Ghassan Ben Jeddo’s new TV channel can only be trusted if it’s completely transparent about the source of its funding.
“The biggest problem is people’s inability to differentiate between Al Jazeera and the Qatari government. Al Jazeera is totally independent from the government although it is funded by it”. Those were the words of Ghassan ben Jeddo back in 2006 in an interview with Habib Battah. Back then Ben Jeddo was a champion of Aljazeera and its role in the world. 6 years later, we now know how naive that statement was. The golden rule of TV stations has reestablished itself: He who has the gold makes the rules.
The basic idea of Almayadeen is to become what Aljazeera used to be: An independent Arab channel that is generally objective and not afraid to stick it to the big guys. We can expect a channel that is friendlier to the dwindling “resistance” axis (Hezbollah, Iran, Assad’s Syria), but Ben Jeddo’s personality and ideas are sufficiently nuanced (he’s both friendly to Hezbollah and to the USA) that we can safely rule out an Almanar without the veils and religious overtones or an Arabic version of PressTV.
Follow the Money
But who is paying for the hundreds of international reporters, big city news desks and bilboard advertisements covering Beirut? As the experience of Aljazeera and Qatar has taught us, promises are not enough. Mr. Ben Jeddo says that the station will be “keen to present the full picture, precise information, and to convey things as they are, in a professional media language committed to professionalism and balance”, but how can we tell that once the station builds enough viewership and trust it won’t pull an Aljazeera when propaganda really matters to the funders?
Mr Ben Jeddo’s coyness about the funding is worrying. He stressed in a press conference that the station was not funded by an Arab state or regime. But that formulation excludes non-Arab states (Iran? Turkey?) and non-state actors (Hezbollah? ambitious billionaires?). The crowded media market also insures that they’re not counting on commercial success anytime soon. The fact that there’s no transparency about the station’s funding throws into doubt the stations’ motto of covering “reality as it is”.
It’s the mask, not the backer that is troubling
I don’t have a problem with stations funded by interest groups or people. Knowing that Future TV is funded by the Hariri family or that France 24 is funded by the french tax payer allows me to know where they’re coming from and helps me see conflicts of interests. Even Aljazeera was forthcoming about being financed by the Qatari government, but we all trusted it because we thought the Qatari government was not a significant regional player.
But when you’re opaque about your endless funding and make empty promises about objectivity and independence, you freak me out. I’d rather watch Official Syrian TV. At least you know where they’re coming from.