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Mosaic at Link TV: A Window on the Middle East

NCM Profile

NCM, Profile, Owen David Posted: Aug 11, 2004

Jamal Dajani never dreamed that he would become a television producer. A Palestinian-American and former president of the Arab Cultural and Community Center in San Francisco, his true passion had always been political science his major at Columbia University. Shortly after Sept. 11, however, everything changed. It was then that he got a call asking if he would like to help start up a daily news program on San Francisco-based satellite network Link TV to better connect American viewers with current events in the Middle East. Although he had never worked in television before, Dajani recalls that he knew that he had been given the opportunity to do something new and important, and he leapt at the chance.

These days, he spends a lot of his time in a windowless room lined with glowing television screens, accompanied by a small but dedicated production staff. Their show, called Mosaic, pieces together translated but otherwise unedited news stories that come directly from networks throughout the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi TV, Cairos Nile TV, Qatars Al Jazeera, and the Israeli Broadcast Authority.

Now the director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV, Dajani says that the goal of Mosaic is to give American viewers a glimpse through a window of what 280 million people watch on a daily basis in the Middle East. Too often, he says, we remain trapped in our bubble, lacking knowledge about the history and geography of the region and getting information and news coverage on the area only when disaster strikes. Now that daily events there may be more important than ever to Americans, Dajani aims to reverse the trend of condensing the Middle Easts 22 countries into simplified news roundups. How can you know about a conflict, he asks, when for decades you summarize the region in sound bites on CNN?

With this goal in mind, Dajani and the Mosaic team re-broadcast stories directly from the Middle Eastern networks themselves in a form as close to the original as possible. If one of the programs top news items is covered by a wide variety of the Middle Eastern networks, Mosaic often shows the story as it was reported in several different countries, giving inquiring American viewers multiple perspectives on the days events. In addition to the daily half-hour broadcasts, The Mosaic team also puts together a monthly analysis special, in which a panel of experts discusses a story with a particularly large impact.

Although Mosaic started with segments from a limited number of broadcasters when it first went on the air in October 2001, it now has permission to use material from 16 different Middle Eastern networks, and Dajani and the team monitor more than 30 networks on any given day. To keep up with the overwhelming amount of information beaming into the studio, each member of the staff is assigned several countries to watch. Even in his office, which looks into the production room, Dajani has two televisions that flicker with a constant stream of faces and images. It takes a lot of hard work, he says, as well as the combined experience of the staff to choose the content of the show every day. However, it was Mosaics coverage of the war in Iraq that truly put it on the map, when mainstream U.S. media outlets began to ask Dajani for footage to use in their programs. While in-depth coverage of events in Iraq has since become a staple of Mosaics daily broadcasts, the shows staff has always made an effort to devote time to stories with shelf life, as Dajani puts it, such as pieces on the cultures of the Middle East.

Since it is broadcast simultaneously throughout the United States via satellite on DirectTV and the Dish Network, Mosaic reaches a potential 21.4 million homes, and the number of satellite TV subscribers is growing all the time especially in rural areas, where traditional cable TV may be unavailable. In fact, Link TVs viewers are almost evenly split between urban (57%) and rural (43%) zones.

Host Link TV's network broadcasts a mix of original programming, world music videos and documentaries, the vast majority of which has never been seen on American television. It prides itself on having caught the attention of not only older viewers who enjoy the documentaries and specials but also young adults and teenagers looking to learn more about world music and to see fresh angles on current events. Mosaics largest audience has traditionally been ordinary Americans looking for an alternative source of information about Middle Eastern current events, but through Link TV Dajani has found that a number of second-generation Arab-Americans, whose parents perhaps still get their news in Arabic, have been drawn to the program as well.

Mosaic, like Link TV itself, is completely non-profit and non-commercial. As a result, Dajani emphasizes, What is most important to us is making a connection with our viewers. We dont take them for granted. After all, through Link TVs quarterly pledge drives, it is ultimately the viewers themselves who support the station. Both Mosaic and Link TV also receive core funding from numerous foundations, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which provided the initiative for the launch of Mosaic, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For those without access to satellite TV, Mosaic is now available in streaming format on Link TVs web site, www.worldlinktv.org. The network is also constantly campaigning to put its shows on more local cable channels throughout the country. So far, some of Link TVs shows are available in select areas, such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. In the future, Dajani hopes that the Mosaic team will be able to produce even more specials like the current monthly news analysis panels. He also wants to expand the staff to include field reporters in the Middle East who could produce original content for the program.

For now, Dajani is happy that more and more people are turning to Mosaic as an alternative news source. So many pundits on TV have never set foot in the Middle East, he says. Were putting the viewer on the other side of the ocean. The others may talk the talk, but we can walk the walk, too.

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