have remembered seeing in television twenty-five years ago when there were only three networks here in the United States. But when you continue with the Nielsen numbers, when you take at look at just our target audience, the fifteen to thirty-year-old audience, over 42% of the fifteen to twenty-nine-year-old audience say they listen regularly to Radio Sawa.
What about a couple of other things? How do our listeners now feel, not just in Amman, Jordan, but all over the region about the reliability and credibility of our news? When you asked the question about reliability and truthfulness we find that an average of 75% of our listeners consider our news reliable and credible, which keeps us right up at the top with local indigenous media. Frankly it puts us way ahead of most of the indigenous media. And it's similar to what they feel in terms of reliability and credibility about the BBC. But remember that we have a much larger audience than the BBC.
It Is Not Our Job to Change Attitudes, It's Our Job to Report the News
And then a lot of the questions that we get asked when we talk about Sawa in Congress and at the State Department and so forth are, Well, this is all well and good, but are you changing any attitudes? First of all, let me say, it is not our job to change attitudes. It's our job to report the news. Now historically in the history of this country when you have taken the news and you've done it in such a way that it is an example of a free press, those kinds of things make people feel better about democracy and freedom. Because when they get the information that they have to listen to and it's reliable information, of course the people who bring you that information tend to get a great deal of credibility as well.
But when A. C. Nielsen asked the question about how favorably or unfavorably inclined are you towards the United States, by a three-to-two margin Sawa listeners had a much more positive attitude toward the United States than did non-Sawa listeners or listeners from the general population. So it's very very clear that we are having some kind of effect and the effect is going to be positive. But by the same token we haven't gotten into this thing overnight. It's going to take a lot of time to turn things around, if they can be turned around. Because the fact of the matter is that the Broadcasting Board of Governors does not make policy. There are a lot of people who think that we should make policy over the air. We don't make policy. And we don't do propaganda. There are other agencies within the government that do do that. But we don't.
In fact we have to compete for funding and compete for audience with other agencies within the United States government including the agency that is currently broadcasting in Iraq, who a lot of people listen to and think of as propaganda, and they're probably right. But that's not what we do, because we know that if we don't have credibility we won't have listeners. We have a saying on Radio Sawa -- incidentally, Sawa is the Arabic word for "together" -- we have a saying, You listen to us and we will listen to you. And when you listen to the features on Radio Sawa you hear a lot of our listeners asking questions that are answered by our listeners. We have call-in lines, we have interactive programs. Because it's very very important to connect with your audience.
You know, radio is a very personal medium. I daresay that radio helps define who you are. If I stepped into any of your automobiles today and took a look at the settings on your car radio I'd know something about who you are and what your tastes are. It's like walking into somebody's house and seeing the magazines that are laid out on a coffee table. If there is a magazine there about tennis it's probably a pretty good idea that maybe there is somebody in that household who likes tennis. You can do the same thing with radio.
A New Satellite Television Station
I'm going to say a couple of things about our new television project before we turn this over to the really interesting part. Because of the success of Sawa we were able to get the budget to do a new 24-hour, seven day a week Arabic language satellite television station to be broadcast and compete with the other indigenous media, with the Al Jazeeras, with the al-Arabiyas, with the MBCs and what have you. Because we think it is very very important for there to be a pipeline of information that comes to you that is distinctly American from its point of view, because we are all human beings. If you go out right now and there is a big story going on and you send somebody out from CNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, or MSNBC, they are all covering the same story, they are all examples of a free press, but the ultimate story may wind up looking three, four, five different ways. Because we are all human beings, we all interpret the news, but we have to do it according to journalistic principles that will stand the test and will allow people to think of us as a credible source of news and information, as well as a good place to go if you want other types of programming as well.
So we expect to be launching the new Middle East television network. It won't be called the Middle East television network, it will be called something else, which we are in the final processes of doing our final research on. It will have a wonderful on-the-air look. It will be news and information driven, which means that fourteen or fifteen hours a day of the programming will be news and information that we will generate from our own news staff. We have a very large news staff in the Middle East with a Middle East broadcast center in Dubai and bureaus in Baghdad and in Amman and in Cairo, and in other places. So we think we are going to put out a very good solid quality product. But ultimately you leave it up to your viewers to decide how good your product is, because they can vote with their feet. If they don't like what you are saying they can turn you off and go someplace else.
