Lebanon News

Sky News Arabia sees Arab Spring as double-edged sword

Bouran says Sky will recognize the demands of Arab viewers. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Launching a news channel in the midst of what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest stories of the decade would seem to be a sure thing, but Nart Bouran, head of news at Sky News Arabia, set to begin airing this spring, says it could actually be something of a double-edged sword.

“You can’t get distracted from covering other stuff,” Bouran, currently on a visit to Beirut, told The Daily Star. “These big stories are very important, but there are other things in the world ... we can’t get that tunnel vision.”

“Sure big events are good for a news channel, but we weren’t banking on that for our success,” he says. “We don’t need chaos to do news.”

The Arab Spring, he says, will be treated “the same as other stories.”

“One way that I might cover it differently is to put more resources on it, because it matters more. But in terms of approach, thinking, how we do it, it will be the same,” he says.

That approach, he hopes, will represent a fresh face among traditional Arab media, which Bouran says has come a long way, but now faces a danger of stagnation.

“As Arab journalists, Arab media, what we’ve been able to establish over a certain period of time is quite massive, since the satellite revolution that went on in the ’90s.”

Nonetheless, he says, Arab media has not kept pace with its consumers, failing to keep up with the demand for new technology.

“[There is] a younger generation who might have been slightly alienated by the fact that if they want to get TV news they have to sit in front of the TV with their father and their grandfather and flip through the channels,” he says.

That, Bouran believes, is where Sky will be able to capture a new market, with a focus on new technology, launching across online and mobile platforms.

“Most channels in the region launch a channel and then they launch their website and they have an app,” he says. “The way we’ve done it is we’ve established everything at the same time and we’re launching everything more or less around much the same time.”

The channel is a 50/50 joint venture between the U.K.’s BSkyB and the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Company, headed by Emirati Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, probably best known for owning Manchester City football club.

Bouran says he’s aware of criticisms that have been leveled against other channels with close links to power (Al-Jazeera in particular has witnessed resignations amid charges of bias over its coverage of events in Syria), but says viewers need not be concerned over Sky News’ coverage.

“Maybe [other channels] have covered things in certain ways,” he says.

“One of the other things we’ve done in the organization which doesn’t exist in other organizations is [establish] an editorial advisory committee ... which is independent personalities who are there not to direct us in a certain way but to help us and assist us and advise in maintaining the editorial mind that the organization is built on.”

Though he says Sky News Arabia will build upon the reputation and methods of its English-language counterpart, Bouran recognizes that Arab viewers have different demands.

“We live in a region that is developing constantly in all directions, and things are happening here all the time,” he says. “So in a sense, the Arab viewer is living the story.”

Arab viewers, he says, are more interested in what’s going on beyond their own borders than their Western counterparts. “For us the local story is not just about what is happening in Lebanon, but about what is happening in Syria, in Jordan, because of the pan-Arab thinking,” he says.

Part of the challenge of covering stories in the region will include decisions on how far Sky News will adhere to a tolerance in Arab media for graphic imagery from conflict zones.

“I think you can always make a decision about: Is two minutes of this too long? Can you tell the story, get the same message across in 10 seconds? Can a wide shot of that tell the story just as much as zooming in 2 centimeters?” he says of the decision-making process. “As long as it doesn’t jeopardize telling the story, getting the facts across, we will do it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 31, 2012, on page 4.

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