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February 3, 2014 8:12 am

The New Face of Israeli News: i24’s Miracle Man”Ž

avatar by Josephine Bacon

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Frank Melloul. Photo: Josephine Bacon.

Frank Melloul has done the impossible. He has managed to launch an international 24-hour news station, broadcasting in three languages – Arabic, English, and French – and all within a few weeks of his immigration to Israel! This incredible feat has been achieved at lightening speed, when Israel’s supporters, both inside and outside the country, have been clamoring for years for just such a broadcasting operation.

Take Brenda Katten, former chair of British WIZO and of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, who made aliyah to Israel several years ago. Every time she has given talks to youth groups visiting Israel she has stressed the need for just such an initiative. At last, her dream has come true. “I am delighted that there is now an i24 news,” she said. “It is great to have the opportunity to see the view from Israel. It’s a very professional presentation. The regular news bulletins give a complete overview of what is happening, not only in Israel but in the entire Middle East.”

The new station, i24, was launched in July 2013, and is the only news outlet through which Israel can portray itself independently as the only true democracy in the Middle East, where a total diversity of views can be expressed openly without fear of reprisals.

Twenty-four-hour international news channels are being rolled out all over the developed world. Al-Jazeera, the first one in the Middle East, has a veneer of even-handedness, even though it is owned by the Qatari government. Its image has been tarnished of late through its alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The rest of the Middle East news output comes from blatant propaganda channels run by the dictatorships, such as Al-Manar and the notorious PressTV owned by the Iranian government, with their blatantly anti-Israel and even anti-semitic slant.

As for BBC news, its objective reporting in the international arena, and especially the Middle East, has been replaced in recent years by highly subjective, anti-Israel reporting that unfortunately has done much to shape public opinion in the United Kingdom. In the average mind of British citizens, Israel is now lumped together with rogue states such as North Korea and Pakistan as reported by several opinion polls.

Is Frank Melloul stressed out by the burden of running a 24-hour trilingual television operation that started from scratch? Apparently not. He is one of those jolly characters who appears unfazed by the cacophony of 150 reporters and presenters broadcasting in three foreign languages plus Hebrew, who work in i24’s offices on a daily basis. Yet Melloul always appears calm and in control of the situation.

Melloul’s “fairy godmother” who set up the financing is a media mogul by the name of Patrick Drahi. Drahi set up France’s round-the-clock news channel, France24, and is a pioneer of news broadcasting channels. His Luxembourg company, Altice, is one of the biggest cable operations in the world; it is the actual owner of i24. The fact that i24 is not actually Israeli-owned assists it in circumventing many boycotts and exclusions that an Israel-owned company would face and enables it to get better coverage of the Muslim world.

Frank Melloul’s background is in broadcasting, much of it from France24. His mother tongue is French and he was born in French-speaking Switzerland; he studied in the USA and is bilingual in French-English. He later moved into the French civil service, where he occupied various senior positions, becoming an advisor to senior government ministers, and even the French prime minister, before suddenly throwing it all away to embark on this daring venture.

Six months after the station was launched, Melloul insists that it is making an impact. “The output is available on TV in 350 million households around the world, with satellite and cable channels broadcasting it in Europe, Asia, and most of the Middle East. It has always been available via live streaming on the internet (http://www.i24news.tv). Melloul is negotiating for i24 to become available to cable and satellite subscribers in the U.S. in the very near future.

It is hardly surprising that the i24 website has attracted many hits from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Egypt (although it has been blocked in Tunisia). The Arabic output is spearheaded by the very attractive Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab who comes from Dimona, a development town in southern Israel, and who is trilingual in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. She is a magnet for Arab viewers, in the same way as the much missed Gloria Stewart fronted Kol Israel’s television soon after the Six-Day War.

Clearly i24 will thrive as Israeli media output moves into the twenty-first century.

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