Aljazeera: The Plot thickens
- Aljazeera: The Plot thickens
By Ramzy Baroud
Dec 18, 2006
The launch of Aljazeera International on November 15, the English arm
of Aljazeera Satellite Television was hardly an ordinary event.
It was another notable addition to the growing global efforts aimed at
counterbalancing American-European domination over world media:
deciding on what story is to be told and how, thus shaping public
opinion, reinforcing Westerns policies, disseminating its own ideas
and ideals, at the expense of the almost entirely neglected and
utterly hapless audiences that neither relate nor wish to identify
with such discourses.
It's still too early of course, to appraise, in any serious fashion,
academic or otherwise, the performance of Aljazeera English, and
whether it has lived up to its own ideals and the expectations of its
projected audience. However, it must be said that the clash of
discourses and the calls for a balanced media is hardly new. This
topic is in dire need of urgent and continual discussion.
Clearly, the need for Aljazeera, and subsequently its English service,
came from the realization that the presentation of events in Arab
countries are far from fair in the mainstream media in the US and
elsewhere in the West. Further, the public's opinion of these events
is not only scarce, but bits and pieces that they may perceive are
But, how much does the average person in the West know about the
Middle East's key conflict, that between Israel and the Arabs,
primarily the Palestinians? How much of that knowledge is molded by
the media, and how much by personal discovery predicated on one's own
Answers may differ, but it remains true that opinions formed regarding
distant conflicts like that of the Middle East tend to be homogeneous
in nature, and for the most part fail to deviate from the predominant
media narrative espoused by the mainstream.
Further, how much influence do states have on their media, being
mindful that ideally the media should be completely divorced of the
public sector, therefore being an independent and unbiased critic?
While states cannot prevent events or guarantee absolute power for
themselves, they've well learned of the value of the media and its
ability to forge a favorable climate of public opinion that seems
incidentally consistent with that of the state.
Public opinion is moulded in the western mainstream media by
consistently pressing particular issues, while repressing others. For
example, it is quite rare that a routine attack by Israeli forces on
the civilian population in Palestine makes headline news, but a
reaction to such an onslaught, such as a suicide bombing would be the
leading story and priority for news outlets everywhere.
In doing so, public opinion is slowly conditioned to think that
Palestinian lives are not as significant as Israeli lives, and that
Palestinian attacks are far more frequent and brutal. And while these
policies are certainly mandated by the upper echelons of any given
media institution, they are effective in not only tainting the publics
view of events on the ground, but the reporters who compile those
facts as well.
Another obvious example is the Iraq war. The US media, and to a lesser
degree the British media, though they might allow for a controlled
debate regarding the methods and tactics used to win the war, seem in
unison regarding the `admirable' objectives of the war. The BBC
hesitates little to use such assertions often infused by Tony Blair
such as `liberating' Iraq, bringing `democracy' to the Iraqis, and so
In Afghanistan, the picture is equally tainted and dishonest. How
often do we hear of a meaningful debate about the true intention of
the war on that poor, ruined country? Almost never. Commemorating the
fifth anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion, CNN, the BBC, plus
numerous media outlets in the West dispatched their reporters to Kabul
and various other Afghani towns to examine the situation in that
country after years of violent Taleban `resurgence' and collation
`reconstruction' efforts. They examined the plight of women,
education, the health sector, security, drug trafficking, etc. Some of
the reports were astounding, indeed. But such a selective examination
was clearly a wholehearted embrace of the US government's claim
that its war on Afghanistan was motivated by such noble objectives as
freeing women from the grip of extremism, improving the plight of
ordinary Afghanis etc. These objectives were only introduced when the
original ones failed, such as the capturing of Osama bin Laden, one
that the media had also touted in the early months of the war. It was
conveniently dropped by the media, when it was dropped by the military
and as an official priority by Western governments. Now, Western
journalists freely and often courageously challenge the failure of the
NATO led coalition in Afghanistan to improve the lives of the people
as the situation there is worsening and drug trafficking, mostly from
Afghanistan to Iran to Europe is at an all time high.
It is important to remember all of this, but equally important to
truthfully examine the state of the Arab media, especially with the
advent of Aljazeera English, regardless of how it wishes to define itself.
The many years of controlled Press in the Arab world has produced two
equally alarming phenomena: one restrictive that champions the
viewpoint of the authority, and another overtly impulsive that
discounts the authority and offers itself as the only viable
alternative. Will Aljazeera be that third voice that speaks truth to
power, yet neither self-congratulating, nor reactionary? Is that even
possible, considering how Aljazeera is itself funded and politically
shielded? The debate is hardly meaningful if rashly examined.
It ought to be said however, that without a serious challenge to the
prevailing media control mechanism, a reordering of media priorities
and a re-examination of the relationship between the media and the
state, it's most likely that media distortions will continue to
afflict the collective imagination of entire societies, thus shaping
their views of themselves, of the world around them, and therefore
prejudicing the way they define their views and responsibilities
towards global conflicts, whether in Palestine-Israel, Iraq,
Afghanistan or anywhere else.
-Ramzy Baroud's latest book: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A
Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London) is now
available in the US from the University of Michigan Press and from
AJE'S SUCCESS HINGES ON FINDING US CARRIER
New TV news networks with truly global designs don't get launched too
often. They're hugely expensive to staff and operate, and their
success involves negotiating with cable carriers in different
countries with different audiences and different agendas. And frankly,
the need for their existence is always questioned - at least in the
beginning - more than it is applauded.
So it was certifiably noteworthy when, after several months' delay,
Al-Jazeera English (AJE) finally launched in mid-November, reportedly
to 80 million homes worldwide.
As the English-speaking offshoot of the famously Arab-centric
original, the network was long-awaited by supporters, detractors, and
the merely curious alike.
The success or failure of the venture is more important than that of
most media startups. If AJE gains a sustainable foothold in the US
market, it will be the most revolutionary thing to hit the news
business since Fox News Channel and will fundamentally reshape the way
that advertisers, politicians, and the media itself relates to Middle
Eastern people around the world. . .
At the same time, AJE must make it a strong priority to get its
offering in front of American eyeballs. True, the entire
English-speaking world is its audience, and a big enough one that the
station may be able to make a go of it without depending on US
revenue. But here is where the media players play, and if its news
cannot compete head-to-head in this country, AJE is forgoing much of
its potential impact on the public discussion.
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on
American-Islamic Relations, says AJE's potential impact on the US is
huge, but it will take a groundswell of support to make sure the
station is seen.
'If the American public is exposed to a network with a different
perspective on international events, I think that will add to the
debate... that's going on at the international level,' he says. 'If
people let their cable companies know... that they do want to hear
different perspectives on international events, that could move the
process forward.' (MORE)
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