AS far as YOU may THINK, I've studied the media, and I can tell you that Al Jazeera is one of the worst of the worst media outlets.
A question for you. Are you a natural Arabic speaker or did you learn Arabic as a child/teenager/adult? Also, on which channel in Hawai'i do you receive Al Jazeera broadcasts? How often do you actually watch Al Jazeera in Hawai'i.
Frankly, you might have (or not) studied media, but unless you watch Al Jazeera on a regular basis AND
speak Arabic, how on god's green earth would you know anything about Al Jazeera, let alone have the necessary credentials to be able to declare Al Jazeera as the "worst of the worst".
Listen, Al Jazeera has it's history firmly planted in the ashes of the failed BBC Arabic Television project. The BBC project failed (shut down) because the station would not guarantee that they would not report on issues which would show the Saudi royal family in a bad light (the station itself was a j/v been the BBC and a Saudi business conglomerate). It was later reinvented as the Al Jazeera which we know today, and still has the ethos of the BBC as it's own ethos -- the BBC of course being the world's most respected news service.
Last night I was watching an episode of Law & Order. In it, the defence submitted a motion to exclude crucial evidence in the prosecution's case. Both the prosecution and the defence put forward great argument for and against the inclusion of said evidence. The judge made the decision to include the evidence at trial, but the scope for that inclusion was limited. After giving his judgement to the two lawyers, he commented something along the lines of "If neither the prosecution or the defence are happy with my decision, then it means that I am doing my job properly.".
What does this have to do with Al Jazeera?
If a news station can raise the ire of Arabic governments and 'western' governments (mainly US), then it shows that they have a winning formula, and would be more "fair and balanced" than most other news outlets (including the one which likes to claim as such).
Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-western. Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-Arabic. Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-Israel. Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-Palestinian. Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-terrorist. Some quarters claim that A-J is too pro-invading forces.
So what is it?
A single news outlet can not
be all of these things.
So what are they?
Furthermore, the reason Al-Jazeera has the 'reputation' it has with certain gung-ho war-types, is the simple fact that Al-Jazeera does not receive the same amount of access that other news networks do. When the US sent their troops into Iraq, there was only a single
Al-Jazeera reporter allowed to travel with them. Other than this, they were basically left out of the loop as far as the American military was concerned, or worse, they were forced to stop reporting (i.e. missile attacks on Al-Jazeera offices in Kabul and
Baghdad). The Iraqi military on the other hand, allowed Al-Jazeera basic free reign in terms of access to leaders, military people, cities, etc, etc.
So what does one expect A-J to do when their access to information is of the bare minimum variety.
Furthermore, it shows the maturity of the network to televise a press conference by Rumsfeld -- the conference was called to enable Rumsfeld to lamblast A-J for their reporting. Most news networks would certainly not televise such a press conference.
Here is an article from pressgazette.co.uk from April 2003, which gives a bit more insight into A-J and the way it operates:
The terrified and cowed faces of prisoners of war as they are interviewed
by a television reporter, the mangled bodies of adults and children killed
by missiles while they were shopping in a busy market, the bloodied
corpses of British soldiers killed in action. These have become some of
the abiding images in a conflict where the level of media coverage has
The contribution of Arabic satellite television news channel Al-Jazeera's
to the continuous churn of war images has confirmed what many predicted -
that it would be one of the most significant media stories of the war.
The decision of the Qatar-based channel, which is part-financed by that
country's Government, to broadcast those images has earned it the
opprobrium of the West where it has been maligned as little more than a
propaganda channel for Saddam Hussein's regime.
It is a charge that is strenuously denied by Al-Jazeera, whose journalists
have been asked not to talk to the media without consulting the central
press office operating out of Doha, such has been the media interest in
"Our critics seem only to look at our coverage with one eye," says
recently appointed spokesman Jihad Ballout. "When the Pentagon said that
the media should refrain from using the pictures to allow time for the
families to be informed, we happily obliged. We carried Donald Rumsfeld's
press conference when we were singled out and subsequent criticism of us.
And we went further than that and carried an interview with one of the
mothers of the US prisoners of war."
The main problem Al-Jazeera faces in its coverage of the war is access,
adds Ballout. Only one of its journalists was given permission to be
"embedded" with the US troops.
Two events last week characterise how difficult it is to easily
compartmentalise the channel, which was created by BBC-trained staff who
had worked on the corporation's Arabic Television channel. In the early
hours of Wednesday morning the Basra Sherataon hotel, where Al-Jazeera's
crew was based, came under heavy shelling, leading the channel to write to
the Pentagon calling on it to ensure its teams' safety.
Less than 24 hours later, Al-Jazeera announced it was indefinitely
suspending broadcasts from Baghdad after one of its reporters, Tayseer
Allouni, was expelled and another banned from working by the Iraqi
This week cameraman Tareq Ayoub died after the company's office in Baghdad
was hit by a missile. The station is convinced that this was a US strike
and called Ayoub a "martyr of duty".
Sami Haddad, Al-Jazeera's former chief editor and now main anchor, says
that the channel, which is banned in Jordan and Kuwait, has been accused
of being Zionist, as well as being the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden
during the Afghan war.
"We set out to reflect the story accurately, but there will always be
someone who says you are supporting the views of the opposition."
