New pan-Arab satellite channel goes on air

A new pan-Arab satellite television station went on air on Monday, headed by a well-known Tunisian journalist who quit Al-Jazeera to protest what he saw as bias against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

The Beirut-based station Al-Mayadeen, Arabic for The Squares, says it aims to counter the influence of the popular Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya networks. It promises to support the Palestinian cause and all forms of "resistance" — a term in Mideast parlance usually used to describe the Lebanese group Hezbollah and other groups that fight Israel.

Al-Mayadeen is headed by Ghassan bin Jiddo, who quit Qatar-based Al-Jazeera last year to protest its reporting of the uprising in Syria. Since the revolt began 15 months ago, some Arabs accused Al Jazeera of whipping up public opinion against Assad's regime. 

"We are not a channel that speaks in the name of Iran or the Syrian regime. We are a completely independent channel which reflects reality as it is," bin Jiddo said at a news conference in Beirut this week.

Still, he said the channel will champion Arab nationalist causes, at the foremost the Palestinians.

"We will fight sectarianism and stand against colonialism and foreign intervention. ... The station's compass will always be turned to Palestine and the resistance," he said.

The new channel  is competing with a slew of other all-news Arab TV stations trying to draw viewers at a time of momentous political change in the Arab world.  The Arab Spring uprisings that have swept the region since last year have polarized the media, with journalists accusing each other of taking sides.

The station began broadcasting at 1100 GMT Monday (7 a.m. EDT) with a pledge from bin Jiddo to uphold a professional and balanced approach to journalism. In the run up to the launch, billboards advertising Al-Mayadeen popped up across Lebanon with the words: "Reality as it is."

There has been much speculation over the source of funding for the channel, which employs around 300 workers. Bin Jiddo says it is funded by Arab businessmen whose identity he would not disclose.

The channel has attracted journalists from across the Arab world and even beyond. George Galloway, an outspoken former British anti-war lawmaker, will host a weekly program called "A Free Word."