But again, it is not our business to tell them what they want to hear. When the Voice of America was first started sixty years ago, whoever it was who signed on said, "This is the Voice of America, the news that you hear may be bad, and the news that you hear may be good, but it will always be truthful." And as long as we can maintain that caliber of credibility then we have a real service to be able to put forward in what is increasingly becoming an environment where hearts and minds, at least to my way of thinking, hearts and minds are far more important than the kinds of wars that you fight with bombs and bullets. And in the information age there is a tremendous opportunity to interact with youR audience, to know your audience, and to present your country in a way that you think is in keeping with the best traditions of American freedom and democracy.
So anyway, I will end my remarks and look forward to answering your questions as I'm sure Omar will as well. Thank you.
How Do You Guard against Bias in the Media?
Geoffrey Garrett: I want to thank both Norm and Omar for their remarks. I was going to say that it was very lucky for both of them and for us that they compete in different mediums, because there was a bit of dynamism going there on both the television bands and the radio dial. Of course since Norm is quite a dynamic person he wanted to get into the TV game as well, but I am sure this will be very healthy competition. I wanted, as would be my custom, to abuse this position I have to ask the first question. Let me start with an observation. I think it would be fair to say that the media at the moment might not have ascended to the heady heights of used car salesmen and trial lawyers in terms of their credibility with the general public but I think it is fair to say at the moment that on both the left and the right, certainly in the United States and certainly in Britain, and I don't know about how it works in the Middle East, the media get pilloried on both sides. Just to think about some recent examples. I think Norm and I were at an event where a Hollywood producer, not a radio guy, Mike Medavoy, was just complaining about the fact, oh, my god, America is going to hell in a hand basket, the radical right has taken all media and is propagandizing the country.
Then of course you are sitting in the UK or someplace else and Tony Blair is completely dismayed because the BBC and the Guardian and loony lefties are criticizing him, and, gee it's a terrible world because we have the left that dominates the media. So I guess my question to the both of you concerns the extent of political pressure on the media, plus the ready availability of information. How should the media collectively walk the line between being open and free to everybody versus having the kind of objectivity that you are both aspiring to, and I guess delivering, in your own sectors? So the question is about bias in the media and I think it is fair to say that the media gets criticized for being biased in all directions all the time.
Norm Pattiz: Let me take a crack at that. You know the term broadcasting is really a misnomer any more. Broadcasting was broad. I mentioned that twenty-five, thirty years ago there were three networks in the United States and it wasn't unusual for them to have programming that delivered a 30 or a 40 share of audience. Well, you don't see that anymore. Because what's happened is, in the information age there is far more information available. Broadcasting has become narrowcasting. And a network like Fox is making a lot of noise because they are viewed as a right-wing takeover of the media in some circles. But the actual fact is their average listening audience in an average quarter hour is about 2 million people. I mean, heck, I have programs on Westwood One that get a lot bigger audience than that. But, you know, they are on television, and they are making a lot of noise. They are being covered by the other media. They have unseated CNN as the highest rated network here in the United States. So consequently CNN is now altering its approach to be more like Fox in order to keep that audience.
Over here in the United States it is a very simple proposition. It's all about the money. I mean, we're commercial broadcasters. We're not in the business of going out to win hearts and minds necessarily. If we do that as a function of the news reporting that we do, we try to put on as much balance as we can, that is all well and good. But ultimately the news business over here, not even with the exception of NPR or public television, because now they take advertising too . . . in most of the Western countries where it is the commercial networks that are providing most of the audience is developing a large enough audience to sell it to an advertiser. That's their first and foremost priority.
And one of the things that Al Jazeera does better than anybody in the Middle East is, they got that they are a narrowcaster right away, which meant that in knowing who your audience is it's important for you to go out and give them what they want to hear. I think if you take a look at Al Jazeera's programming, which I often do -- sometimes even with someone who can translate it (I told Sheik Hamad that when they were running the crawl [the text headlines at the bottom of the television screen] they ought to do an English-language crawl for all of those of us who are on the East Coast watching it in every hotel around the country, because you get Al Jazeera over there the way you see CNN internationally, it's just that it is in Arabic. But I understand that there are plans to do something in English.) -- [you will see that] the news networks out there have staked out their turf.
