Ibrahim Arab, Program Editor of Al Jazeera Arabic Channel, tells us about the most prominent stations of his career, and briefs us on the most important challenges facing television media in the face of digital media competition, and the story of the launch of the new news bulletin, Midnight, on Al Jazeera.
Tell us about the place where you were raised and how it influenced your character.
I was born in Beirut in 1984, when the city suffered the consequences of the Israeli invasion in 1982, and from the military conflicts between Lebanese and Palestinian militias and the Syrian army that lasted until 1989; a year that marked the beginning of the political transition towards the Second Republic.
I grew up between the sound of shells, the roar of bullets, kidnappings and displacements, and other features of civil wars that we still see on the TV screens.
This atmosphere had a direct influence on my personality, prompting me to pay attention to public affairs and politics and to keep following the news at so early age that some of my senior family members used to me to update them on the latest news.
The social and political public atmosphere back then directly affected generations, both at home and in schools.
Beirut, despite all the darkness that surrounds it, has remained a beacon of freedoms and political and social activities. That is why I got involved in very early age in voluntary and scouting activities to the extent that I was probably away from the general interests of my peers in areas such as sports. This influence has in one way or another caused me to engage in journalism since middle school by launching school magazine at one of Beirut’s most famous public schools, Al-Berr and Al-Ihsan High School, and then I worked on the annual magazine. I was sure then, that I was born to be a journalist, and that is what I have become. I entered the Arab University of Beirut and became a journalist since the first year in college.
Tell us about your hobbies.
My relationship with reading is exceptional since my childhood. It is still on and intensifies as the years go by. This hobby has become a daily habit as a day wouldn’t pass without reading even a few pages of a book. Now, in the digital era and the availability of digital publishing, my relationship with reading has become even stronger. Now, I, like many, have access to a wide range of titles in different languages. Moreover, readers can now discuss, evaluate and even monitor the books they read. That would encourage more adherence to this hobby.
My other hobbies are largely linked to each other and to the journalistic field. I love photography, although I am very lazy to publish. The carry the camera all the times whether at home or during my travels. My third hobby is traveling motivated by exploration as I love learning about different cultures, and get in touch with other peoples around the world. Travelling also takes you to the real world you read about in the books and novels.
Strolling the street cities around the world and talking to people from different cultures bridge the gaps between nations and cultures as it provided better understanding of each other.
Writing and blogging are also of my hobbies, although my writing these days is not as much thanks to the pressure of daily work, but writing is an integral part of my composition and a mirror that reflects my personality.
Tell us about your academic studies.
I recently obtained a master’s degree in media and cultural studies from the Doha Graduate Institute for A dissertation entitled “Israeli narrative on digital video platforms: Ashraf Marwan’s representations in Netflix’s model content.”
This academic research analyzed a survey of business content on the Netflix platform between 2017 and 2019, which deals with the image of businessman and former Egyptian official Ashraf Marwan, who died in 2007 amid uncertainty about his identity as an Israeli spy or a double agent.
Through the results of the study, I found that the content of “Netflix” is dominated by Israeli narratives, especially those related to the Israeli army and intelligence services, specifically Mossad, on the issue of Ashraf Marwan. Although there is an ongoing debate over the identity of Ashraf Marwan, Mossad’s narrative and the official Israeli narrative behind it have dominated the content of Netflix through two out of three works. It is clear that the two pro-Mossad works belong to the documentary genre that gains which is more believable by the public: “Mossad Secrets”, which aired in 2017 and “The Fallen Spy”, which aired in 2019. The film that embraces the double agent narrative but also shows Israeli superiority is also a fictional drama genre, “Angel” or “Agent Babylon,” which aired in 2018.
Tell us about your professional journey.
I joined Al Jazeera in 2011 when I was 26 years old, working as a newsroom journalist, then editor-in-chief of the bulletins, and I was allowed to work as a field correspondent from Doha and Beirut. Prior to that, I was trained in the oldest Lebanese newspapers, Ambassador and Nahar. I have also worked with a number of print, audio, television and electronic media organizations as a freelance journalist, in addition to training and early university teaching with civil society organizations as well as the Arab University of Beirut and the American University of Beirut.
My training at Al-Nahar newspaper through its training programs for young journalists at the time was an introduction to what is known now as digital media. This was the first building block for me to enter the field of blogging. I, then, produced and directed a documentary about digital media to be my university graduation project. Subsequently, this interest in the digital media increased and I became an expert in this field. I frequently was a guest and speaker in many events and screens of various media organizations.
To be honest, Al Jazeera’s newsroom is my professional school in television media, where I have matured professionally and mastered the news industry, coverage, supervision and leadership of editorial teams.
What Al Jazeera has planted in us is harvested today through the competitive professional work that we all offer.
Supervising the new “Midnight Bulletin” news program, what are the main challenges you encountered?
Working for Al Jazeera always poses the challenges of producing the best of the best in the industry. The news program Midnight bulletin is no exception.
As it came to light at the beginning of the month of Ramadan to be a variety of news events dealing with issues that are not available to the days’s news bulletin, especially in social, scientific, artistic, sports and other aspects.
Since the first day of Ramadan, I have joined this program to work as the editor-in-chief, in collaboration with colleague Rifaat Hamdi, who has been instrumental in conducting experiments on it in a very short time and continuous work without much breaks.
We faced challenges on many levels, but we overcame them all through the support we received from the newsroom director, Asif Hmaidi, and the channel’s managing director, Ahmed bin Salem Al-Yafiei. Unlike any other news program, this bulliten lasts for 85 minutes and aired on daily basis.
This bulletin is distinguished from the classic news ones with the friendly and harmonic interaction between broadcasters and the thoughtful departure from the text, which makes the audience feel part of the production.
This bulletin is a complete example of the Al Jazeera spirit as it is produced and presented in collaboration of many departments and divisions in the network such as news, operations, and technology.
How do you evaluate the interaction and interest of Arab audiences with TV news content in the face of digital media competition?
The easy and quick answer to this question is that digital platforms swallow television and there is no competition. But we may all be surprised that this is different from reality. In a recent study for Al Jazeera, I asked the following question: Where do Arabs get political news?
The answer was that 57% of get the news from TV channels, while 22% get it from different online platforms. This result is the latest statistics of the Arab Index 2017/2018 carried out by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in different Arab countries.
According to a 2018 PEW Research Center study, Americans watch local news by 41% on television, and in Australia, according to an October 2018 statistic conducted by the Roy Morgan Center in Australia, 65.5% watch the news on television.
So far, television has more and stronger presence in the field and breaking news coverage through deploying reporters, direct on-site transmission, and easy and faster access to decision makers and officials, whether via satellite or online. The Internet excels in terms of interaction and engagement though.
In short, this prompts media professionals and researchers to focus on the concept of cross platforms. In other words, news channels attract audiences from the Internet and vice versa in an interactive synchronous framework.
What is your message to your colleagues in Al Jazeera?
I call on my colleagues, who are my big family, to stick more to their journalistic principles and values. At a time when we are facing E-flies, unreal writers, smear campaigns and even prison sentences, the answer to all this is to uphold high journalistic values.
Al Jazeera, as (H.H.) Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said on the 20th anniversary of its founding, would continue to be a true witness and an unflattering source of sincerity. It exposed murderers and the failing officials. Moreover, it sides with the truth and peoples.