Where on television can you find presenters wearing the niqab and a wide selection of propaganda videos? Lebanon’s Al Manar TV.
Al Manar, which means The Beacon, takes partisan journalism to a whole new level, putting sensationalist networks like Fox News or Al-Arabiya to shame.
In this world, bias is nothing to hide. It is something the editorial team at Al Manar cherish with unfaltering zeal. Covering the news at Al Manar is not about accuracy, it’s about weakening the “Zionist enemy” through a “media war” and celebrating the right to fight occupation. Al Manar is about resistance: resistance against Israel in Lebanon and the occupied territories but also against the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Al Manar, which is based just outside of Beirut, launched its terrestrial channel in 1991 and began broadcasting by satellite in 2000. In nine years it has attracted more than 15 million viewers worldwide. It claims to be one of the most popular Arab satellite channels in the region, competing with AlJazeera and Al Arabiya.
But unlike other networks Al Manar is backed by Lebanese resistance party Hezbollah and, allegedly, by Iran.
“Al Manar is effectively Hezbollah’s mouthpiece to the world,” says Nabil Abdel Fatah, an analyst at Al Ahram Research Center. “Its news coverage is a direct reflection of their politics. As for Iran their links with Hezbollah are well known. They both share a similar Shia vision for the region, so Iran has an incentive to support Hezbollah by offering financial support to Al Manar.”
The station is a 24-hour news network with several Arabic news bulletins each day. Al Manar recently added an English and French news bulletin to their daily line-up. There is very little advertising on Al Manar, but much of the airtime is still filler.
Songs venerating Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and music videos showing Hezbollah’s army mobilizing for war are two of the more common sites between news broadcasts. Similarly, there is selection of videos dedicated to mocking Israeli political leaders. One animation shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dressed as Hitler. Netanyahu does a Nazi salute as Palestinians are gassed.
In addition to these propaganda videos, Al Manar airs some real programming. Production standards are relatively high and some of their content is very original.
Al Manar regularly sends cameras along with Hezbollah on guerilla operations. The result is dynamic and uniquely intimate war footage that is seldom seen on any other channel. The station’s camera operators have become legendary in the Arab world for their bravery and have been dubbed the “camera soldiers” of the resistance. When they die they are considered heroes.
The real gem of Al Manar’s programming is “Houna Filastine,” or Here is Palestine. The show is dedicated to reuniting Palestinian families who have been separated by the Israeli occupation.
Members of the family are first seen in the studio describing how they became separated from their brothers, sisters, mothers, or fathers. The long lost family members are then beamed in to the studio via the satellite from Israel, Lebanon, the US, or wherever they happen to be.
The show ends with another Palestinian family making a plea to find their lost relatives, which then becomes the task for the following week. This kind of raw and unabashedly emotional programming is what has made Al Manar so popular in the region.
Al Manar’s ideological approach to the news has landed them in hot water time and time again.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006, they bombed Al Manar’s headquarters, temporarily taking the network off the air. The US publicly expressed support for the Israeli move to disable Al Manar, labeling it a “terrorist station” and an obstacle to peace in the region.
Is the channel still in danger of being annihilated by Israel? Al Manar’s English website recently declared that Israel is still reeling from their failed attempt to destroy them three years ago and is more determined then ever to wipe out the “terrorist channel.”
Abdel Fatah says, “Al Manar represents an alternative viewpoint to events in the Middle East that reflects not only Hezbollah’s, but also Hamas’s approach to regional politics. The possibility of these ideas spreading is problematic to Israel and the US. As long as Al Manar is linked to this agenda, they will always be in danger.”