Fox's turf is the conservative right. CNN has always been more liberal, although they are starting to move much more to the center and to the right. MSNBC and CNBC try to put forward a much more liberal agenda, and certainly the television networks seem to be much more liberal. And National Public Radio, although working hard for balance, tends to be viewed as liberal. But when you get to places like Fox News or talk radio in the United States, those are bastions for angry, conservative listeners who make the most of their numbers by making the most noise about the issues that are discussed. So that may be just a partial answer to that question.
Diversity within Al Jazeera
Omar Al-Issawi: I think I can perhaps answer this question from our perspective in the Arab world. This concept of relative freedom of expression is new in practice and therefore we always get into big fights. Not fisticuffs, but we get into very big arguments when we are discussing news and what is and what isn't and what viewpoints should be reflected and how, when we decide what our running orders are. And it is always a very very difficult business. We understand what our viewers want. But at the same time what they want is not always good, if not to use the word right. So it puts you in a very very difficult position because one thing that you learn with time is that you should leave the inside, extract yourself and try to look from without at things. And that is a very difficult aspect of things, when there is so much emotion that's involved over there. And that is what makes it extremely hard for people when they are working with the news, for our people, who come from all levels and who have different views.
We have devout Muslims, we have liberals, we have former Marxists and current Marxists. We have all kinds of people. And they work within this organization. I can just speak about my organization. I can't speak about our competition. It makes it a very very difficult job, but it is still doable. It is still workable. I think Norm is quite right in that the broadcast, the broad aspect of it, is not really that realistic. Because you have to concentrate on something, and here it is how responsible you want to be. Because you are in people's homes. Every day. You are this uninvited guest. Yes, of course, they have the power over the remote control, but they want to see you, they want to watch you. And then it is up to you what you deliver to them. And it is an ongoing -- there is no right answer or solution. It is just an ongoing battle.
Geoffrey Garrett: We have two mikes here, and if anyone would like to ask a question it would be easiest if you made it to one of said mikes.
Why Does Al Jazeera Use the Term "Shahid" [Martyr]?
Question: Just as an example I would like to give, I watch Al Jazeera by the way every night. My wife is very angry with me that I am over-devoted to Al Jazeera, but because it is very good. Yet there are some problems occasionally, especially with language. Especially the use of the word shahid [martyr] which is often reported from Israel and Palestine. They use shahid and estushida, martyr and has become martyred. I don't think really this is proper. This is very religious term, very emotionally loaded, and the reporter if he wants to be really neutral shouldn't use this word. He should use just a normal word for a person who has been killed. The audience can conclude whatever they want, but it is not his or her role to do it.
Omar Al-Issawi: Yes.
Geoffrey Garrett: Do you want to respond or do you want to take more questions?
Omar Al-Issawi: Okay.
Question: This is Doctor Fadwa El Guindi, anthropologist at the University of Southern California [Dr. El Guindi is an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at USC] and I am very delighted to be here for this panel, having lived in this country for 38 years. I feel less claustrophobic now that there is Al Jazeera. It is now required viewing for all my students for analysis, intellectual discussions, objectivity in news, absolutely remarkable. I disagree with the former speaker about shahid. I have taped about 600 hours of Al Jazeera to do anthropological analysis of it and the reason for its success. I don't believe in Nielsen ratings. So I looked and I found that it is the authenticity. It is coming out of the culture, it is using the language of the people while presenting objective news. There is something to be learned...
Geoffrey Garrett: Do you have a question?
How Is Al Jazeera Funded?
Question (Fadwa El Guindi continues): Yes, I make an observation that fits with a question. Shirin Ebadi is that Muslim woman out of Iran who got the Nobel Prize. The feminists in this country were trying very hard to liberate the Arab and Muslim women, but it was Shirin Ebadi, who never left Iran and came out of the Islamic state, and I think there is something to learn here. Sawa may not succeed if you don't learn Arabic. They don't have to translate for you, I think you need to learn Arabic. My question is to Mr. Omar regarding, because in my analysis I see it as the most objective and the freest television station I have ever examined, and that includes all of the American media, my question is, how free is it? That is, it occurs to me, where do you get your funding. I know about the American pressure...
Geoffrey Garrett: I think that is a great question. I would be interested in the answer to that as well.
