Where is Israel's satellite TV news channel?

After Iran launched its channel, Israel must broadcast satellite news 24/7.

satellite 63 (photo credit: )
satellite 63
(photo credit: )
The email invitation from "Iran's Press TV" screamed out its subject line as it dropped into the Zionist Federation's inbox: "Very Urgent Media Request." Would I agree to participate in a one-hour televised debate entitled "How Will the Map of Palestine Be Determined?" After conferring with two London-based Israeli academics who had previously appeared on the channel, I accepted. "Press TV" is an Iranian government-backed, 24-hour English language satellite TV news channel headquartered in Teheran. Launched globally nine months ago, it now airs on 10 different satellite systems and is endeavouring to be added to Britain's Sky satellite package. The channel can also be watched "live" online from anywhere in the world. According to its Web site, regular programs include "Iran," covering life in the Islamic Republic; "Middle East Today," focusing on news from the region; "American Dream," billed as a "warts-and-all picture of life in the USA"; and "Minbar," a weekly Q&A on Islam "fielding questions about all aspects of the world's fastest growing religion." Press TV claims that over 70% of the Web site's hits are from the United States, and the station has just hired Andrew Gilligan, an influential British journalist, former BBC correspondent and columnist for London's Evening Standard newspaper. PRESS TV is only one part of Iran's effort to spread its message and authority around the world. According to a recent report on Al Jazeera English, Iran has become a growing presence in the global media market and is a major television producer with broadcasts in 27 different languages such as Arabic, Urdu, and Armenian. Iran's Al Alam Arabic language TV channel has a 60% market share in Iraq, and Hizbullah's Al Manar Television is largely funded though not operated by Iran. The Islamic Republic will soon begin broadcasting in Spanish to Spain and across Latin America. By aggressively launching multiple media outlets Iran has, according to a media analyst, "taken a preemptive media strike" to convey its message. In London, a Press TV taxi brought me to their impressive studios, housed in a modern office building in west London. I was politely ushered into a waiting lounge while producers and guests raced around between four different sets. All of the women had their heads covered. I was soon taken into the make-up room where an attendant prepared me for the cameras. A fellow guest, a Western woman judged to be showing too much flesh around her neck, was given a scarf to wear on air. My three fellow panelists were an official from an Arab party in Israel which has three Knesset seats and believes in the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees; a Palestinian academic based in England; and the director of an international peace group. The host of the program was Yvonne Ridley, an English journalist who has been active in hard-Left and Islamist politics in Britain as a member of George Galloway's Respect party, and who once famously called Respect a "Zionist-free party." It was only when I was being fitted with a microphone in the studio that I discovered the true title of the debate was actually, "Is the Zionist State Trying to Wipe Palestine off the Map?" Although I was treated fairly and given sufficient time to make my arguments, and the entire program was later broadcast unedited, the whole structure of the program from the crude title to the pre-recorded segments were designed to frame the discussion precisely according to the channel's viewpoint. For example, an inflammatory pre-recorded clip showed Muslims praying on the Temple Mount while a voice-over claimed that the foundations of the Al-Aksa mosque were being "deliberately destabilized" by Israel, which was trying to "ethnically cleanse" Palestinians from the holy city. ALONGSIDE THE threats posed by Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorist organizations, the growth of Iran's broadcasting capabilities, and perhaps also that of Al Jazeera, is worrying for Israel. My personal experience on Press TV and work with the Zionist Federation in combating unbalanced British media coverage of Israel leads me to ask: Where is Israel's international satellite TV station? At home my Sky satellite package features not only 24-hour Sky News, BBC News 24, CNN and Fox News, but also European English language news (Euro News), Indian English language news (NDTV), Russian English language news (Russia Today), French English language news (France 24), Chinese English language news (CCTV-9), and Al Jazeera's English service. Recently, Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz attacked Israel's "criminal strategic insistence" on refusing to invest the necessary resources in competent public diplomacy. With today's brave new world characterized by around-the-clock global media outlets and high-speed Internet access in even less developed countries, how can it be that Israel doesn't have an English language or Arabic language news channel, and is in fact cutting back on its foreign language radio transmissions? Battles are now fought not only in the military field but in the arena of public opinion. With all the ingenuity and resources available within Israel and the Jewish world, and expertise in hi-tech and communications, isn't it possible to fund and produce a credible, serious TV channel presenting an Israeli viewpoint? Without it, we will remain preoccupied with scrounging around for fair coverage on other people's media outlets, and Israel's global image will deteriorate further, with negative consequences for the country's future security and prosperity. The writer is director of public affairs for Britain's Zionist Federation, which was founded in London in 1899 to support the Jewish national movement.