How did a journalist for an Arab-language broadcaster score the first television interview granted by President Barack Obama? Well, at first, Hisham Melhem, the Washington bureau chief for al-Arabiya, a Saudi-backed news channel headquartered in Dubai, thought he was getting someone else. Not that he hadn’t tried — like everyone else in Washington — to snag the historic first.
Melhem says there apparently was an internal debate at the White House about whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media, but that when the decision was made, several advisers recommended it be granted to al-Arabiya. The channel is seen as a prominent voice of moderation in the Middle East, preferring calm analysis to what many see as rival al-Jazeera’s more sensational coverage. The Obama scoop came at a good moment for al-Arabiya, which had seen ratings falter as al-Jazeera provided blanket coverage of Palestinian suffering during the recent Israeli war in Gaza