Today's New York Times has an op-ed from Frank Stewart, a Jerusalem-based professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, warning that the BBC's plans to start an Arabic-language TV station could easily end up making the West look even worse in the Arab world, rather than begin to add some balance. "If the BBC models its Arabic television service on its Arabic radio service, yet another anti-Western, antidemocratic channel will find its place on the Arab screen," Stewart writes.
Here's an excerpt:
The BBC World Service plans to start an Arabic television service this fall, and the BBC knows what it is doing. It has been broadcasting in Arabic on the radio for more than 60 years and has a huge audience.
This new television station might sound like good news for America. Many of us pick up BBC broadcasts in English, and we respect their quality. But the World Service in English is one thing, and the World Service in Arabic is another entirely. If the BBC’s Arabic TV programs resemble its radio programs, then they will be just as anti-Western as anything that comes out of the Gulf, if not more so. They will serve to increase, rather than to diminish, tensions, hostilities and misunderstandings among nations.
For example, a 50-minute BBC Arabic Service discussion program about torture discussed only one specific allegation, which came from the head of an organization representing some 90 Saudis imprisoned at Guantánamo. This speaker stated that the prisoners were subject to disgusting and horrible forms of torture and suggested that three inmates reported by the United States to have committed suicide were actually killed. Another participant insisted that the two countries guilty of torturing political prisoners on the largest scale were Israel and the United States.
At the same time, the authoritarian regimes and armed militants of the Arab world get sympathetic treatment on BBC Arabic. When Saddam Hussein was in power, he was a great favorite of the service, which reported as straight news his re-election to a seven-year term in 2002, when he got 100 percent of the vote. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria enjoys similar favor. When a State Department representative referred to Syria as a dictatorship, his BBC interviewer immediately interrupted and reprimanded him.