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Sammy Ketz: A channel that has direct contact with Libyan leader
September 29, 2011
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In the upscale Yafur district of Damascus, Mishan Al Juburi has set aside part of his palatial compound to house Arrai, an Arabic television channel that has become the favoured forum for Muammar Qadhafi.

The 250 square metre hangar is littered with satellite dishes, and a recording studio is separated by a clear-glass window from the office of the channel’s director — Juburi’s 27-year-old daughter, Hawazen, one of 11 children.

“We are the only channel in direct contact with Muammar Qadhafi and his family,” Hawazen said, referring to the longtime Libyan strongman who is now on the run after rebel forces took control of Tripoli and most of the country he lorded over for 42 years.

“Our competitors have invested in presentation technology, but we have invested in secure communications. Because of our system, (Qadhafi) has called us six times,” she added.

Asked why Qadhafi had chosen Arrai to broadcast his messages, Hawazen, a graduate in English literature from Damascus University, replied: “He knows that we are honest, and we do not misrepresent what he says. “I can assure you that he is still with his fighters,” she added.

The channel has also twice interviewed the Libyan strongman’s son Seif Al Islam, as well as Qadhafi’s daughter Aisha. Mishan Al Juburi also claims to speak to Mussa Ibrahim, Kadhafi’s spokesman, every other day. The 54-year-old former Iraqi MP fled his homeland in 2007, four years after the US-led invasion, because, he claims, American forces were after him. He founded Arrai the same year.

He says he invested $3 million in equipment for the channel, and annual operating costs amount to $1.5 million. The building is housed in a grandiose compound that includes a 9,000 square metre garden and a 2,400 square metre (26,000 square foot) house with multiple themed rooms, including one modelled on the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and another on a Chinese theme.

The channel’s formula is simple — there is no advertising, and anchors moderate debates in which callers can telephone in, with their phone numbers hidden to protect their identities. “You can say whatever you want against the leadership of Arab regimes — we only do not allow insults or obscenities,” said Yara Saleh, one of Arrai’s anchorwomen.

Mishan Al Juburi said that at one point he was approached by a Syrian businessman, apparently dispatched by the new authorities in Tripoli, offering him a hefty sum — he did not say how much — to stop talking about Libya.

“What would we tell our viewers?” he said. “That we are no longer showing the resistance? No, thank you.” Ironically, Arrai, which is broadcast over the Eutelsat European satellite broadcasting system “to avoid pressure from Arab regimes,” was a frequent irritant of Qadhafi before falling in the bad graces of Libya’s interim prime minister, Mahmud Jibril.

“As we defended the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, a furious Qadhafi called (Syrian President) Bashar Al Assad eight months ago and demanded he shut down my TV station or he would bomb it,” Juburi said. “And Jibril, he recently said that if the Syrian authorities did not block our broadcasts, he would create a TV channel for the Syrian opposition.”

Agence France-Presse

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