Three years ago, I wrote the article presented below which describes my personal experiences while working on a short contract at the London based headquarters of Associated Press TV News in Camden.
This article was published and has remained on the web but its significance in explaining what is happening in the world has probably increased rather than decreased. I have been called upon to re-publish it here at NER so it can achieve wider circulation.
As an addendum to the original article, I have provided some screen shots of the APTN website that highlight the disproportionate emphasis they place on winning business from Arabic language markets and this can be found at the end of the original article. The first picture is how their website promoting Middle East Services looked in 2006 before my original article was published (taken from archive.org). The next two show their present (April 2010) web site and how it describes the same service (renamed "Customised Production") offered today. The second shot shows the only other language they offer that page in besides English.
How much does it cost to buy global TV news?
The vast majority of the TV news pictures you see are produced by two TV news companies - Associated Press TV News and Reuters. Presented here is a case of how a large amount of money has been used to inject a clear bias into the heart of the global TV news gathering system. That this happens is not at question, whether it is by accident or design is harder to ascertain.
This article will set out the basis on which the Associated Press TV News (APTN) organization operates. You may not realize it, but if you watch any TV news broadcast on any station anywhere in the world, there is a better than even chance you will view pictures from APTN. BBC, Fox, Sky, CNN and every major broadcaster subscribes to and uses APTN pictures. While the method by which they operate is interesting, it is the extra service this US owned and UK based company offers to Arab states that is really interesting.
The Associated Press (AP) is a not-for-profit news gathering and dissemination service based in the US. Formed in 1848, the AP grew up from an agreement between the six major New York newspapers of the day. They wanted to defray the large telegraph costs that they were all independently incurring for sending the same news coast to coast. Despite being highly competitive, they formed the Associated Press as a collection agency and agreed to share the material. Today, that six-newspaper cooperative is an organization serving more than 1,500 newspapers and 5,000 broadcast outlets in the United States. Abroad, AP services are printed and broadcast in 112 countries.
Associate Press Television News (APTN) is a wholly owned subsidiary of AP. It was formally set up as a separate entity in 1994. It is run as a commercial entity and aims to make a profit. Any profit it does make is fed back to AP (which is non-profit making: APTN's profits reduce the newsgathering costs incurred by the 1500 US newspapers that collectively own the AP). APTN is the largest television news gathering player (larger than Reuters, it's only true competitor in this field). While AP is based in the US, APTN operates out of a large premises in Camden, London. They have news teams, offices and broadcast facilities in just about every important place in the world.
APTN uses news crews and broadcast facilities all over the world to record video of newsworthy events in News, Sports and Entertainment. These pictures are either sent unedited or very partially edited back to London. Most news is fed back within hours but they also cover and feed certain events live (news conferences, sporting events etc.). Most of these stories are sent in with "natural sound": there is no journalist providing a voice over but the choice of what to shoot is in the hands of the local producer and camera crew. Local crews are sometimes employed directly by APTN or more often "stringers" are hired for a particular event or paid for the footage they have already captured.
Once the stories have been fed back to the UK they are edited. This is a round-the-clock operation. The goal is to produce a 30 minute news bulletin comprising 6 or 7 stories every few hours. These stories are made by editing down the raw rushes that come in from all over the world. This is done by a team of producers who work for the news editor. They don't supply a voice over, but they do edit, discard and sequence pictures dictating the emphasis and direction of the story. They will accompany each news feed with a written description of each shot and a general description of the story. This is repeated for News, Sports & Entertainment with a geographical emphasis that shifts around the world as different markets wake and sleep. The output of this is called the "Global News Wire" (GNW).
This is how APTN makes its money: news organizations (mostly TV but not all) subscribe to APTN and pay an annual amount to both watch and then re-use the stories that are fed over the GNW. The stories are supplied with sound, but no voice-over. Most commercial news stations (like the BBC, SKY, Fox or CNN) would take this feed, decide which pictures to use then re-edit it and supply an appropriate voice-over for the story. As mentioned earlier, the video comes with a written description of the shots and the events that occur in them.
The fee for this feed depends on the size of the receiving organization, their audience size and a negotiation with APTN's sales force. It is pretty much impossible, however, to operate a TV news organization without taking feeds from either APTN or Reuters or usually both. The agreement with APTN usually allows the receiving news channel unlimited use of the video for two weeks. If they want to re-show those pictures after that they have to separately license the pictures (which can cost anything from $100 to $10,000 per 30 seconds depending on the content).
So that is how APTN makes most of its money. However, there is another significant part of their business model that affects the rest of the business. While most of the world takes news pictures with minimal interpretation beyond editing, the Arab Gulf States have asked for and receive a different and far more expensive service. These states pay for a complete news report service including full editing and voice-overs from known journalists. The news organizations in the Arab countries don't do anything (beyond verify that they are appropriate for local tastes) before broadcast.
What this means is that while there are around 50 people producing news pictures for the whole world working in Camden at any time, there are a further 50 Arabic speaking staff producing finished stories exclusively for the Arab states of the Gulf. This has a tremendous effect on the whole feel of the building as these two teams feed pictures and people back and forth and sit in adjacent work areas. The slant of the stories required by the Gulf States has a definite effect on which footage is used and discarded. This affects both the Gulf newsroom and the main global newsroom.
This full service feed is much more expensive for the customers than the usual service, but it also carries a much higher profit margin for APTN. This is partly because there is great commonality in what they can send to most of the Gulf States taking this service: stories are made once and purchased for broadcast in a number of countries.
Anything involving Israel is a favorite with Gulf Arab states' viewers. Could this be the reason why Israel receives such a disproportionate amount of particularly negative coverage especially, and increasingly, since the early 1970's? HonestReporting is usually unable to decide which is most biased: AP or the BBC. As the BBC often uses APTN footage, the difference is minor. A significant twist to what is seen, concerns what is not seen. Footage such as the Palestinian mob joyfully lynching two Israeli reservists in Ramallah in October 2000 is held by APTN's library: any attempt to license this film for broadcast is carefully vetted. Requests for the use of "sensitive clips" are referred directly to the Library Director. This is not the case with clips that paint Israel in a bad light. Likewise, broadcast of Palestinian celebration of 9-11 is considered "sensitive."
The way in which raw footage such as APTN's is compiled into news reports and sent around the world has also been analyzed. The Second Draft gives a comprehensive view of how editing can make all the difference. APTN is the gatekeeper that sits between you and the actual event. You will never see what the editors at APTN see before they compile your evening news. What do you think is cut out?
Was APTN set up with this built-in bias on purpose? Is there some way that the expensive payments made by Gulf state governments form part of a deliberate attempt to skew the media? In Islam and Dhimmitude (2002), Bat Ye'or recounts how decisions were taken in the wake of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 to try to put across an anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist message (pgs. 294-296). Successive Arab conferences resolved to contribute vast sums "to universities, centers for Islamic studies, international communications agencies, and private and governmental organizations in order to win over world opinion." (pg. 296). The messages from these conferences stressed an addition to the more familiar violent jihad. They emphasized the importance of jihad by the written and spoken word - what we would recognize as classic propaganda. Without question, APTN's interesting business model represents a concrete example of an ongoing financial "contribution" to an important communication agency promoting a pro-Arab bias.
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