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Q&A WITH ZAIN VERJEE

Q&A

Aired July 29, 2002 - 12:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to Q&A. Middle East media wars. Israel is now beaming its own Arabic language channel to the Arab world while some Arab countries are broadcasting Hebrew language broadcasts into Israel.

Both sides say they want to present their view of this conflict.

Just how successful are they, and just how much of this conflict is being fought out via the media?

In Jerusalem is Yoni Ben Menachem, a political correspondent with Israel radio Arabic network. He also hosts a TV program for the new Arabic television station called "Dialogue" or (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

And on the phone from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emeritus is Jawad Anani, a media consultant and former media information and foreign minister of the UAE.

We did try to get a representative of Egypt's Hebrew language network to join our show, but they didn't return our repeated phone calls.

Yoni, let me start with you first and talk a little about Arabic language satellite channels that are being broadcast to the Arab world by Israel. Why? Yoni?

YONI BEN MENACHEM, Israel RADIO ARABIC NETWORK: Yes, I can hear you. I said why not? Why not broadcast in Arabic? We have been doing this for many years, since the creation of Israeli television. The only difference is now that we put this broadcast on satellite, so we can reach all the Arab countries.

VERJEE: Do you really believe that it will win over or even influence regional public opinion?

MENACHEM: We hope so, because we want to represent the real picture of what's going on in Israel, as far as society is concerned, democracy is concerned, and the way things are run here in this little world, Jewish Israeli place, surrounded by many Arab countries. And this is our purpose. And I think we will succeed.

VERJEE: But do you really think, though, that Arabs watching this channel will actually take it seriously and say look, you know, actually the Israelis are being very fair about the way they're representing the story and their programming is fair.

Why turn to that, and not al-Jazeera?

MENACHEM: We don't mind that they will watch also al-Jazeera and make their comparison. We are presenting a very professional broadcast, which is very open, very democratic, which covers all the angles of what is going on and we are for fair competition.

You know, we present the facts, and they will judge, you know, who presents the facts better.

VERJEE: Is this, though, just propaganda, is what some critics would say.

MENACHEM: There is always criticism about what is going on in Israel. You know, we are open to criticism and I don't think it's propaganda. I think we are doing a very professional work from a journalistic point of view, and we have many journalists, like myself -- I don't work -- I work for Hebrew news and Israeli radio, and I contribute my knowledge in the Arabic language and my professional knowledge to this broadcast, because I think it's important to give the Arabs the real picture of what is going on in Israel.

And I think many other journalists who are not working for the Arabic service also participate in this broadcast, because they think it's important for the Arabs all over to get the right picture of what's going on in Israel.

VERJEE: How have you been, then, personally, the kind of work that you're doing -- how have you been received, both by Arabs as well as some of your own colleagues in Israel?

MENACHEM: I don't have problems whatsoever. Whatever I say in my Hebrew broadcast on Israel radio, I say in Arabic on this new channel. I've never been criticized or censored or told what to do or what to say on this new channel. I have the freedom to say what I want, to do what I want, and I think this is what should be.

VERJEE: Jawad Anani, in Abu Dhabi, let me pose the same question to you. I mean, Israel, excuse me, Israel has launched this satellite channel now to the Arab world. Egyptian satellite channel NILE-TV is doing the same. They're offering Hebrew service that goes to Israel. Even Hezbollah television is talking about having -- al-Manar TV is talking about starting a fulltime Hebrew channel. Why do this? And what purpose will it serve?

JAWAD ANANI, MEDIA CONSULTANT: Well, thank you, Zain, for calling me here, but I would like just to make a minor correction, please. You introduced me as foreign minister of the UAE. I was ex-minister of Jordan, not the UAE. But currently I'm staying in Dubai in the UAE.

VERJEE: My apologies.

ANANI: I just wanted to clarify that.

In reference to your question, I believe that this is an opportune time -- not only it is a technological opportunity that now we are free to air on satellite services, which would enable everyone to reach a wide reach of the market.

