Correction to This Article
An Aug. 14 article incorrectly identified the director of news and current affairs at the Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel. His name is Nakhle Elhage.

Arab World Riveted by Coverage of the 'Sixth War'

By Faiza Saleh Ambah
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 14, 2006

DOHA, Qatar -- During a recent news meeting at al-Jazeera, Ayman Gaballah, the network's deputy chief editor, led journalists crowded around a blue oval table through the day's top stories. They discussed Iraq, Cuba and the defeat of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, among other topics.

But by the end of the session, they had allocated more than three-quarters of the coverage to the conflict in Lebanon and Israel.

A month after it started, the Sixth War, as al-Jazeera calls the fighting, continues to consume the Arab world, which tunes in every night to a bloodier, more painful and more devastating conflict than the rest of the world sees.

The region's 24-hour news channels and nightly news broadcasts give their audiences endless images of gutted homes, damaged bridges and runways, fires and a relentless loop of human suffering: young girls in pajamas, their limp corpses caked in dust; toddlers in diapers, their faces and bodies pockmarked with wounds; relatives digging with their hands in the rubble of destroyed buildings, trying to rescue survivors.

Although no figures are available, anecdotal evidence suggests that Arab viewers have not been as electrified by a conflict since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.

"People were glued to their televisions during the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003, but interest tapered off after three weeks," said Emile Nakhle, director of news and current affairs at the Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel. "In this case, it is not yet clear who is winning and who is losing, and we're seeing a rising increase in interest."

Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, the most-watched networks in the region, document in breaking news flashes every Israeli airstrike on civilians, every road and bridge that is bombarded, every shelling of a Hezbollah position, and each Hezbollah rocket attack that kills or wounds Israeli civilians and soldiers.

The news flashes are often followed by footage of the attacks as correspondents in the various hot spots provide real-time coverage.

"We introduced during this war broadcast via broadband. In places not accessible by car, in the middle of conflict areas for example, a sole reporter with a laptop and small camera can shoot, edit, feed and do live interviews," Nakhle said.

Late Wednesday, al-Jazeera's Israel-based correspondent, Elias Karram, gave a 10-minute live report in the dark as Israel poured more forces into Lebanon. Behind him, as Israeli troops moved under cover of heavy shelling, more than 30 missiles flew through the air, illuminating pine trees near the border until their loud thuds reverberated as they hit Lebanon.

Al-Jazeera's detractors say the channel exploits this type of crisis to further its anti-American agenda and inflame anti-American feelings across the region. But officials at the Arab world's most popular television station say they are giving their viewers exactly what they want to watch.

Gaballah said the station avoided graphic images but had a responsibility to show the gritty face of war. "We show pain and we show suffering. People die in wars, and we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't show that. We have to present the facts," he said.


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