CNN may have started it all, but international 24-hour television news is rapidly expanding as a bevy of nations are kicking off their own 24-hour multilanguage services, in what observers describe as a global battle of egos and ideas.
The TV news explosion has been most pronounced in the Muslim world, where, until 1996, broadcasts were strictly controlled by the state. Al Jazeera broke that mold, sending its signal out by satellite first throughout the region.
Al Jazeera is now broadcast regularly across the globe. Financed by the emir of Qatar, a nominal U.S. ally, Al Jazeera now has an English-language service and a robust Web site, and reaches an estimated 50 million people.
The success of Al Jazeera, abetted by the rapid expansion of communications satellites, was not lost on others -- in particular, Iran.
Last July, Iran's PressTV began English-language satellite broadcasts; Iranian officials said the global broadcasting effort is to counter the pro-Western bias of more established outlets.
"We are the target of global media war, and there is hardly any media delivering on its commitment," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a widely covered address marking the station's launch. "The media are used by the domineering powers to occupy lands and people's hearts."
In addition to Iran; France, Russia, and China have all joined the international news club -- led by CNN and the BBC -- in recent months and years.
Increasingly these new global networks have an anti-American edge. Earlier this year, the insurgent Islamic Army of Iraq went on the air with Al Zawraa -- thanks in part to a cooperative Egypt that gave it satellite access.
Perhaps the most virulently anti-American outlet is Venezuela's Telesur network. Launched In 2005 by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, the network has been assiduously signing deals to have the station carried on cable carriers throughout Latin America. Telesur's coverage promotes a left-wing bent. Recently Telesur was advertising a special documentary on Che Guevara, the communist guerilla.
Lawrence Pintak of the American University in Cairo recently wrote for the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy that Al Zawraa amounts to a "television version of the now-infamous jihadi Web sites."
While some may see these new broadcasts as simple propaganda, and others claim that they're a corrective for Western-blinkered news, at least one military and foreign policy author views it as a tribute to America's promotion of liberal democratic values.
But Stephen Hess, media expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells NewsMax that propaganda is generally not the driving force behind these networks. His explanation for the explosion in global television news: "Ego. National ego visited through heads of state."
"I felt that particularly when I looked at the French plans. They want to play with the big nations. This is one way that you get there. You're almost pushing your way in.
"Hey, what is France's place in the world today," Hess says. "If we were recreating the Security Council of the United Nations and limiting it to the same people, would France be one of those countries?"
The new France 24 network, with a stated goal of matching CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, launched its service last December. The network broadcasts in French and English, and has found cable and satellite carriers to take it to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Washington D.C. area. As of Oct. 1, it was offering a trilingual Web site in English, French, and Arabic.
"This channel will not be anti-American," network chief Alain de Pouzilhac told The Washington Post upon its launch. "But this channel has to discover international news with French eyes, like CNN discovers international news with American eyes."
Many of these networks have at least one thing in common, according to Hess. A majority of their correspondents are veterans of respected English-language networks of long standing, particularly the BBC and the Voice of America.
In point of fact, the concept of global news broadcasting was born with the BBC's radio shortwave World Service in 1932, "to be the world's best-known and most-respected voice in international broadcasting, thereby bringing benefit to Britain." As of May, the radio service boasts of broadcasting in 33 languages.
Reliable numbers on the reach of the global television news superstars -- CNN, News Corp. (parent of Fox News), the BBC and Al Jazeera -- are hard to come by because of highly complex international corporate structures and various ratings schemes that now conflate television, radio, and the Internet.
CNN International claims to have a theoretical reach of 1.5 billion people in 212 nations. The BBC says it reaches 150 nations, but gives no television-specific figures because much of its global reach is traditionally by radio, and increasingly by the Internet. And Murdoch's News Corp. has structured its satellite and cable television franchises into any number of separate entities to meet local government requirements, ranging from the United States' Fox News to variants of Sky News across parts of Europe and Star News across much of Asia.
But there is little disagreement that the four big players dwarf all others, and likely will continue to do so.
France's entry is aimed by satellite at primarily its former colonies. It broadcasts in fewer than 30 languages. China's CCTV-9 says it can reach a relatively paltry 45 million people outside that nation of 1.3 billion. And Russia Today says it has 90 million pay-satellite customers around the planet -- but that includes those in a country of 141 million.
Foreign affairs and military expert Robert Kaplan recently told a Brookings Institution audience that this new flood of information is something "we (Americans) instituted in the first place."
"Everyone agrees we promote and push historically liberal societies wherever we are," he told that gathering. "And the more and more democratic, the more and more you have a feisty media which didn't exist before."
Kaplan, most recently author of Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground, went on: "The whole Arab media phenomena . . . we may look upon them as prejudicial, but people in the region look upon them as provocatively pro-Western and don't just trumpet their military regime goals all the time."
And Brookings' Hess is impressed with the professionalism he has encountered during his dealings with this fledgling press, particularly in the Muslim world.
"I found that they were quite good correspondents," he tells NewsMax. "Obviously these folks have a point of view, but I did not find that the questioning was particularly slanted.
"There has been remarkably high quality," he adds. "I didn't expect it to be so high when I agreed to do it."
Of this growing source of television information, he says simply: "They do it because they can afford it and they do it so they can feel like big shots."
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