How Arab TV Stations Cover Mideast Crisis

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 4, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Israeli airstrikes are pounding the Christian heartland in northern Lebanon. For the first time, attacks are targeting bridges and roads working to cut off Lebanon's ties to the outside world, particularly Syria. This is affecting the people of Lebanon.

Here in the U.S. we are seeing damage of attacks on both sides of the border on TV. What are the Arab satellite news networks showing?

Michael O'Hanlon is here live. He is a commentator on one of the Arab TV channels. O'Hanlon is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

So, Michael, you go on these shows like you go on this one, and you get to hear what the other guests are saying. What is the tone of the opinion about this conflict among the Arabs?


Of course, it depends on the network. The one that I work most with is Al Hurrah, which is a U.S. government-funded organization, sort of like Voice of America. Independently run, but ultimately not going to be unfriendly to the United States.

They do a nice job of giving some legitimate Arab views, but with a little bit of a balance, and they try to avoid some of the most grisly footage. For example, last weekend, when I was doing some Al Hurrah, we were looking at other imagery and hearing that Al-Jazeera, which is run, as you know, in Qatar, on the Gulf, was showing some of the worst imagery imaginable from the accidental Israeli airstrike that killed all the women and children. And so that kind of visual of course is one of the big, important things.

You point out that we do see both sides here in the United States, and they show both sides on Al Hurrah. They always have correspondents in Beirut as well as in northern Israel. There tends to be of course a lot more visible damage in Lebanon and so you see quite a bit more of that, but they make an effort to show balance. I think some of the other networks go more for the shock value.

GIBSON: OK. Now, even on these Arab satellite television stations, are they holding Hezbollah responsible at all for this, or is this just entirely the fault of Israel and the U.S.?

O'HANLON: Certainly on Al Hurrah, what I have heard is that people typically blame Hezbollah for starting the problem. I don't think Al Hurrah is trying to avoid the most anti-Israeli commentators, but they are going for a balance and they are going for a back-and-forth dialogue that makes some sense. So people do acknowledge as a matter of routine that Hezbollah started this. But you will hear some questioning about, first of all, Hezbollah did something bad. They kidnapped two Israelis and they killed a couple, but was this really worth starting a whole regional war over when there had been five or six years of relative quiet before? So you get some debate on that point.

You get a lot of debate about whether Israel should have been bombing civilian infrastructure. In fact, very few people have any sympathy for that whatsoever, and I think it's been a big public relations hit for Israel. Even those who understand while Israel had to strike back and went after Hezbollah's tactical targets in the south, you virtually never hear any sympathy for the attacks on civilian infrastructure in Beirut, for example, the power plants.

GIBSON: Is the fact acknowledged by the U.N. that Hezbollah blends in with civilians and draws fire? Is that acknowledged?

O'HANLON: Yes. And in fact, last Sunday, which was such a tragic day, of course, there was quite a bit of recognition of that fact, and people more than willing — again, on Al Hurrah, which is a little more balanced than some of them — to acknowledge that yes, indeed, this was perhaps a Hezbollah tactic and certainly not an intentional Israeli action. You only heard one or two people insinuate that it might have been intentional. Everybody else knew that was nonsense.

GIBSON: Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and appearing on Arab TV once in a while.

Michael, thanks a lot.

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