Abu Dhabi TV, Al Jazeera slug it out for war eyeballs

MUMBAI: It's not just the US networks that are in a ratings and influence peddling war as the US-led invasion rumbles on.

On one hand, there's Al Jazeera which caused a stir with the broadcast of battle casualties in the last few days, images that many western news organisations would consider too shocking to publish. Reports in the Guardian say the channel's footage of Iraqi television's interviews with five captured American soldiers caused US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld to dub it a "breach of the Geneva convention." Now that's an original line.

Yet, Al Jazeera is the most watched channel in the Arab world currently, says the Guardian. But when it comes to making a mark internationally, the very images that are making the US networks suddenly queezy is proving a boon for another Arab channel. Abu Dhabi Television (ADTV) is emerging as a frontliner in feeding 'crucial' footage on the Iraq war to international networks, thanks to its strategic location in the centre of Baghdad, near the Tigris river.

ADTV has readied well for this war, what with an intensive three month preparation, professional staff and technical expertise, according to the UAE-based Gulf News ,which quotes Ali Al Ahmed, director of ADTV, Emirates Media Inc as saying that more than 120 broadcasting networks and media organisations including APTN, AFP, Reuters, CNN and others are subscribing or 'picking up' their exclusive live footage of the war. 

Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar, which is cooperating with the US in the invasion of Iraq, but staff insist it has full editorial freedom. Al Jazeera's main studio too, is located in the Qatari capital Doha. As the only television station with a permanent base in Kabul, it also became a source of exclusive footage that other channels around the world were eager to buy during the Afghan conflict. 

Al-Jazeera has seven reporters and a back-up team of 20 working independently in Iraq, plus others "embedded" with the US and British forces. Before the war, executives predicted that their team would have an advantage over western journalists because of their familiarity with Iraq and fluency in Arabic. 

On Sunday, the channel broadcast a lengthy interview with an Iraqi general in Basra denying that US and British forces had taken the city, and also filmed the search in Baghdad for two western pilots who had allegedly baled out over the city. 

ADTV on its part, has stepped up news coverage to 24 hours from last week. Ahmed has told Gulf News that the channel has three crews working round the clock and that it is the only television channel to be equipped with a studio and other facilities in Baghdad city, and claims that some of the dramatic images from the live coverage of the 'shock and awe bombardment' of Baghdad on most international networks such as CNN were exclusive ADTV footage. 

ADTV's Baghdad bureau, with three correspondents, supported by a technical crew, also sports two satellite trucks. The station, which has reporters and technical crew - comprising engineers, technicians, cameramen and producers - positioned in the north, west, south and east of Iraq, has around 40 reporters in the field covering the war.They have also deployed reporters in Baghdad, northern Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Jordan with a maximum presence in Kuwait, Al Ahmed said.

"We need to keep the momentum going. We shall shortly move our correspondents to Basra, where the action may be concentrated next," Ahmed has told Gulf News.

Coming back to Al-Jazeera, there has been a not-so-subtle riposte to its coverage from the New York Stock Exchange. Al-Jazeera said Tuesday the NYSE has banned its reporters - a move the station attributed to its reports on Iraq.

"Al-Jazeera has received an official letter from the New York Stock Exchange informing it that the station's financial reporters can no longer present their reports from the exchange," the satellite channel reported on its morning financial broadcast. The station reported that the letter said the exchange wanted to limit the number of television stations covering the exchange. But Al-Jazeera, which has been covering the NYSE for years, said it was believed to be the only channel affected by the action.

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