Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:02 pm (KSA) 17:02 pm (GMT)

Al Arabiya changed Arab media: Channel Director

Al-Rashed has led Al-Arabiya since 2004 (File)
Al-Rashed has led Al-Arabiya since 2004 (File)

Al Arabiya's general manager Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed said the channel has scored a "major victory" by changing the rules of Arab journalism – moving away from one-sided reporting towards a more balanced recounting of the facts, recent press reports said.

''You have to remember, it was television that made bin Laden into a celebrity,'' Al-Rashed told the New York Times. ''That made al-Qaeda, and its recruiting, and this is how violence spread throughout the region.''

Al-Rashed – who the paper described as an affable, soft-spoken 52-year-old – began to set a new standard for journalism when he took over as head of Al Arabiya News Channel in 2004.

''Three years ago, most of the TV stations -- and you can add to that the newspapers and Web sites -- were taking one side on most issues,'' the paper quoted him saying. ''They were very much for the resistance in Iraq…[Al Qaeda] was, if not celebrated by the media, then accepted, and in a big way defended by them."

The change is evident: ''Now Jazeera is a very soft, reasonable station when it comes to the Iraqis,'' Al-Rashed told the leading U.S. daily.

Among other changes he noted, Iraqi insurgents are no longer called the muqaawama or resistance, but musulaheen or armed men. And Iraqis killed by Americans are not necessarily "martyrs" but civilians who have been killed.

''Our issue has always been: give a chance to understand the other point of view,'' he said. ''I think there is a sense now, in the Arab media, that both sides should be shown, and this is a major victory.''

Al-Rashed told the Times he faced resistance at first, with some reporters seeing his attitude as an abandonment of Arab loyalties. But only a few quit in protest, said the veteran newsman, who was born in Saudi Arabia, and spent 17 years in London. He was editor-in-chief of the prominent Saudi-owned paper Asharq Al-Awsat, before taking the top job at Al Arabiya.

Soon after he started, Al-Rashed provoked anger and gratitude across the Islamic world by writing in a column that ''not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that most terrorists are Muslims.''

As a result of the nuanced coverage, some accuse Al Arabiya of being pro-American. But surveys show Al Arabiya is the market leader in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Gulf, and a key contender in all other Arab markets.

Al-Rashed said he is confident that Al Arabiya will continue on its present course, and that his campaign to inject moderation into the Arab political discourse has not been in vain, the paper reported.

''It's not about me,'' he said. ''It's about an idea: don't try to change politics directly. Just try to change the media for the better. And I think the result will be a better Arab world.''

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