Sky Arabia’s Syria coverage

There’s been much speculation about how Sky Arabia, a joint venture between Murdoch’s Sky News and Abu Dhabi royalty will cover Syria. Now that the channel has been on-air for a few weeks, here are some quick observations:
1.) Graphics over citizen journalism
As seen in the picture above, Sky is using graphics to tell the story often in the place of citizen videos from the ground. So instead of broadcasting footage from individual cities under siege, Sky Arabia often sums up the fighting with neat town-by-town graphics such as these:

This is much different than Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, which tell the story of what’s happening across the country with gruesome local citizen videos of civilians and children killed or wounded in air strikes and military attacks:


 2.) Pundits over footage:

In the same vein, Sky Arabia often jumps to talking heads at the outset of its Syria reporting, again minimizing the time spent on graphic footage. Today for example, while bloody bodies were airing for several minutes on Al Jazeera, Sky Arabia devoted around 10 minutes to back-to-back interviews with analysts from the start of its newscast:

3.) Framing fear over revolution:

While Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya often seem to be cheerleading for opposition forces, often integrating the rebel Syrian flag in news promos, Sky Arabia promos are often mixed with images of Assad supporters, as seen here:

Or images of the president among crowds:

While Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya freely use phrases such as “people’s revolution” or “revolution in Syria,” Sky Arabia has chosen: “Now in Syria” as its subtext, as written below:

Far from heroic, the image of rebels on Sky Arabia evokes imagery of masked gunmen, jumping through tires in Al Qaedaesque fashion:

The broadcaster also seems to push the fear narrative–that so deftly wielded for decades by dictators–instead of the optimism for change story line, touted by rival broadcasters. Here Sky has been a strong proponent of the “civil war” language, comparing Syria’s fighting to that of other long-simmering war zones such as Ireland and Sudan:

And emphasizing the general death count (here with dripping blood graphic) over specifics about the cause of violence:

To be fair, Sky Arabia has aired some user videos documenting attacks, but these are more often wide shots than street view images, which give a better sense of where the violence is coming from and who is being attacked. When victims are shown, the footage is very brief and no where near as graphic as the videos of the wounded, particularly of children,  shown on Al Jazeera. 
Clearly the folks behind Sky have chosen to offer a far more sanitized version of events in Syria, while also complicating the simple dichotomy of ‘rebels vs. dictator’ seen on the other networks. Many viewers may appreciate this nuance, but others may question the ‘equal time’ approach applied to vastly asymmetrical forces, which is almost remincent of US networks’ frequent juxtaposition of Israeli tanks and lightly-armed Palestinian fighters.   
So why has Sky Arabia taken this approach and does the coverage have anything to do with the channel owners’ agenda? I’ve written an extensive piece about what Murdoch and Emirates royalty stand to gain from the Sky Arabia venture. It seems clear that the UAE has recognized the influence potential of owning a major broadcast outlet, which remains the medium with the widest reach among Arab audiences. By choosing to go relatively easy on the Syrian regime, is the tiny UAE state also borrowing a page from Qatar’s cautious foreign policy of reaching out to strange bedfellows and global pariahs? But how much support will they find from viewers?
Much like their Western counterparts, most mainstream Middle East media outlets seem to prioritize state agendas over good journalism. The situation in Syria is indeed messy. Even enemies of the regime will tell you that they are afraid of the various players getting involved in the fighting–both at the local, regional and foreign government levels–as well as the sectarian rants driving supporters closer to the regime for fear of being slaughtered. 
Fortunately a number of citizen journalism outlets have sprung up recently, but the situation in Syria deserves more in-depth coverage than the type of superficial cheerleading and/or demagoguery we are seeing on the Arab airwaves today.  
You May Also Like
Read More

Context in Tripoli

The fighting in Tripoli is often covered in two ways: either a five minute report or field dispatch…