From peace talks to cinema, Antoine Aoun has covered it all
Antoine Aoun has covered a multitude of historic events around the world, and he says he loves it
The award winning head of Al Arabiya News channel current affairs department, Antoine Aoun has covered a multitude of historic events around the world, but no matter the stress, sleepless nights and long hours, he says he loves it.
His career has been a roller coaster ride of events and experiences that most can only dream of, from devastating world events like 9/11 and the death of Proincess Diana to the somewhat unpredictable - but hilarious incident where two staff fought in the background as he presented as news bulletin on live television.
Despite this alone time matters to Aoun and he loves his morning runs and the time he spends with his family.
Aoun, who has headed up the department since 2012, manages all the current affairs shows aired weekly on the Al Arabiya News, ranging from documentaries and investigative reporting, to cinema and cultural programs.
He manages a large team of staff made up of presenters, news anchors, producers, researchers, and reporters.
Previously, Aoun became a household name in the Arab world as a senior news anchor at MBC, where he presented the first bulletin that aired on Sept. 18, 1991, and continued for 14 years until he became Al Arabiya News editor-in-chief.
Looking back at his first broadcast he recalled a sleepless night after the success of the first aired bulletin - at that time, he said, the equipment was a lot less reliable.
At the beginning of his career as an anchor, he said the ‘nucleus’ of MBC was made up of just 35 staff who worked on everything , including bulletins, episodes, current affairs programs, and business programs. This is in contrast to now where individual team members have very specific roles in their day-to-day jobs.
He recalled their first work on the ground was the coverage of the Madrid peace talks in 1992.
This historic event had been called by President Bush, who had told congress, “The time has come to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
His call for talks was followed by eight months of negotiations which ended with the Madrid Peace Conference, which was attended by Israeli, Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese delegations, as well as a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
It was the first time such a meeting had been achieved - and while Arab-Israeli harmony was not achieved, the talks were still seen as a historic event.
But it’s not just the politicians that make the politics, according to the head of Al Arabiya News’ current affairs department, a good anchor “doesn’t only present the news, but also creates politics.”
“When you are familiar with the presenter, you want him to make you feel safe and comfortable, no matter what the news is, even if it’s catastrophic,” said Aoun.
Three times Aoun has received the award for best presenter in the Arab world. Yet despite this he said he doesn’t miss presenting.
“You start to hate the smell of the studio, the powder on your face, the makeup every day, the lighting, and not being yourself,” he said.
“I closed the door, but it opened a wide window in working behind the scenes and making the news.”
“Presenting is fun, but making the news is as fun, and managing is even more fun,” he added.
Aoun said as a presenter he did not have time for a social life, but in current affairs he is able to spend more time with his family and carry on with swimming, gym, and even a run in the mornings.
In addition to Aoun’s admiration and passion for cinema, he was a member of the jury for the Asian Television Awards (ATA) in 2014-2015, an program aimed at recognizing production excellence in the Asian television industry, and for SHNIT International Short Film Festival in 2014, the largest annual international film festival based in Berne, Switzerland, where more than 65 films are screened.
One of Aoun's most memorable - and hilarious - moments was when he was presenting a live bulletin on televison in 1995. With almost immaculate timing, as he told the viewers that according to the UN, the year would be a "peaceful year" globally - a fight broke out in the newsroom studio behind him.
Unbeknown to him viewers could see a producer and reporter start arguing over his left shoulder after the reporter had missed a copy deadline. Papers flew and another colleague could be seen pulling them apart.
After Aoun noticed the chaos in the background, he chuckled and signed off : "...but obviously not at MBC."
(Video: Antoine Aoun presents the news when a comic moment errupts.)
“Current affairs is beyond the daily news, it’s more about what is behind the story,” Aoun told Al Arabiya English.
”Current affairs is digging deep for the story, investigating, finding cases, interviewing, film, and living it.”
He said that credibility comes with the way you chase the story.
“Credibility in current affairs is finding a guest, and taking from them what you want to take, not what they want to give,” he said.
He said that in current affairs you are creating knowledge, information, and awareness.
“Pure neutrality in the world of media does not exist,” said Aoun.
An audience ranges in terms of age groups, gender, and interests. That’s why Aoun said it is important to create a wide variety of shows, carrying varied messages, and content.
He said the majority of the people who watch news and current affairs were 35 and older. This, he said, is why it is important to create shows targeting children and teenagers.
“In current affairs, we don’t only rely on the screen, we go on multiple platforms such as social media and online,” he said.
Aoun said it was time to create content that interested the younger generations the new target audience.
But he said people don’t only want to hear about politics, they are also interested in learning more about topics such as mortgage deals, health, and other lifestyle issues.
Making the move to covering other topics, he said was a tricky business though, because ultimately if you can’t make a product that can be sold, then you can’t put it on air.
“Making the move to risk new programs, requires studying the market very well,” he said.
The Future of TV
The head of the department told Al Arabiya English he thinks the role of television will diminish in the near future.
“I believe what makes the continuity of TV in the Arab world, is the Illiteracy,” he said.
He said currently, countries like America relied on television for campaigns. Aoun said the TV will become extinct when illiteracy vanishes.