NY Times article about arab media
Here's about 1/2 of it. The rest in on their website (NTYIMES.COM).
Voting, Not Violence, Is the Big Story on Arab TV
By HASSAN M. FATTAH
Published: January 30, 2005
AMMAN, Jordan, Jan. 30 - Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq this morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision: should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?
After close to two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a bloodbath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story this morning; the voting was.
Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the vote, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls.
Often criticized for glorifying Iraq's violence if not inciting it, Arab news channels appeared to take particular care in their election day reporting. For many channels, the elections were treated on a par with the invasion itself, on which the major channels helped build their names.
Far from the almost nightly barrage of blood and tears, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, the kings of Arab news, barely showed the aftermath of the suicide bombings that occurred in the country.
Instead, the channels opted to report on the attacks in news tickers, and as part of the hourly news broadcasts, keeping their focus on coverage and analysis of the elections themselves. And the broadcasters spared no expense to provide an entire day of coverage from northern to southern Iraq.
"There was a fear that some broadcasters will overdo coverage of violence, but we chose not to play that game," said Nakhle el-Hage, director of news and current affairs at satellite channel Al Arabiya, which is based in Dubai and is one of the most popular channels in Iraq. "We were expecting violence and when something happened, we put a news flash but then continued our coverage."
News directors at Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar and has been banned from operating in Iraq since last summer, were also keenly conscious of the risks of overplaying the violence.
Ayman Jaballah, the deputy chief of news at Al Jazeera, said the channel would get news of the attacks from wire services and put them in the ticker, "but they will not take over the show."
"We will give them their fare share of coverage," he said, "but we won't just report violence for the sake of it."
For many Arabs, the surprisingly strong turnout on election day proved a singular opening, one that made the daily debate on TV screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqi guests lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein decried the election for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.
"Things used to be a negotiation between political parties where you scratch my back and I scratch your back," noted one commentator, Abas al-Bayati on Al Jazeera. "Now, this new government will approach all the parties as having the backing of the people. It will have legitimacy." And that legitimacy should allow the government to face down the insurgents, he added.
With the relative lack of violence, many nerves appeared calmed. Iraqis, especially, may have been emboldened by the coverage.
"What was important is that the satellite channels were taking us throughout the region, and also showed everyone how Iraqis outside Iraq were adamant and focused on voting," said Imad Hmood, editor in chief of Jordan's Al Ghad newspaper. "That was very important for people, especially Iraqis, to see."
"In the end the coverage was a success - not perfect, but a success under the conditions," he said.