Future News: Lebanon's answer to CNN?

Future News, the 24-hour news adventure brought to you by the Hariri media empire, started broadcasting on December 9. Although it is state of the art as far as technology and design are concerned, the future will tell if it will also be 'fair and balanced' as it has promised.
By Menassat.com Staff
Future News TV studios in Beirut. ©AFP / Ramzi Haidar
Future News' new studios in Beirut. © Ramzi Haidar / AFP

BEIRUT, Dec. 10, 2007 (MENASSAT.COM) - The initial launching date of Future News was scheduled for November 21 - the same day the Lebanese parliament was to have elected a new president. While Lebanon is still with out a president (at press time, there had been seven postponements of the parliamentary vote for president in a near 3 month process), Future News began broadcasting on December 9.

Future News is the latest addition to the al-Hariri family media empire. The Hariri family already control the Al-Mustaqbal newspaper and the satellite TV station, Future TV.

But Future TV is a general TV station that mixes entertainment and news; Future News is going to be all news all the time, broadcast to the entire world, 24 hours per day, in Arabic, French, English and Armenian.

So is Future News Lebanon's answer to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and CNN? Well, it will have 250-300 employees with bureaus in ten cities, among them Paris, Washington, Gaza, Teheran and Ryadh.

"But our budget is very limited by comparison", the station's director, Nadim Munla, told AFP ahead of the launch, without going into details. (He later told the advertising and marketing website www.communicate.ae that Future News' budget had been expanded and it now has a respectable monthly budget of $1 to 1.2 million.)

Munla also promised that Future News would not be a propaganda station for the Future Party. (The Future Party is the main power-broker in the current Lebanese government.) "Our coverage will be balanced", he told AFP. "We will be covering international news but with a focus on Lebanon."

Future News' new offices in any case portend a bright future for the station. From Beirut's Hamra Street, passers-by have a clear view of the operation inside: the technicians, the journalists, the offices and the giant TV screens in the open studios. An electronic screen on the outside of the building provides real-time information to the outside world.

"The idea was to make the building itself look like an electronic newspaper", said Ali Wazni, who designed it. "At the same time, we built a glass front overlooking Hamra Street so that anyone can see what's going on inside. We wanted to give an impression of transparency."

The same concept of transparency was applied to the inside of the three-story glass building: all the offices have a clear view of what's happening in the studios and the editing rooms and vice versa.

During a recent visit by MENASSAT.COM, station director Nadim Al-Monla was meeting with one of his journalists behind the glass wall of his office. He found time to talk to us about Future News' plans.

"We have attracted some renowned faces from the Lebanese media as well as some new ones. Among the renowned names are: Nidal Ayoub [formerly with LBCI and MENASSAT.COM], Muhammad Zainab, Nadim Kteich, Paula Yaacoubian and Muhannad Al-Khatib. More people will be joining us at the beginning of the new year. They will come from outside of Lebanon and their names will be
announced when the time is right”.

What about the programming?

Al-Monla: “There will be eight newscasts per day other than the news roundups. Five of them will be in Arabic at 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The last newscast will be at midnight. A newscast in Armenian will be aired at 2 p.m. and two newscasts in French and English will be aired between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Beirut time”.

Apart from the newscasts, Future News will feature two daily news programs. The first is “Kalam Beirut” [Beirut Talk] which will analyze the newspaper headlines of the day. A second news program, “Khamisa Wal Echroun” [Twenty Five], will be aired in the evening and will be presented by Sahar Al-Khatib.

In addition to these two daily programs, a weekly news program, hosted by Nidal Ayoub, will address the situation in the different regions of Lebanon every Sunday morning.

As for the prime time shows, Ali Hamade will continue to host “Al-Istihqaq” [The Event], while Paula Yaacoubian will present a talk show called “Interviews” on Monday night.

On Sunday evening, Muhannad Al-Khatib will present the program “Radar” which will shed light on the three most important Arab and international events of the week. It will be followed by “Transit", to be presented by Najat Sharafeddin. Another program called "Butterfly" will carry mostly international news reports. “Transit” and “Al-Istihqaq” will be aired by both Future News and the existing Future channel.

On the technical level, chief director Abdul Fattah Amhaz assured us Future News will be state of the art. "The technology we are using is the most sophisticated and up to date in today's television world. We don't use video anymore; everything is based on optical disks. We have also provided our correspondents with xdcam cameras."

What about the coverage?

The future will tell if Future News will be a welcome addition to the Lebanese media landscape, or just another political platform. (Opposition leader, former General Michel Aoun recently launched his own TV station, OTV; he was one of the few leaders who didn't have a station previously.)

But Future News has already made its mark with its aggressive teaser campaign on billboards throughout Lebanon. A series of six billboards show, among other things, a fiery-eyed child and a wild-eyed bearded man reminiscent of a Fatah al-Islam fighter - both carrying assault rifles. The tagline reads: "Before it is repeated," a clear reference to the constant danger of a renewed outbreak of civil war in Lebanon.

"I'm aware that this was an aggressive campaign," Munla told www.communicate.ae, "but it carried a positive message. We wanted to tell people that we’re not going to be shy about tackling serious issues, but that we also want to propose constructive solutions. Especially in a country like Lebanon, you’ve got to know the facts before you get carried away. So the message is that before you do anything important, you watch Future News.”

Khaldoun Zein Eddin contributed to this report.