Omar Al-Issawi: So would I. I don't have details of our accounting, but I can tell you this much. We make a lot of money out of these exclusive pictures that we sell. I know that some of the pictures from the Iraq war earned us some $5 million. That is one part of it. So we do that. Many of our bureaus also provide services in terms of filming, camera rentals, and stuff like that.
We also had the vision to buy things that are called SNGs, they are called mobile satellite news gathering units. The stuff that you see coming out of Iraq or the stuff that came out of Afghanistan, whenever we get wind of a conflict that might be about to happen, we send these things over there. And it costs a lot of money for clients to rent air time on that.
We have of course received money from the Qatari government, about $137 million, as a startup broadcaster. I'm pretty sure that that has run out. But I don't have a clear cut answer.
Who Ever Heard of Qatar before Al Jazeera?
Norm Pattiz: Can I jump in on that. Let me just give you an opinion on why I don't think that money from the government will run out. I think it will always be there. And I think the reason it will be there is because who ever heard of Qatar before Al Jazeera? When I went to Qatar for the first time, which was well before 9/11, because the process of building Radio Sawa began well before 9/11. It wasn't embraced by the administration to the extent that we needed it embraced until after 9/11, but we were there before 9/11. And clearly and one of the first things that happened was, I was briefed by our embassy, and they told me a number of things that I didn't know about Qatar. Like, for instance, there was something like $30 billion of U.S. military equipment prepositioned in Qatar. They were one of our strongest military allies, as was pointed out in the Iraq war. That was where Central Command was. The Saudis faded fast and the Qataris were there for the purposes of staging. Most of those operations were staged from there. So I would suggest there is a bit of a Kabuki dance going on here. Which is, on the one hand, the government of Qatar is a very close military ally of the United States. That can't be popular in the region. On the other hand you've got Al Jazeera, which is the primary news source of the entire region, in many cases saying things that are very very negative about the United States. So I think that even if the commercial model of Al Jazeera, because Al Jazeera is a commercial station, I would suggest that you have tremendous job security there. You don't have to worry about anybody pulling the plug.
Al Jazeera's Relation to the Qatari Government
Omar Al-Issawi: I would like to talk about our relationship with the Qatari government, just very very quickly. The Qatari government: there was an attempted coup d'etat against the Emir of Qatar. Those guys were put on trial and I was sent to cover the trials. And I remember going once and sticking my microphone in front of one of these guys, the accused, and he said "They tortured us, they beat us up. They strung us up like animals." And I went to the prosecutor, and I said, they are accusing you of torture. And he said, no, we followed the letter of the law. And I went back to the station and I cut my story and went on air with it. And nobody approached me or reproached me for doing that. As a matter of fact a Tunisian colleague came up and said, they let you broadcast that? And I said yes.
And another time I went on a 21 day, seven Asian nation tour with the Emir of Qatar and did not take one frame of footage of him. And he saw me in South Korea and wanted to chat. We talked and he said, I understand you did such and such in India and Korea and this and that, but he never said why didn't you take my picture? That's very important, very refreshing to us, because that doesn't happen.
Al Jazeera and the Use of Religious Language
The question about the language. Yes. The language is a very very contentious issue. I think that you will have noticed if you watch Al Jazeera all the time that we have, for example, stopped calling bombings amaliate estishadiya, operations of martyrdom. Because we came to the conclusion, again, after so much discussion, because you have all these conflicting viewpoints represented within the station, that this is absolutely not the way to go. However, our reporters out in the field do things sometimes that are not exactly in line with the station's policy. However you cannot say that this is across the board policy on our part. And that is why when you had, especially at the height of the intifada, you had expressions of public sympathy, support for the Palestinians attempted on the screen, there were measures taken against anchors, reporters. It's not an easy job, but it is an ongoing process for us.
The labels business actually is a very difficult issue to tackle. We concentrate on the Middle East, but look at the conflict in Sri Lanka. Why are they called the Tamil Tigers and not the Tamil Terrorists, for example, in Sri Lanka? When the FARC in Colombia set off huge car bombs in Medellin or Bogota or whatever, how come they are the FARC rebels, again? So this is an ongoing discussion really and it is something that cannot be resolved very easily.
Will the Future of the Arab World Be Religious or Secular?
