Ali Jaber educates next generation

Dubai TV honcho leads school media program

Dubai TV managing editor Ali Jaber has seen it all in a career that has spanned two decades.

Born in Beirut in 1961, Jaber graduated from the American U. of Beirut before going on to complete a master’s in communications at New York’s Syracuse U. He returned to Lebanon in the mid-1980s to find a country wracked by civil war.

He worked as a journalist for the New York Times and Times of London in the ensuing years before moving on to teach TV at what is now called Lebanese American U. It was this experience that helped put him, 10 years later, at the heart of the Arab satellite TV boom.

Jaber was handpicked by former Lebanese P.M. Rafik Hariri (later assassinated in 2005) to lead Future TV in 1993 following the end of the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war. His biggest achievement at Future may have been foreseeing the huge popularity of the “Pop Idol” format and adapting it for a pan-Arab audience.

“Superstar,” Future TV’s Arabic version of the show, proved a sensation from North Africa to the Levant and the Gulf, even provoking demonstrations on the streets of Arab cities by irate viewers whose favorite contestants had been voted off.

Having successfully established Future as one of the top stations in Lebanon and by extension the Arab world, Jaber couldn’t resist the prospect of setting up another network from scratch when Dubai came calling in the summer of 2003. Though the original plans were for Jaber to work with the network for a year in an advisory role, more than five years later he still finds himself at the Dubai net.

“I’m a TV junkie,” says Jaber. “I enjoy everything about it — the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s the only thing I know how to do well.”

Jaber has consistently sought out the best and youngest TV talent available in the Arab world — a holdover from his teaching days. He estimates some 250 of his former students currently work in the various Arab satellite channels, many of them having reached exec positions.

Now Jaber is seeking to educate a new generation of aspiring Arab media mavens.

In July 2008, he was tapped by Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed as dean of the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Communications (MBRSC). The university was launched in partnership with USC’s Annenberg School of Communication.

“This is the first time in the Arab world that you have a school of communications teaching the indigenous population in their indigenous language how to work within their own countries,” says Jaber. “It is only when you tell your own stories to your own people that you’ll be able to tell them to others. This is very important. (That’s the) big philosophy behind the school.”

Not that Jaber has forgotten about his own education. In between juggling his various day jobs, he has been jetting between Dubai and the U.K.’s Cambridge U., where he is completing his own Ph.D. on the Arab media scene.