BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Among Arabic-language news channels, Al-Manar, based in Lebanon, increasingly stands out. Broadcast on TV and radio throughout the Middle East in Arabic, English, French and Hebrew, it can claim, by most counts, an audience of more than 10 million a day.
Al-Manar is owned and operated by Hezbollah, which has waged war with Israel for much of the last 24 years. In fact, Israeli rockets hit Al-Manar soon after this latest battle began, momentarily knocking it off the air and furthering a debate about the line between targeting the media and the militants.
But the U.S. government felt no confusion when in 2004, it banned Al-Manar from broadcasting to the U.S. as the first station to be legally designated a terrorist entity. Later, the station was banned in much of Europe, despite its growing status in the region as must-see TV.
For Arab audiences today, Al-Manar is the place to learn the latest on where Hezbollah rockets are falling and where they might soon fall. According to NPR's Deborah Amos, now in Damascus, Syria, the station has acquired a reputation for delivering the most factual propaganda.
DEBORAH AMOS: The reason that so many Syrians tell me that they watch it is because they think it is the most accurate when you want to know what's going on in Southern Lebanon. Nasrallah himself, the Hezbollah leader, has a reputation of being more honest than any other leader in the Arab world.
I was with a translator today who said to me, you know, if I was looking at a bowl of yogurt that was white and Nasrallah told me that it was beige, I'd look again to be sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wow.
DEBORAH AMOS: They keep that reputation, they guard that reputation because it is their claim to legitimacy. They tell you what they're going to do, and then they do it. And that has been true since this conflict began.
Soon after it did begin, Nasrallah went on television and said that they had big surprises. And those big surprises were missiles that landed further into Israel. They had a capacity to hit further into Israel than anyone knew � Western intelligence, Israeli intelligence, Lebanese intelligence.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sometimes people call a station more accurate because it tells them what they want to hear in the way they want to hear it, not necessarily because the facts are more often correct. What do you think is the case with Al-Manar?
DEBORAH AMOS: I think that there's a little of that, Brooke. A couple of weeks ago, the Arab world was absolutely in a lather about the World Cup. People were cheering their teams and staying up all night to watch the games. There is a bit of that in what we are watching now. Much of the Arab world is cheering along for Hezbollah. They have given the Israelis a bloody nose, and many people here like that.
And so many of them have switched to Al-Manar because they want to be sure that their team wins. And their team is giving them the best rendition of what is going on on the battlefield. It's a nationalist broadcast. It keeps its facts fairly straight, but there's a pretty heavy dose of propaganda in it, and people here want to see that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much of the Al-Manar newscasts have you heard are polemics and how much are news and information? Or are those two things pretty much inseparable?
DEBORAH AMOS: I think that they are inseparable. There are plenty of propaganda videos that run in between the news, where you see Hezbollah fighters in uniform marching around in the hills, running, you know, with their weapons ready, lots of swelling music intercut with destruction in Lebanon and casualties in Israel.
Now, they're leaving out a great deal of the story about the destruction of the country and the part that they played in it by capturing two Israeli soldiers and sparking this whole war. That is not part of Al-Manar's coverage.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, Al-Manar's broadcast facilities were hit by Israeli bombs on July 13th, and yet the station remained on the air. Do you know what happened there?
DEBORAH AMOS: I don't, but they have used their channel as a PsyOps war against the Israelis. They know very well that Arabic speakers in Israel are monitoring that broadcast, as does every Western embassy, certainly here in Damascus.
So I have to speculate that Al-Manar officials and Hezbollah officials knew that their television station would be one of the first targets and took precautions to make sure that they could get back on the air, which they did very quickly. In fact, there was an Israeli announcement that they had hit Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah's headquarters, and he very quickly went on the air to say, no, they didn't, and he had been untouched.
It was a very grainy picture they were broadcasting from some transmitter that they had set up on this emergency basis, but they were able to get back up on the air. And as far as people here were concerned, that was a victory for Hezbollah, that they were able to get back up on the air, even though the Israelis had targeted them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the credibility that Al-Manar has doesn't include offering, say, the perspective from both sides of the conflict. They're not going to present the Israeli view, for instance. And though they may show pictures of Haifa, do they actually have correspondents in Israel?
DEBORAH AMOS: [LAUGHS] It's a preposterous idea. [LAUGHTER] However, there are correspondents from other satellite stations who are on the ground. It's not all that unusual that Al-Manar doesn't have the Israeli perspective. Since television came on the air in the Arab world, that did not appear on state-run televisions at all. Al-Jazeera broke that mold by bringing Israeli Arab-speaking State Department commentators on the air. So the idea of having the Israeli perspective is very new.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deb, thank you very much.
DEBORAH AMOS: Thanks, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: NPR's Deborah Amos joined us from Damascus, Syria. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]