Question: This is directed to Mr. Al-Issawi. The question contains a premise which you may feel free to agree or disagree with. But, who do you believe is likely to win what I see as the ongoing civil war within the Muslim world for the hearts and minds of the Muslim peoples as to whether the future of those peoples lies in nations ruled by sharia, administered by governments ultimately under the control of priests, as we see an example in Iran, of course, versus the concept of nations ruled by laws established by elected legislatures responsive to the will of the majority of the people? And you will notice that I have left out the option of nations ruled by military dictatorships because I believe that democracy in the Muslim world is not only possible but inevitable.
Omar Al-Issawi: I think that a lot of the things that are attributed to Islamic sharia have nothing to do with Islamic sharia. Case in point, when people say, oh yes, Islam, women have to stay at home. And it's got nothing to do with Islam, because it has been proven in the Islamic past that women have a tremendous role to play. Which is why for example Egyptian women got the full right to vote before British women did. They were Muslims back then, too, in the 1920s of the last century.
However, there is a problem with this misrepresentation of Islam from within the Islamic world. Because a lot of things are attributed to Islam when they are actually just the result of customs and traditions. And this is what people say, now. This is the subject of discussion: customs and traditions. This is the catch phrase that is being used. And throughout Islamic societies in history what we have seen is models where there was a lot of tolerance. And that's why in Islamic culture you have something that is called the poetry of wine. That is, in strict religious terms, against Islamic sharia. However at the same time it existed when there were Muslim empires throughout history. This is just one small example.
But at the same time we have to look also at the role of minorities in the Arab world today. Today you hear the message of bin Laden calling Christians and Jews infidels. Right? But in the Quran they are the people of the book. That is how the Quran describes the Christians and the Jews. Which is why Muslims are permitted, for example, to marry Christians and Jews, and why Muslims can consume Kosher food if they cannot find halal food. And as a matter of fact I was reading something today about 19% of Kosher food being consumed by Muslims today. So there is a problem from within. And the struggle has not yet surfaced about where we are going and how we are going to get there. But there is a realization, I mean if you read the latest Arab Human Development report of 2003 by the UNDP, the situation is disastrous. It's a situation that is characterized by major problems in knowledge, freedom, and women's empowerment. But if you look at Sawahari [Western Sahara] women and compare them with Moroccan women, and geographically they are very very close, Sawahari women have the right to divorce their husbands, and they are still Muslim women.
Why Is Al Jazeera Portrayed So Negatively in the U.S. Media?
Question: I just wanted to thank you guys for coming here and also I'd like to know why do you think Al Jazeera is portrayed so negatively in the United States by the U.S. media?
Norm Pattiz: I think Al Jazeera is certainly, because of the fact that it is so widely watched and so well known now, the media business is a competitive business, ABC doesn't speak glowingly of NBC usually. But I think a lot of what you hear and see on Al Jazeera, taken in a Middle Eastern context, is certainly felt to be appropriate, balanced, credible. But one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. When you take some of that same information and you broadcast it to an audience over here, it's not viewed in the same way. It seems to be anti-American. It seems to be inflammatory. It seems to be a lot of things that are not particularly endearing to U.S. news audiences. And of course U.S. news media are interested in broadcasting things that are controversial and will build up their numbers and get more listeners and viewers. So there is an interesting dichotomy there.
But I will say this. Al Jazeera -- to me there are two distinct parts of Al Jazeera. There is the news coverage and there is the talk shows. So when people say to me, is Al Jazeera the CNN of the Middle East? I say yeah, they are the CNN of the Middle East, but in some ways they are also the Jerry Springer. You are talking about a very passionate and emotional part of the world. And some very strong feelings and subjects that are brought up. When you watch a talk show on Al Jazeera, they are at each other's throats a lot of the time. They are getting up and down. I mean, it's not really Jerry Springer, I am just trying to talk about the kind of action that you wouldn't be used to seeing on a U.S. talk show. Because that stuff is very interesting and it sells and it attracts an audience. And if it attracts an audience, that is good for the other programming, because you can promote your other programming through that audience and you can sell it to your advertisers because it still is a commercial vehicle.
So I am not all that concerned, and I don't think you guys are either. As a matter of fact I think frankly at your stage of development being considered anti-U.S. and controversial is not a bad thing. Everybody serves different audiences. You get two people in the room watching the same broadcast, especially on something like the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, they will be watching the same news, the same footage, the same commentary, and they are both still going to feel two different ways about it. So there are very emotional issues that are being dealt with and the fact is that there are a lot of people who are going to feel the way they feel no matter what you do and no matter what kind of information you bring them. In our way of doing things we try to reach the reachable. We try to broadcast to everybody but we recognize that this is a long hard slog and the fact that maybe the opinion of America over there and of Al Jazeera over here, we are both suffering because of that, but I don't think either of us are real worried about it.