But I think at the same time there are new developments which people are beginning to sense in the future, that probably it might be much better to present your own case and arrive to the audience and other countries whose opinions are going to have an impact on your own policies, on your own future, on your own relations.

And things, as they stand right now, I don't think that any rational futuristic analyst would expect them to remain the same, because the current situation is a recipe for disaster.

So I believe that media is one of the one most open channels in the world. The infrastructure that we need to arrive, to send our opinions across this beautiful media is there, and so therefore this is, in an economic manner, sort of a capital deepening approach.

We want to expand on our relations. We want to realize them and understand the impact which public opinion is beginning to have on the policies of the respective governments vis--vis other governments and other countries in the region.

And so therefore, I look at that in a sort of a way -- I look at that as -- in a positive manner. But I have to caution that the Israeli new television is not going to be received with a great deal of optimism or with roses.

On the contrary, there is going to be a great deal of cynicism about it, because I believe that what people see on television, the daily events on the West Bank, are going to be continuously a sore spot in this effort.

VERJEE: Yoni, what's your response to that?

MENACHEM: WE will keep doing our professional work. You know, we will present the real picture. This is what we are doing now, and even if the situation at the ground is not so nice, we have to present the truth to the audience that is watching us, and this is what we're doing, and this is what we'll continue to do.

We are not trying to make the situation better by presenting it look better or something like that. We want to give the facts as they are, the way we see it, and this is what we are doing, and this is what we are doing, and this is what we will keep doing.

VERJEE: The facts the way you see it. Jawad Anani, these media wars going on in the Middle East, you talked about representing your sides. You talked about also the economic aspect of this as well. But what about telling the story in a fair and in a balanced way? I mean, the Israeli media has come under criticism for not being fair and balanced when representing the other side. Can't the same be leveled against you? And how could you possibly be fair, is what critics say.

ANANI: Well, actually, I would like to, Zain, if you don't mind, I would like just to comment on the word that my colleague has chose, which is professional.

You know, professional -- nobody is skeptical or in doubt about Israeli professionalism. We also think that the soldiers are doing a professional job in the field. So professional does not mean it is objective. We have to create and remind ourselves of the fine difference separating the two.

On the contrary, professional to me, that means there is a great deal of psychological studies and research that has been done in order to influence the Arab public opinion. Therefore, you know, many Arabs are going to view this as putting the poison in the oil, or the cooking.

And so therefore, I think that professionalism here does not radiate any positive response. On the contrary, it may create a very negative response.

What we need to do is to (AUDIO GAP) the whole process. Right now, I think that the field, what goes on inside the field, all the coverage which CNN also does on the squalid situation on the ground in Palestine, is not going to leave much room for credibility of the Israeli media, whether it is.

VERJEE: OK.

ANANI: . it is professional, or anything like that.

VERJEE: The issue of credibility, though, also arises when you look at some Arab media as well. Many saying, you know, look, this is state controlled, so how can you possibly be objective, because there is a political interest there.

ANANI: You're right. I mean, we have to admit that in the Arab world, the media still require a great deal of work. They all require greater objectivity and more empathy with the people. That is true.

But still, we are talking about how to deal with the other side. This is a new dimension that is taking place.

Naturally, I believe that in the past there were many attempts, on both the Israeli side and the Arab side, to try to reach the audience in other countries, on the other side. But at the same time, you know, now we are talking about a fulltime, professional satellite television station that's completely dedicated to the Arab audiences.

Some part of that, of course, is indicated for the Israeli Arabs. Also there are many Jews in the Arab countries who are still there and who speak Arabic that probably would like to identify with what's going on in Israel.

So therefore, that channel may serve other purposes other than talking to Arabs as such.

VERJEE: Yoni, give us an idea then, if this is the case, to represent each side of the story to the other side in a way that they feel is a fair representation -- give us an idea of some of the kinds of programming that's out there that reflect that.

MENACHEM: The programs are the same programs that we broadcast on our news in Hebrew language and English language, and there is no difference in the content of it. Only one difference is the language.

We don't have special programs that are -- as to brainwash, I deny it completely. To brainwash the Arab mind.

