New channel will soon reach western living rooms, but will it bridge the gap?

All of the above does not change the fact that AJI is, in fact, an Arab channel. Breaking the language barrier may allow it to reach western living rooms, but it’s hard to see how people will switch over to it from CNN or the BBC. Then of course there are Muslims all over the world, many of whom are not Arab speakers. Prestige and influence aside, high ratings are crucial in bringing in advertising and distribution deals. The new channel aspires to reach the eyes of more than 1 billion viewers – an ambitious goal that leaves no room for eclecticism. «Target audience is whoever wants to listen. I don’t believe that somebody in Bosnia is more important than somebody in Washington or that somebody in Saudi Arabia is more desirable than somebody in Nigeria. The bigger the audience the better, the more geographical spread we get, the better,» Barnaby Phillips said. People who choose to learn English as a second language, experts say, cut across classes and generally have a more global outlook. «One of the rules of television is know your audience. AJ has an audience. It’s an Arabic audience. Arabic Muslim in particular. That is who they sell to and that’s their base. With AJI, I don’t see that necessarily as their base. It’s an English-speaking network with a global perspective,» Carlos van Meek said. More and more broadcasters are vying for that global audience. CNN International and BBC World will soon be joined by Deutsche Welle and France 24 as they are also preparing to roll out their all-news TV channels. Competition for the Arab audience is also expected to intensify. The BBC has unveiled plans to resurrect its Arabic service, while Russia Today and France 24 will also try to extract a share from AJ and its principal rival, Al Arabiya. All that media business in the Middle East is a new lease on life for the moldy regimes. Thanks to cable and the satellite dish, free and open debate appears to be slowly taking root in the region. Rather than bashing the Arab-based media, the US should play ball with them. Instead of trying to impose democracy with bombs, Washington can use media like AJ to exercise precious bits of that sorely missed soft power. A news medium is like a bridge connecting places, cultures and people. Americans may be surprised to find out that, for all their differences and shortcomings, the people coming from the other side of the bridge are animated by a will to make the Middle East a more free and more open place, that is, a bit more like the west. The outcome will hopefully be democracy – or at least something not too far from it. «I am not sure that it will be easy to ever have democracy implemented in the Arab countries the way that you and I experience it in our countries,» Elizabeth Filippouli said. «But giving people the means to express their problems and issues, giving them the chance to express their opinion publicly, this is a hugely democratic approach.»

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