New Channel with Hezbollah Ties Opens Bureau Near White House (PJM Exclusive)
A new Arab satellite channel billed as a "focused on delivering a true and honest message" -- with Hezbollah ties and questions of connections to Iran and Syria -- has opened an office just a couple blocks from the White House.
Al-Mayadeen, meaning "the Square," is attempting to position itself as an alternative to Al-Jazeera and other Arabic media outlets.
But while the channel draws its name from the Arab Spring revolutions, à la Tahrir Square, the co-founders running Al-Mayadeen have disturbing ties to terrorists and undemocratic regimes.
Ghassan Ben Jeddo, a host at Al-Jazeera and former Beirut bureau chief, quit the channel a year ago with complaints that the station had become an "operations room for incitement" and "biased" -- against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, for one.
“I do believe that Al-Jazeera and other channels were not balanced in dealing with the events,” the Tunisian said at the time. “For instance, with respect to the events in Syria and Bahrain, we started to invite guests from America who only criticize the regime in Syria and support the regime in Bahrain and persons who justify NATO intervention. This is unacceptable.”
Ben Jeddo is billed as the only journalist to have interviewed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah during the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006. He's also interviewed Fidel Castro.
He was also Al-Jazeera's former bureau chief in Iran.
Ben Jeddo is infamous for welcoming a terrorist out of prison with an on-air party (VIDEO). Samir Kuntar, who in 1979 killed a father and the man's 4-year-old daughter by beating her head against shore rocks in Nahariya, Israel, was released in a 2008 prisoner exchange. To welcome the terrorist home and celebrate Kuntar's 46th year on this earth, Beirut's bureau chief rolled out a cake for the murderer that included a "most beautiful picture," in Kuntar's words, of Nasrallah.
"Brother Samir, we wish to celebrate your birthday with you," said Ben Jeddo in the broadcast. "You deserve even more than this."
When Ben Jeddo announced the Al-Mayadeen venture just a few months after his highly publicized Al-Jazeera resignation, he had his new business partner by his side at a Beirut press conference.
Nayef Krayyem, owner of a satellite provider called Union Media, is a former spokesman for Hezbollah and onetime general manager of Al-Manar, Hezbollah's satellite television station.
In 1995, Krayyem was selected to be head of Hezbollah's Central Information Office. He would help the group's TV arm get off the ground.
In 2001, as CEO of Al-Manar, Krayyem took credit for the Israeli pullout from Lebanon, which was actually a ceasefire agreement, in Operation Grapes of Wrath.
“In 1996, for the first time we shocked the Israelis with our Hebrew broadcasts and pulled the rug from under them," Krayyem said.
“It began under pressure of need and with limited means in Beirut’s southern suburbs, but in 1997 it became officially licensed so we could invest more in the operation,” he said of Al-Manar's founding and eventual registration as the Lebanese Media Group Company. “...One phase may have ended, but our struggle isn’t over since we also have social, economic and educational goals."
Once describing the relationship between Hezbollah and Al-Manar, Krayyem said, "They breathe life into one another. Each provides the other with inspiration. Hezbollah uses Al-Manar to express its stands and its views, etc. Al-Manar in turn receives political support for its continuation."
In 2006, the Treasury Department placed Al-Manar under sanctions as a specially designated global terrorist entity, noting that the official media arm facilitated Hezbollah activities, employed Hezbollah members, supported Palestinian terror organizations, and supported Hezbollah fundraising and recruitment efforts.
In a posting on the Idealist job board, where the media organization had advertised last month for a research intern in its Washington bureau, Al-Mayadeen describes itself as "an integral part of a larger broadcast network that utilizes social media and consists of a production entity to supply content, news, advertising, documentaries, movies and entertainment."
"Its logo design was inspired by Islamic traditions and references in the holy Quran," reads the description. "It translates into 'ember of light,' and the calligraphy resembles the Quranic text as a chapter beginning, 'alef, lam, meem' – A, L, M."
Al-Mayadeen lists its address as an office in the National Press Club building.
The station is classified on Idealist as a "nonprofit or community organization." That would be highly accurate if Al-Mayadeen is the propaganda money drain like Al-Manar -- Krayyem once described the unnamed investors for Al-Manar as having "political rather than financial" aims that compensated for "huge" financial losses.
Al-Mayadeen says the channel is "not affiliated with, beholden to, or funded by any political party, ideological group, or government," echoing Ben Jeddo's claim that the network is not funded by any Arab regime or state.
"Its income is derived solely from private investors who are faithful to its mission," the description adds.
That mission includes featuring the Palestinian cause heavily in its programming, Ben Jeddo said in announcing the venture last year, and excluding any Israeli officials as guests.
Al-Mayadeen has an official position against the normalization of ties with the Jewish state. As Al-Manar general manager, Krayyem once described his station as "carrying the message of facing the Israeli enemy" and featuring a variety of Arab guests to "direct them to one target: the Israeli enemy."
Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen is registered in Britain. That country revoked the license of the state-funded Iran Press TV in January on the grounds that it's a Tehran-controlled propaganda outlet. Iran Press TV currently operates freely in Washington.
An FCC official told PJM that if a channel was transmitting signals from the U.S. it would need a license, but not if it was a bureau in which signals were originating from aboard.
Still, the two media outlets raise questions about sanctions violations.
The growing list of sanctions against doing business with the Iranian regime is well-known, but there are also still those sanctions in place against doing business with Al-Manar.
Because of the past of Krayyem, Al-Mayadeen's co-founder and new general manager, does the establishment of the D.C. bureau violate sanctions?
"As a general matter, there is no prohibition on U.S. persons engaging in transactions with an individual who is a former manager of al-Manar, provided that the individual is not himself designated," a Treasury Department official told PJM. "U.S. persons should exercise significant caution that the transaction does not in any way involve or benefit Al-Manar, Hezbollah, or another designated person."
There are also questions about those investors propping up the effort that allowed a former student activist and Al-Jazeera host to seamlessly become the head of a new network's board of directors -- a station well-heeled enough to be luring other big-name journalists from Arab media outlets.
Sources within Lebanon who wished to not be revealed due to safety concerns told PJM that Al-Mayadeen was established through funding from Iranian and Syrian money, and that the network is wholeheartedly supporting Hezbollah.
Despite Al-Mayadeen's claim that it is not funded by any government, what is indisputable is the sweet coverage given to the station's launch by Iran's official media.
After his new venture was up and running, Ben Jeddo sat down last month with Iran Press TV to decry his former employer as a mouthpiece of the Qatari government and the world's major powers.
"The channels forgot about objectivity and professionalism and became puppets for the governments," Ben Jeddo charged of "non-independent" Arab media, vowing that Al-Mayadeen would offer "bold, objective and balanced coverage."
Meanwhile, as the Syrian regime's bloody campaign against grass-roots democracy activists continues, Assad's government is using posters with Ben Jeddo's face next to a Syrian flag, quoting him as saying, "The truth is like the sun, it cannot be hidden."