The problem is that those who are against this station, new station, are trying to incite against it and presenting this conspiracy theory that Israel wants to brainwash the Arab's mind, which is not true. We have the same coverage in Hebrew and Arabic and English, and there's no difference whatsoever, it's the same programs.

The only difference is the language. It's in the Arab language. That's all.

VERJEE: Yoni Ben Menachem, Jawad Anani, on Q&A, thanks a lot for speaking to us. We appreciate it. Thanks.

Still ahead on Q&A, how is this battle being fought out in other Middle East media?

But first, Israeli journalists talk about the human toll of covering this conflict on both sides. Q&A is back in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Palestinian press and Palestinian journalists are my main source. I see them, and I call them, and I talk to them every day, sometimes three, four times a day. And that's my job. We exchange information, sometimes I feel uncomfortable because I'm from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and in many cases they feel uncomfortable as well when there are is a lot (UNINTELLIGIBLE) inside Israel. We are human beings. In many cases we feel, you know, frustrated, embittered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The higher the level of faith goes on, in both publics, the Israeli and the Palestinian public, the will of both sides to hear about the troubles of the other side is lesser and lesser. It's one of the side effects of this tragedy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: Welcome back.

On Q&A, the battle over the so-called hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East. We're talking about the ongoing media campaign on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Joining us now from Washington is Yigal Carmon, with the Middle East Media Research Institute; in Chicago, Ali Abu Nimah, the co-founder of a Web sited called "The Electronic Intifada."

Yigal Carmon, tell us a little bit first about your organization and why it's important.

YIGAL CARMON, MIDDLE EAST MEDIA RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, our organization monitors the Arabic and Farsi Iranian media, of text books, of schools in the Arab world, and what is being said in the mosques, and it tries to translate it into English and other European languages -- in fact, all -- in an attempt to mirror what is happening in the Arab world and in Iran as clearly as possible.

Because what we have seen is that what comes to the West from there is sometimes lacking in terms of what is being -- you have from the Arab world almost a double message. What is being said in Arabic is not reported in English or other languages, and so there was a need to reflect that, to mirror it. And this is what we are doing for the last few years.

We have a Web site where people can find it, wwww.memri.org.

VERJEE: Ali Abu Nimah, what about Electronic Intifada?

ALI ABU NIMAH, ELECTRONIC INTIFADA: ElectronicIntifada.net is a resource really for everyone who is interested in countering the spin about the conflict, attempts like those of MEMRI to try to spread this kind of racist nonsense, that Arabs and Iranians can't be trusted; they say one thing in Arabic and another thing in English.

We really get to the truth of some of those kinds of things at ElectronicIntifada.net, as well as providing analysis of the media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

VERJEE: They just translate articles, though. They don't offer any commentary, Ali.

NIMAH: Well, they translate very selectively. If I wanted to go to the Israeli press.

CARMON: Not so.

NIMAH: . and find racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim expressions, it's very, very easy. In fact, you find them every day, and what they're doing with this so-called think tank, MEMRI.

(CROSSTALK)

CARMON: . absolutely untrue.

NIMAH: Well, people can check out, people can check out their Web site.

CARMON: You know.

NIMAH: I haven't finished my point yet.

CARMON: Yes, well you are.

VERJEE: Yigal, I'll give you a chance to respond in a moment. Make your point, Ali.

NIMAH: My point is that what they're trying to do is to pretend that the effect of the conflict is the cause of the conflict.

The cause of the conflict is the fact that 4 million plus Palestinians do not have basic freedom and human rights, and no amount of spin.

VERJEE: OK.

NIMAH: . no attempt to pretend.

VERJEE: OK.

NIMAH: . that it's just media spin will take that away.

VERJEE: Yigal Carmon, I'll give you a chance to respond to that.

CARMON: Yes. Well, first of all, whoever goes into our Web site sees the amount, the huge amount of positive, so to speak liberal voices that we translate from the Arab world, and I don't know what Mr. Abu Nimah is talking about.

However, let me give you an example so that we understand what we are talking about.

