New 24-Hour Israeli Channel Aims for Alternate Perspective on Middle East

Broadcasts in Three Languages — But Not Hebrew

Fresh Look: Lucy Aharish, Israel’s first Arab prime-time news anchor on a Hebrew channel, has jumped to i24.
COURTESY OF I24
Fresh Look: Lucy Aharish, Israel’s first Arab prime-time news anchor on a Hebrew channel, has jumped to i24.

By Anne Cohen

Published September 05, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
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Among media experts, the verdict is still out on what this Israeli player will mean for coverage of the Middle East, and more importantly, whether there is an appetite in the American market for additional international coverage.

Josh Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former director of the international program at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said that the people inherently interested in the Israeli station could ensure i24 a reliable viewership.

“You don’t need that many,” he said. “TV is becoming like FM rather than AM. You just need a niche market, and there are people who are concerned with the Middle East: Jews, Arabs and Christian Evangelists.”

But Arch Puddington, vice president of research at Freedom House, said that what attracts viewers to Al Jazeera is its ability to provide “information and images that I’m not going to get anywhere else.”

Similarly, he said, i24 should make use of Israel’s diverse array of experts and commentators “to provide the listeners with opinions that they’re not going to get on other stations.”

Alex Safian, associate director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a pro-Israel advocacy group, said that in-depth analysis of international affairs could win i24 another prize, one beyond audience size: “They can influence the influentials here,” he said.

Nonetheless, Puddington stressed that compelling content can only get a station so far. i24’s first challenge will be financial. “I think you really have to have some deep pockets in order to compete with other stations,” he said. Indeed, he added, one of Al-Jazeera’s primary advantages is the Qatar monarchy’s almost limitless resources, both for the financial depth this provides and the ample staff it can buy.

The second challenge, Puddington noted, will be one of perspective. “I think it’s going to be a challenge for an Israeli station,” he said. “There’s just this notion out there that the Israelis have their own axes to grind and people will regard an Israeli global station with initial skepticism.”

“But there is a place, I think, for [i24],” he added. “I think there’s a need for a better coverage of the Middle East than what Al Jazeera and the U.S. stations provide. If i24 can broadcast in a way that will capture my interest and the interest of people like me, then I think the answer is yes, [it can work]. I’m not committed to Al-Jazeera.”

Contact Anne Cohen at cohen@forward.com


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