BROOKE GLADSTONE: On June 25th, Israel launched its Arabic language satellite television channel. The Israeli cabinet minister responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority which operates the station says that it was meant to serve as a counterweight "to the venomous propaganda that surrounds us." But editorials in newspapers from across the spectrum of Arab nations have dismissed what they say is transparent propaganda on the part of the Israelis. Adel Iskander is the co-author of Al Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East, and he joins us now from the University of Kentucky. Welcome to the show.
ADEL ISKANDER: Thank you so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Shively Talami [sp?], the Middle East analyst who tracks Arab public opinion said "If you don't trust the messenger, you don't trust the message." How can any Israeli media get around that seemingly unbreachable gulf?
ADEL ISKANDER: I think the unbreachable gulf stems from the fact that there isn't a real commitment to the actual issues on the ground. The Arab audience is savvy enough, is media-savvy enough to be able to understand where the message is coming from. They can look at it, and they have a mental map, and this message originates from Israel, this message originates from Cairo, and they can, they can figure that out themselves. And the same goes for a bre--BBC broadcast or a Voice of America broadcast or even an Israeli broadcast.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Would any television or radio station that had on Israeli ministers, say, already be regarded as "zionist" and, and pretty much untouchable politically just because they had those voices on?
ADEL ISKANDER: There is no question about it -- to even have an Israeli official on air-- in and of itself is an automatic accusation. This is -- it's pointing a spotlight on the network and questioning its intentions. Israeli television, when they do interview Palestinian Authority officials, they are criticized in the local papers as well. And so there's a general skepticism in the audience in, in that area of the world whether they be Arab or Israeli.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What exactly can the Israelis do in order to get a message across that won't immediately turn off 9/10ths of the Arab audience?
ADEL ISKANDER:Well actually the-- it's not, it's not really [LAUGHS] - it really doesn't come down to the actual message. I mean I think that the audience will always question the intentions of the Israelis so long as the land that was appropriated in 1967 is still under occupation. I mean that is the bottom line. So they need to see a positive and very certain intention to create change on the ground, and then couple that with a media message that is, that is more inviting and more moderate from the Israeli side as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So action before words.
ADEL ISKANDER: Action before words. Absolutely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Recently Arab information ministers met in Cairo to pledge more than 22 million dollars for a media campaign targeting Israel. What do they have in mind and will they have any more success than the Israelis will?
ADEL ISKANDER: In-- in simple terms, what they're planning to do is the other side of the coin. They're trying to target the Israeli public and open their eyes to the Arab perspective. There are moderate Israelis and left wing Israelis that feel very strongly about the Palestinian cause and are supportive of a withdrawal of Israeli forces behind the 1967 lines, and so I think that they're hoping to appeal to that particular crowd. But whether or not they can change the right wing policies in, in the Israeli cabinet is very, very, very unlikely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Not until they take action, for instance, ending suicide bombers.
ADEL ISKANDER: Absolutely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the actions first, words later principle holds true on both sides.
ADEL ISKANDER: On both sides. Absolutely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But we always were taught that media changes everything.
ADEL ISKANDER:That's a, that's a tough call. I mean I think that the Middle East is probably [LAUGHS] an exception when it comes to that. I mean it's, it's one place that has been bombarded by so many different networks over the last 30, 40 years whether they're clandestine, pirated networks -- it's, it's probably one of the most difficult places in the world to deal with when it comes to media. There are so many variable messages from different sources that it undermines any one single policy or agenda. There are very few networks that the Arab audience sees as credible, and those are the ones that every source should be taking advantage of. Unfortunately it's the Bin Ladens that have taken advantage of Al Jazeera. On occasions it's been Condoleezza Rice or, or Donald Rumsfeld, but in the long run it, it hasn't been a sustained effort to communicate with the Arab world through the venues that they find credible. And so long as we're not doing that, then we're really not getting our message across.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Adel, thank you very much.
ADEL ISKANDER: Thanks for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Adel Iskander is the co-author of Al Jazeera: How the Free Arab News Network Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East.