When the editor-in-chief of the main paper in Egypt, "Al Ahram," writes that the United States is dropping genetically treated food into minefields in Afghanistan, when the United States was dropping food. Now, this is of course not said in any broadcast that comes out from Egypt in English. This is just an example.

I think that Mr. Abu Nimah would do a better job in trying to show what happens in Israel and do the same thing with regard to Israel.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: Do you do that?

NIMAH: I'd be happy to. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

CARMON: Why don't you do it? Why don't you do it?

NIMAH: I mean, here it is. You know, this kind of incitement is going on in the Israeli media all the time. Here's a little Israeli girl with a sign saying expel the Arab enemy.

VERJEE: Yes, OK, but there is.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: There is also plenty of that going on in the Arab world as well. I mean.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: OK, Ali -- hold it, Ali.

CARMON: . the leaders of the society, and we are talking about the leaders.

NIMAH: I'm not being allowed to make my point here. I'm not being allowed to make my point here.

CARMON: . we are talking about the public opinion makers.

VERJEE: Ali, you'll get to make your point. Hold it for a minute.

CARMON: About official education system of what is being taught by the government of mosques. The main mosque in every Arab country. It's not some girl that says something somewhere.

NIMAH: This is just -- look.

VERJEE: Ali.

NIMAH: May I respond now?

VERJEE: Yes.

NIMAH: I mean, this is just exactly the kind of attempt I'm talking about to try to make people believe that the fact that now 1/5 of Palestinian children are seriously malnourished, according to the United States government, because of the Israeli siege, that that's all an effect of sermons in the mosque?

I mean, you can find this everywhere. You have the former chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, who said Arabs should be annihilated from the face of the earth and God regrets making them. You have former P.M. Edhud Barak, who said Arabs are congenital liars. You have the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav, who says that Arabs and Palestinians are from another planet. You even have the so-called liberal speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, who said, on American television, that Arabs are, quote, "not the kind of people you would want your daughter to marry."

And in the Israeli cabinet today, you have leaders, ministers, heads of parties.

VERJEE: OK. OK.

NIMAH: . who openly advocate ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Of course you can find this on all sides. This is the effect of the conflict, and not the cause of it. No amount of effort.

VERJEE: Yigal Carmon. Yigal Carmon.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: Can you take up his point?

CARMON: Of course. Of course. What you can find in the Israeli media is different than what I am talking about.

You wouldn't find things like what I quoted from the editor-in-chief of "Al Ahram" or from people like.

NIMAH: What about calls for ethnic cleansing? Isn't that worse? I have not seen on your Web site any condemnations of the frequent calls for ethnic cleansing from Israeli party leaders in the Hebrew press.

What they're saying in Hebrew and we're translating from (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and yet (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is not the same as what they're saying in English.

Last week, your government.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: All right. All right. Look. Look. We only have a minute left, and I'd like to pose this question to the both of you.

Is -- let me pose this last question to the both of you, if I may, briefly. Is hate propaganda the cause or the result of the conflict? Ali, you first. 30 seconds. 30 seconds.

NIMAH: Obviously, it's the result of the fact that 4 million people are living under a brutal foreign military dictatorship, the Israeli occupation.

The Israeli occupation does not need help inciting against itself. We've had over 300 children killed, over 1,000 civilians killed, many hundreds of civilians killed on the Israeli side as well.

VERJEE: Yigal.

NIMAH: . of course that produces hatred.

CARMON: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tragedy, but we don't focus on that necessarily. We deal with the whole Arab world, from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria. Of course, you know that those who hijacked the planes on September 11th were not under Israeli occupation. This is hate that is nurtured in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NIMAH: Oh, this is just a red herring. What an attempt to confuse the issue.

CARMON: So, please, this is red herring for you? 4,000 people dying, innocent people dying.

(CROSSTALK)

VERJEE: Look, we're going to have to leave our discussion there, and perhaps continue it another day.

Ali Abu Nimah, Yigal Carmon, thanks for speaking to us on Q&A, in spite of the fact you didn't agree on anything. Thank you.

That's Q&A for now. Join Jim Clancy for another edition of Q&A, at 19:30 GMT.

END

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