New Arab news channel to go on air Nadia Abou El-Magd Associated Press February 19, 2003

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates An all-news, Arab satellite TV channel will begin airing this week, hoping to catch the attention of viewers hungry for information about a possible U.S.-Iraq war.

Al-Arabiya, or The Arabic, will start with 12 hours of news and news-oriented programs on Thursday, before going on air round the clock on March 3, station director Saleh Qalab said.

‘‘With or without war against Iraq, our Arab region is undergoing and expecting a lot of developments, part of the new world that is being shaped since Sept. 11,’’ said Qalab, a former Jordanian information minister.

Al-Arabiya is a new venture of Middle East News. The Dubai-based production company also runs the Middle East Broadcasting Center, which is owned by the brother-in-law of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd.

Al-Arabiya will gather news from Middle East Broadcasting Center’s existing staff around the world, Qalab said. Its five-year, $300 million budget will come from private investors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

‘‘Al-Arabiya has nothing to do with any government at all, and won’t have in the future,’’ he said.

Al-Arabiya will be the newest competition for heavyweight Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based channel that was the first all-news Arabic station to go on air when it debuted in November 1996.

Al-Jazeera’s candid reporting and freewheeling, often combative talk and public affairs shows have drawn audiences eager for an alternative to the staid, censored reporting of the state-owned stations that dominate in the Arab world.

Although Al-Jazeera is financed by Qatar’s government, the station insists it operates with editorial independence.

Qalab said Al-Arabiya would emulate and even better Al-Jazeera’s independence, but not its sometimes provocative style.

‘‘We are not going to incite people’s political instincts,’’ he said. ‘‘We are going to address their brains, because we believe that the Arab citizen, after the experience of many satellite channels, is in need of calm words.’’

Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune