Wartime propaganda

Middle East | Arab stations exploit graphic images and doctor footage to pump anti-Israel, anti-U.S. fervor

Issue: "Help on the inside," Aug. 12, 2006

When war erupted in Israel and Lebanon on July 12, some Arab leaders criticized Hezbollah for its reckless cross-border death raid and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that sparked the conflict. Now, as a steady stream of graphic images is being published in newspapers and broadcast to a sea of satellite dishes perched randomly on balconies and rooftops across the Middle East, public protests against Israel have drowned any criticism of Hezbollah and its cronies. An old Arab saying has risen from the annals: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Headlines such as "Israelis granted more time to kill" and cartoons mocking U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have taken center stage as the Israel-Hezbollah conflict eclipses war in Iraq. Arab media coverage has focused intently upon numbers: More than 500 Lebanese have died compared to 51 Israelis since fighting began.

Abdel Bari Taher, a Yemeni political analyst at the Yemeni Center for Study and Research, gives two reasons for the growing anger in the Middle East: "The confrontation with Israel is always in the Arab mind." Arabs also view Lebanon "as the beating heart of the region-the media, cultural and tourism center-anything that happens in Lebanon affects the larger Arab world automatically," he said.

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The death of more than 50 Lebanese women and children during an Israeli rocket attack in Qana is the latest event to rouse the Arab world, and the images emanating from this scene and others are shaping Arab public opinion. In the month's worst incident of civilian casualties, an Israeli missile struck a house on July 30 where several families were huddled in a basement. Almost 60 people-mostly women and children-were crushed to death as the building collapsed.

Israeli leaders released images they say prove Hezbollah recently launched missiles from the small town, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret for the misguided attack. "I am sorry from the bottom of my heart for all deaths of children or women in Qana," he said. "We did not search them out. . . . They were not our enemies and we did not look for them."

But pictures often speak louder than words, and the images from this scene are troubling: the lifeless body of a baby boy with a blue pacifier still dangling from his shirt and row after row of bloodied bodies being prepared for burial. Unlike the majority of news reports in the United States, those printed and broadcast across the Middle East are often graphic, showing severed limbs and disemboweled bodies.

After the Qana bombing, Arab channels aired back-to-back emotional interviews with eyewitnesses. Al-Arabiya edited into the story smiling Israeli soldiers. Al-Jazeera added to news clips out-of-context statements from U.S. leaders. The Hezbollah-run television station al-Manar is the most scornful: The station added a swastika and Hitler-like mustache to video of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, coupled with dramatic music and drawings of missiles with U.S. flags.

Al-Manar is banned in a handful of Western nations-including the United States-but continues to broadcast across the Middle East from secret locations in Lebanon since a July 13 attack on the station leveled its site.

Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a political scientist at Emirates University, said the news coverage of Lebanon is fueling Arab hatred not only of Israel, but also of the United States: "People hold America morally and politically responsible for this. They hate America at this point, and it will last," he said. "They see the destruction of Iraq and Palestine on a daily basis. And now they see destruction in Lebanon on a daily basis. The blame leads through Tel Aviv and straight to Washington."

Satellite station standout

Sat-7 expands despite war and persecution

With bombs raining on Lebanon, anger and frustration reverberating through the satellite channels in the region, one station with production studios in the heart of Lebanon airs a unique message of hope. Ten years ago, Sat-7 became the first Christian satellite channel to broadcast into the region, and today the locally run ministry airs round-the-clock in 21 countries across the Middle East. "These positive messages stand in stark contrast to televised rage and political anger being shown on most channels in the Arab world," Sat-7 CEO Terence Ascott contends.

From Fez to Cairo to the war-ridden streets of Beirut and Mosul, satellite dishes have sprouted like mushrooms, bringing war-zone reports as well as once off-limits discussions into living rooms. Even in Iran, where the dishes are banned, locals risk fines because they know there aren't enough government officials to police millions of devices.

Before satellites became commonplace, Sat-7 began with a vision to legitimize the Christian presence in the Middle East and bring hope to the region. Sat-7's first broadcast on May 31, 1996, will "go down in the history of Arab Christianity," said former Sat-7 Egypt director Fouad Youssef. "It opened the gates for other creative ministries-as if everyone was waiting for someone to take the first step." Programming includes coverage of Christians helping Lebanese refugees, Bible teaching, and children's programs.

From a handful of employees and a production studio assembled in a small Cairo kitchen, Sat-7 has grown to 5-6 million regular viewers across the Middle East. Most employees are nationals and 80 percent of programming is produced locally. Broadcasting from Cyprus, it now owns production studios in Egypt and Lebanon, and program quality exceeds much of what airs on the 250-plus Arabic channels.

With thousands of Christians leaving the region, discouraged by persecution, war, and isolation, the role of Christian programming is more important than ever. "[Middle East Christians] often feel isolated and abandoned by the West. They do need a lot of encouragement, particularly in areas of conflict like Iraq," Sat-7 Communication Manager David Harder told WORLD.

Even in wartime, satellite broadcasting continues to expand with no sign of slowing down. In the Middle East and north Africa, 38 percent of homes have satellite television. One study estimates that number will grow to 68 percent by 2010. To grow with the market, Sat-7 this year began a Turkish broadcast.

But dangers still remain. In a region where some freedom is gaining footholds in part through the penetrating technology of satellite television, evidence of conversions can still be grounds for repercussions. But with satellite signals virtually impossible to block and a growing expanse of satellite dishes littering Middle East rooftops, Sat-7 airwaves can go where mortals fear to tread.


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