Israel’s showcase channel?

Frank Melloul is behind the success of France 24 and now intends to launch an all-news Israeli channel, based on CNN and Al Jazeera.

Newsroom (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The man with a mission” – thus we could define Frank Melloul. The man who officiated as chief of strategy and development for the French public radio and TV international network is now at the head of a major project: to provide Israel with a tool of influence that will help its cultural and political standing. “A challenge none can refuse,” he says simply.
The idea is to launch an international news channel, produced in Israel and broadcast from Tel Aviv. A first, explains Melloul, because until now the Jewish state has not had its own all-news channel – not even in Hebrew.
It is because of his successful experience at France 24, the French equivalent of the BBC, that Patrick Drahi – shareholder of Numéricable and owner of HOT, the Israeli cable operator – thought of Melloul to work on this project modeled on CNN and Al Jazeera.
Melloul sees in this project a way to connect Israel to the world, and the world to the Israeli reality, “creating a communication, an exchange, between those who watch and those who broadcast.”
His credo? To focus on viewers outside Israel. That is why he chose three broadcast languages – French, English and Arabic – and not Hebrew. “To deliver a message, it must be heard,” he explains, “and to be heard, it must be understood. The language is essential, it’s strategic.”
Three languages for one message. Three parallel newsrooms for the same editorial line. “Neither Left, nor Center, nor Right, but for Israel.” Because today, notes Melloul, one of the biggest threats against the Jewish state is the delegitimization campaign, which affects the security of the country. “If you do not recognize a state’s right to live, how can you recognize its right to defend itself?” he asks. Faced with this, the most effective weapon according to him is none other than television displays, which influence perception.
THE MISSION is simple: to show the world that Israel is interested in what happens outside its borders, to show that the Jewish state and its people are interested in international news – and then, slowly, to impose credibility. “Because today, everything is storytelling,” notes Melloul.
He explains: If we can prove to ordinary people around the world that on issues like health, society, economy, environment and culture, Israelis think like them, then maybe the world will be more inclined to support Israel on regional policy.
The new channel – whose name has not yet been announced, but will be translated into French, English and Arabic – therefore proposes to show 70 percent international news and 30% information about the Middle East, including Israel. The main targets, to begin with, are Europe, Africa and the Middle East – three major geographical areas in terms of population, but also regarding their approach to Israel, and full of prejudices, believes Melloul. Then at a later date, America and Asia will be added, two other markets more complicated in terms of distribution.
The question that arises is: Will the people of these countries want to watch this channel? Yes, out of curios- ity, responds Melloul without hesitation.
“We are all attracted by what horrifies us.
I’m sure we’ll have a large audience, because the world will look at us to see what we think and what we say,” explains the man who declares with a hint of provocation that he wants to create a medium for “those who hate us.”
“But I am not an ideologue,” he adds more seriously. “I want to touch those who doubt, and they are each year in greater numbers. Perhaps we will succeed in bringing some to us.”
MELLOUL POINTS out years of poor communication strategies: the Jewish state has long believed it is hated and has long refused to waste time in responding, as it is sure that whatever it does or says, it will be banned. “I think the opposite,” he says. “The more we are criticized, the more we have to hammer. The more the world wants to erase us, the more we have to exist. And the mere [act] of airing is a proof that we exist,” he adds.
Melloul insists on his project’s vocation – to fight prejudice, “because prejudice is based on ignorance.” This channel should help inform those who are unaware of the reality of Israel, he explains, and should accompany the images, screened all over the world, which are “exploited by extremists. And this is how you can see the growth of AQIM, al-Qaida in the Maghreb, in Africa and in the Middle East and Europe.”
Although it is a tool of public diplomacy, Melloul denies allegations of propaganda. He proclaims the full independence of the channel, financed exclusively by private funds without any state subsidies – an asset for a man who was ousted from the leadership of the French public radio and TV international network by the Hollande government.
One thing is certain: Melloul doesn’t want to create a Jewish or community channel. His concept is inspired by other goals.
Now is the time for recruiting to ensure 24 hours of daily programs, with news flashes for 10 minutes every halfhour, talk shows and other magazines concepts. Some reruns during the day, but only “fresh news” tips, says Melloul, like any TV channel, with a deadline in sight: start airing before summer 2013.
Stéphane Calvo, experienced in French media, will manage the French branch, and Ofer Peretsman, who worked at the Yediot Aharonot news desk and HOT 3, will be in charge of the English board. A search is under way to find an Arabic chief editor.
MELLOUL RELIES heavily on the English version. “It will be a genuine Israeli product,” he says, “because here in Israel we consume the news in Hebrew and in English. So via the English version, the Israelis will have access to this channel.”
The English channel will first target English-speaking Europe, North America and Asia, then English-speaking African and Gulf countries and Israel.
“We have excellent journalists in Israel, but we see them here only. They must be allowed to speak to the world, and it will be possible through the English channel.”
Melloul hopes to build partnerships with the Israeli media, to export the diversity of thought that characterizes the country. He would like to show the reality of the Israeli press and invite journalists with good values and expertise to express themselves, “especially those that we do not hear, such as Ehud Ya’ari of Channel 2 for example, who knows the Arab world perfectly.”
But is the project sustainable? Melloul is confident. This seasoned veteran of the media field is not at his first attempt. The launching will cost several million euros, which will be provided by Drahi, the project’s main investor, over a period of three to four years. “We do not target a return on investment,” says Melloul, but they do want to reach a balance where the channel could be self-financed through its own resources: advertising, of course, but also sponsorships, income from distribution – agreements with cable operators bring in 50% of revenue to the channel – and the sale of content.
The approach is not lucrative, but aims to develop a dynamic media that will be competitive with its counterparts in television news. As for objectives in terms of viewers, they are not difficult to articulate. “After six years of broadcasting, France 24 now reaches 40 million households per week. We want to reach more,” says Melloul, smiling.