The Essential Al Jazeera


The Arabic television station Al Jazeera recently hosted its 3rd annual forum  in Doha, Qatar. The gathering attracted a wide range of speakers from across the journalistic world. Independent reporter Dahr Jamail reported the proceedings:

The Al Jazeera television network could be emerging as a freedom champion against US pressures on the channel, leading media figures say. ‘I support Al Jazeera because [it]has done more to propagate democracy in the Middle East region than anybody else, certainly more than the American Government has done,’ media specialist Hugh Miles told Inter Press Service (IPS). ‘It’s strange to me that people refer to Al Jazeera as a œterrorist network  because that couldn’t be further from the truth.’

Miles spoke to IPS at the Al Jazeera forum at Doha (31 March to 2 April). The forum highlighted the successful recent expansion of the network while also addressing difficulties that reporters face in the Middle East hot spots. Miles, author of Al Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World and an award-winning freelance journalist said former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had got it wrong on Al Jazeera.

‘Al Jazeera has been called a œterrorist network  or œthe voice of (Osama) bin Laden,  but this just demonstrates deep ignorance of its history and the channel,’ Miles said.

In the face of constant American aggression against non-Western media, Abdul Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, told Jamail that, ‘ We [journalists]should stand united against the new wave of embedded journal ism because this is censorship.’

He continued: ‘Freedom of expression is said to be a part of Western values. The American Administration is destroying Western values by shooting journalists, by killing the messenger.’

One of the keynote speakers was the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, who delivered a characteristically defiant speech accusing his American journalistic colleagues of ‘collective censorship’ on matters of national security. During Hersh’s talk (audio available here) he praised the work of Jamail and challenged the journalistic profession to live up to higher standards:

As the world collapses around us, as leadership collapses, as we’re driven more by the price of oil than the price of integrity, we have a role [as journalists]to play. And to me, that’s what it’s all about. I complain bitterly we have so many terrible shortcomings in our profession. We’re very bitchy to each other. We’re competitive. We’re very narrow.

There is a young journalist here, Dahr Jamail, whose stuff has been very prescient, and I’ve four or five times included the brave accounts of some of his work in my stories It’s not just at the New Yorker , it’s [also]at the New York Times where I worked very happily for a decade the first thing you [editors]cut out is any mention of anybody else. That’s such a disagreeable aspect of our profession, the competition. Rather than credit a competitor we’ll ignore the story. This is general. You all know what I’m talking about.

Hersh’s made various other statements at the forum condemning the Iraq War and expressing fear about the Bush Administration’s radical plans against Iran. He also spoke of his despair at the widening gulf between the East and West. This last point highlights one of the primary victims of the faltering ‘War on Terror.’

Thanks to Scratch

A great failing of the post-9/11 years has been the unwillingness of Western governments and their media courtiers to better understand Arab sensibilities. Perhaps the most laughable effort by the Bush Administration was the sight of former White House counsel, Karen Hughes, running America’s overseas public image program. The Washington Post ‘s breathless 2005 report on the initiative read:

Former White House counselor Karen P Hughes will take over the Bush Administration’s troubled public diplomacy effort intended to burnish the US image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world, where anti-Americanism has fueled extremist groups and terrorism, a senior Administration official said yesterday.

Hughes, 48, who has been one of President Bush’s closest advisers since his tenure as Texas Governor, plans to return to Washington soon to rejoin the President’s team after a three-year absence and set up shop at the State Department, where she will work with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to reinvigorate the campaign for hearts and minds overseas.

Hughes will take over an operation that has been criticised as lacklustre by many analysts and, privately, even by some Administration officials, despite its mission of waging a war of ideas against Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist organisations. The last Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Margaret Tutwiler, left last summer after less than a year on the job. The post has remained vacant since.

The disconnectedness between American actions and words has never been so stark. The invasion of Iraq has made any American diplomacy in the Muslim world a virtual impossibility. The general population simply doesn’t believe their (predominantly US-backed) leaders when they’re told about ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ for the simple reason that they experience none of these essentials at home.

An interesting recent exception to the usual sight of Arab leaders kow-towing to Washington’s demands was Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz’s direct attack on the US role in Iraq. He called it an ‘illegitimate foreign occupation.’ And one of the major reasons Iran has become Washington’s number one enemy is because the Islamic republic refuses to become a subservient Middle Eastern power (something Noam Chomsky has explained as the ‘Iran Effect’).  Iran is currently paying the price for such brazen independence.

These new realities make Al Jazeera one of the most important media developments over the last decade. Its new English service continues this tradition. In Australia, the difficulty of watching the service, like in the US, suggests cable networks that are reluctant to promote a channel that has been shamelessly tarred with the brush of being ‘terrorists’ favourite network.’ In fact, the opposite is true.

When the New York Sun excitedly editorialises to encourage US Vice President Dick ‘Torturer-in-Chief’ Cheney to consider running for President in 2008, the moral bankruptcy of much conservative Western media is clear. Al Jazeera is not alternative media, it’s simply an essen
tial anecdote to the dubious tendency of ‘our’ journalists to rely unquestioningly on ‘official’ sources.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.