The TV news channel dubbed ‘the Jewish al-Jazeera’ hopes to attract a global audience with its independent stance
By Luke Browne, Media Guardian
The world’s first Jewish 24-hour TV news channel has launched with the aim of offering not just “news for Jews” but attracting viewers interested in world events from a Jewish perspective as an alternative to leading networks such as the BBC, CNN, Sky News and al-Jazeera.
“Since the beginning of the world, everything with the word ‘Jewish’ in it has been news,” said Alexander Zanzer, Brussels bureau chief of Jewish News 1 (JN1). “So we thought it was about time someone created a 24-hour rolling TV news channel that looks at global events through Jewish glasses.”
Broadcasting in Europe began via satellite last Wednesday. The channel will be rolled out across North America and the Middle East in cable and satellite packages over the coming weeks, and an internet live stream will be up and running within a month.
“We don’t look at our channel as just being ‘news for Jews’,” said JN1’s editor-in-chief Peter Dickinson, based in Kiev. “It’s a much wider enterprise than that and I’m confident we’ll get a lot of non-Jewish viewers coming by for the variety of our voice.
“If you look at the news market over the last 20 years, the real development has been diversification. A lot of channels have gotten a lot of kudos by being different and we hope to do the same by offering our own unique perspective on global affairs”.
JN1 has already opened bureaux in Brussels, Tel Aviv and Kiev, and further studios are planned for Washington, Paris, London, Berlin and Moscow, with both Jewish and non-Jewish correspondents being signed up.
The channel – a not-for-profit venture – currently broadcasts in English, but plans to expand and provide current affairs coverage in Russian, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian and German, said Zanzer.
Its owners are Ukrainian oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Vadim Rabinovich, president and vice-president respectively of the European Jewish Union (EJU), a Brussels-based umbrella body of Jewish communities and organisations in Europe.
Both are prominent philanthropists in the international Jewish community, financing civil society events in Israel and Ukraine. The pair have reportedly invested $5m in the channel because, said Zanzer, “they now want to do something that resonates on an international level”.
The Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations dominated the channel’s output in the last week, but it also broadcast other Jewish-themed international news items, such as a call for fans of the football team AFC Ajax to bring Israeli flags to their next home match in protest against calls from antisemitism campaigners to ban the club’s supporters from singing pro-Jewish chants.
Eytan Gilboa, a communications professor at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said that JN1 was part of a growing trend of independent global news channels set up by governments and non-state organisations dissatisfied with coverage offered by leading international TV news networks of their countries and interests.
“France has France 24, Russia has Russia Today, China has CCTV news,” he said. “Israel should have had a channel like this long ago, though I’m glad JN1 is a private venture because government channels have no credibility.”
Coverage of Israel by existing news networks like BBC World and CNN International – as well as al-Jazeera – was biased against the Jewish state, said Gilboa. The point was echoed by Zanzer, who said JN1 would “give more voice to Israel”. “Journalists want good guys and bad guys when they write a story, and when they write about Israel they’ve already made up their minds,” he added.
But Zanzer was keen to point out that the channel was independent from the state of Israel and “will not necessarily be pro- or anti-Israel; we’ll let the public hear the Israeli perspective and it’ll be up to the viewers to decide whether they’re right”.
The channel’s Israeli bureau chief, CNN and ABC News veteran Jordana Miller, was also adamant that JN1 will not become a “propaganda station”, saying “there’s nothing about this network that will exclude, diminish or cut off the Palestinian narrative when it comes to the conflict here”.
Gilboa claimed it was too soon to say whether channels such as JN1 could be successful but pointed out that success was relative and dependeent on the goals and expectations of the people backing them.
“None of these channels are profitable, they lose money,” he said. “It’s like foreigners buying football teams in Britain – they don’t buy them to make a profit.”