Saturday, August 16, 2008

al-Manar extends its broadcasts to Indonesia

While many television viewers in the Arab world detest al-Manar, the station has an impressive following in several regional markets. For example, it is the main source of news in Bahrain, and it is popular among some Palestinian viewers in the West Bank and Jordan. When I lived in Egypt from 2006 to 2007 I was surprised to discover that a number of middle class Egyptians consider it their preferred source of news.

The station features clips of Hezbollah's exploits against Israel, usually dramatically narrated with plenty of bass. Much like Fox in the US gives much of its news coverage a predictable twist, so does al-Manar. In the case of al-Manar, the twist is anti-Israeli and anti-American. Shows are punctuated by footage from the 2006 war, emphasizing Hezbollah's "victory" and the devastation inflicted on Lebanon by Israel. While there are certainly some shows on al-Manar that may be described as "straight news" (for instance, the evening review of tomorrow's headlines in the regional press), no one watching the station would have any trouble quickly discovering the station's editorial position.

Now al-Manar is extending its broadcasts to Indonesia. In recent years, although Indonesia is thousands of miles from the Middle East, Indonesian Muslims have begun to talk more about the occupation of Jerusalem by Israel. While I would be surprised if al-Manar gains a massive audience among Indonesia's nearly 200 million Muslims, I have no doubt that it will find an audience. As a result, U.S. public diplomacy, which has not been winning many gold medals in the last decade, will find its job that much tougher.

The U.S. has already moved to shut down the broadcasts, but the Indonesians say "no", it is a commercial decision and the U.S. should butt out.

LEBANON: Hezbollah TV draws U.S. ire | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times

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