Sawa Will Fail Because It Exploits Commercialism
Question: My question is to Sawa. You think in a sense what you are doing exactly is a business in the Middle East. Exactly as the American government has gone for an unjust war in Iraq, for business. You are telling me how you want to promote commercialism and globalization. And this is how I understand Sawa. And it will never be successful in the Middle East.
Norm Pattiz: Let me say this. First of all the research would indicate that you are wrong. Okay. The research would indicate that we are succeeding in the Middle East. The research would indicate that in the places where Sawa is broadcast it is far and away, not even close, the most popular radio station among the audience that we go after. I mean, I have visited the region many times and one of the reasons we were not surprised by the Nielsen research, which is not our research but A. C. Nielsen, one of the reasons that we were not surprised by that is because we do our own research on a weekly basis to determine the music that we play, and then we ask those other questions as well, about our news commentary, about the popularity of our news vis-a-vis other news broadcasters in the area, and so forth. So I don't think it's fair to sit there to say that we will never be successful because the facts on the ground would prove that right now, depending on how you define success -- if defining success means that an obviously American broadcaster can have an audience that is larger than any other audience in the cities that it broadcasts in, where that audience, knowing that this is an American broadcaster, considers that news reliable and credible and, in many places, the most reliable and credible, and that the listeners to Radio Sawa have a more positive view of the United States than do non-listeners to Radio Sawa, then I don't know what your benchmark for success is, but from my standpoint you make an interesting comment.
The other thing I would want to say in response to that is, just to sit there and say that we are a tool of the United States government who only went into Iraq for commercial gain and so forth, I think it is very interesting that the $87 billion bill that is going to be signed into law shortly, that the big debate over here was whether that ought to be a loan or not. And it is kind of interesting that it is always the Democrats, who said we shouldn't be there in the first place, and it's the Democrats who say, don't just give the money away, make it a loan.
What Lies Ahead for the Arab World?
Question: I just wanted to say that the amount of bombing that happened caused over $100 billion in damage. My question, representing the United Arab Society here at UCLA, we'd like to ask Mr. Al-Issawi what his projection is concerning the breakthrough that Al Jazeera started and how would you project the chain reaction in the Middle East? How would it follow? And in particular, in Lebanon, you mentioned that it was dealt a tremendous blow during the civil war. How do you feel that Lebanon is reemerging as the leader or the second to Al Jazeera as far as freedom of the press goes?
Omar Al-Issawi: I think it is very important to have competition because you can't run in a race all by yourself. It makes you work harder. Yes, there are broadcasters coming up. And I am not coming to the defense of Radio Sawa here, but Radio Sawa is important in the sense that it's another medium that allows people a voice. You hear people, real people's voices, on it. And people know that this is an American project, but they participate. Because it gives them a platform to air their opinions about subjects that are very very dear to their hearts but they've never been consulted on before.
What does the future hold for us? The change must be encouraged if we are to get anywhere. Because the problem is that right now, I mean, some of these numbers: The Arab world has 18 PCs per thousand people; the global average is 78. We have one fifth of Arabs who make less than $2 a day. And you have half of Arab women who can't read and write. The media has a very very big role to play over here, but it depends on how much leeway they are going to be given by governments. And people have to push.
Lebanon. There are attempts at rebuilding in Lebanon. However, how much is being invested in the rebuilding of human beings also and not just the infrastructure? That is another thing that is worth considering. It is these issues that we must come to terms with. Look, I am to be honest, okay. You are an Arab. I'm an Arab. Yes? We have this tradition of talking about the problems bequeathed to us by colonialism, the conspiracies by imperialism and Zionism. But it's time that we also took a good look within ourselves and within our societies. There should be some kind of a catharsis also in Arab societies. I think that for the future I can only be optimistic. There is no way, because of my two little boys, that I can be anything but optimistic. But it's going to be very hard. It's not going to be quick and it's not going to easy, and it's not going to be simple. But there are people who believe that there is a way. And we are working on it and we will continue to do so. So, good luck to everybody.
Published: Tuesday, November 04, 2003