Calev Ben-David I24 host.
(photo credit: I24)
From its glass-walled headquarters in the ancient port city of Jaffa to the neon wonderland of New York’s Times Square, Israel’s i24News broadcasting service now aims at bringing the Middle East to the American dinner table.
“We were an international news channel,” i24News CEO Frank Melloul told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, from a studio conference room overlooking the fishing boats in Jaffa Port. “We are starting to become a global news network. This is something original and something new in the market.”
Just over two weeks ago on February 13 the three-and-a- half-year-old news station launched a sister channel in the United States, with the potential to reach some 4.5 million customers on the Altice USA (formerly Cablevision) and Suddenlink cable networks. By expanding across the Atlantic, i24News hopes to give American viewers a different perspective on events in the Middle East by providing content and analysis from Israel and the US in English.
In addition to airing on American cable, the station has opened dedicated US studios in New York and Washington to join those it has in Jaffa and Paris. While i24News does not yet air on Israeli television, it provides live-stream broadcasting 24/7 in English, French and Arabic. In Europe, the channel is already available on a variety of cable and satellite networks.
“We are the only channel able to analyze with three different point of view – the Middle East one, the European one and the American one,” Melloul said.
The US channel airs an English feed from its Jaffa headquarters during the day and reports live from the US from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The US programming features New York anchors, managing editors David Shuster and Michelle Makori, and Washington correspondent Dan Raviv, all of whom have worked with a wide variety of media outlets, including Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, China Global Television Network, Bloomberg and CBS News.
i24News only launched in the US two weeks ago, but Melloul said he and his colleagues are “very optimistic” about the station’s future. The channel broke even at its Jaffa headquarters in recent weeks, and Melloul said he expects a similar three-to-four year time scale in the US.
In Times Square, the station received what Melloul described as “the warmest welcome,” including billboard greetings from NASDAQ and Morgan Stanley. A big boost to the channel’s successful launch was its timing, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump met just two days later.
“The perception of i24 is very good,” he said. “There is a huge opportunity now about the perception of the media. To speak about what’s going on in the Middle East is also something that people are more concerned about.”
One unique feature of i24News is its newsroom, where reporters speak French, English and Arabic side-byside, as if to provide an example of coexistence, Melloul explained.
“We are co-producing together every single day,” he continued. “Because we are speaking the same language as the American people, democracy to democracy, our ambition is to become the number one news channel talking about what’s going on in the Middle East.”
Although based in Israel, reporters are determined to put the news “in the greater context of the Middle East,” added Calev Ben-David, anchor of the channel’s Israeli evening news hour, The Rundown.
For example, the station’s Arabic-speaking staff members have been able to Skype with Syrians immersed in that country’s conflict or analyze France presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s recent visit to Lebanon, he explained.
“Our job is to present the news,” said Ben-David, who has worked as a journalist in Israel for 32 years. “We are not here to advocate a specific political viewpoint. Of course, we are informed by broadcasting from Israel.”
“For three decades people have been talking about a station like this. I can go back to the ’80s, and people were talking about an international news channel that would broadcast from Israel,” he added. “To me, this is really the first truly serious attempt to do it.”
Israel might be i24’s home base, but the station is still struggling to gain a place on Israeli cable networks. Knesset discussions are currently under way regarding a bill proposed by MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), which would enable the broadcast of the station’s English, French and Arabic feeds on Israeli television.
“I think it’s a shame that today the Israeli citizen cannot watch the amazing job of my journalists here,” Melloul said. “I would really like the diplomatic community Israel, the English-speaking people, the French-speaking people and the Arabic-speaking people to have the ability to watch.”