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Aljazeera: The Plot thickens

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  • World View
    Aljazeera: The Plot thickens By Ramzy Baroud Dec 18, 2006 The launch of Aljazeera International on November 15, the English arm of Aljazeera Satellite
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2007
      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
      often tainted.

      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
      objective reasoning?

      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


      Hamilton Nolan
      PR Week

      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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