But while debate about the role Al-Jazeera has played in this conflict
looks set to continue, it is clear that because it is broadcast to around
50 million people and is received in around 87 per cent of the 100,000
Arab households in the UK, the channel has become increasingly important
to the US and British Governments as they battle to win over the Iraqi
Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's director of communications, in an
interview he gave to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, said the
Government had had to adapt its media strategy to deal with the Arabic
media. A dedicated Islamic media unit has been set up within the Foreign
Office and ministers have been asked to set aside an hour in their diaries
"to do Arabic media" because "it is important, it matters that they hear
what we are genuinely saying, as opposed to what is being mediated to
them", Campbell added.
The challenges thrown up by a commercial news channel broadcasting to the
Arab world, without the regulatory constraints imposed on Western media,
will increase when two new English-language services are launched by
Al-Jazeera. One, which will be a simultaneous translation service, is due
to launch this year, and a new, entirely English service is under
discussion - although it would take a year to set up.
Ian Richardson, a former World Service editor who was charged with setting
up the BBC Arabic Television channel, believes "things will be changed
forever" by the ascendancy of Al-Jazeera and channels such as Abu Dhabi
"The networks have been covering war head to head, as it were, and
suddenly we have an Arab TV service which is extremely competent. We're
now being confronted with things that were never really given genuine
Richard Sambrook, BBC director of news, agrees: "The West is having to
adapt to a strong pan-national Arab media. They are not going to go away -
indeed, there will be more 'Al-Jazeeras' in future," he says.
Although it was not clear that the shelling was directed at the hotel in
Basra, where Al-Jazeera was the only TV outfit present, it echoes the
strike on the channel's offices in Afghanistan by US forces, which some
saw as a deliberate attempt to disable the broadcaster before the fighting
moved into Kabul.
"Many TV news organisations, even before talk of war in Iraq, have been
concerned that the US military, despite firm denials, might at some stage
in the war want to shut down uncomfortable media communications from
inside the war zone," says Nik Gowing, a BBC World presenter who spent
several months investigating the 2001 strike that also damaged the BBC's
offices. Gowing does, however, warn against making hasty conclusions about
whether the hotel was deliberately targeted.
But whatever emerges about the shelling incident, Ballout is in no doubt
that the "propaganda war" is being fought as hard as the military
"From the outset, this war has not only been fought on the battleground,
but also on the airwaves and in the newspapers," he says.
Attacks on the channel because of its decision to show pictures of what
were believed to be dead British soldiers are "hypocritical", Richardson
"For all these years the global networks have been putting stuff out and
not giving a thought to showing some fairly graphic pictures from
Jerusalem, the Middle East and certainly when they showed pictures of
Iraqi prisoners of war they did not block out their faces," he argues.
"For years nobody gave a thought to fact that the images were being seen
by people where the event was taking place, and now that the situation is
reversed, everyone is saying it's shocking."
Haddad insists that the channel is experiencing the same kind of treatment
as colleagues working for British and US newspapers and broadcasters when
their Governments consider they are not helping their war aims.
"I feel sorry for the likes of Andrew Marr and Peter Arnett, who have been
criticised, and I hope that people feel sorry for us," says Haddad, who
adds that editorial policy still adheres to producer guidelines laid down
by the BBC.
"We don't show footage just for the hell of it. Any decision we make has
to conform to three basic principles: newsworthiness; relevance to the
wider context and whether there are verified sources," says Ballout. "If
those three things are satisfied then we go ahead." But Al-Jazeera, as
Sambrook points out, is "producing TV news for an Arab audience which
reflects Arab values, both in content, style and tone".
Factors unique to the Arab world also shape the channel's decision-making,
explains Ballout, who says that when the channel was created one of the
main premises was that it would not "succumb" to censorship. "For decades
the censors played havoc and everything was doctored, censored or tamed,"
he claims. "Our commitment was to give as complete coverage as we possibly
Ballout rejects claims that showing pictures of prisoners of war
contravened the Geneva Convention. "We have it on good authority that the
Convention applies to states at war, not to news organisations." He
emphasises that the footage was carried with a warning that viewers might
find it distressing.
But he concedes that "people have said, with good reason, that the Arab
world has a higher threshold of tolerance because for five or six decades
now they have been living with death, carnage and destruction".
Operating in a fiercely competitive market, the channel is setting out to
attract more Arab viewers and, unconstrained by the broadcast regulations
encountered by the British media, it can adopt an approach that has
While channels such as BBC World and CNN tread a difficult line when it
comes to covering the Middle East, Al-Jazeera chooses to refer to
Palestinians who are killed as "martyrs".
And while the roots of Al-Jazeera's journalism are firmly in the BBC World
Service, former journalists reserve some criticism for what was perceived
as an Anglo-centric operation. "When I joined the corporation in the
Seventies we were told we were broadcasting news as seen from London,"
says one source. "We are trying to cover the news as seen from the
Ballout rejects any suggestions that, by showing in graphic detail the
realities of war, the channel has set out to turn the tide of public
opinion against the conflict. "That's not what we are here to do. Our job
is to have a professional attitude towards news." Richardson believes that
the channel has made some "misjudgements and mistakes", largely as a
result of inexperience but "the occasional error of judgement should not
obscure the fact that they are doing their best to be a truly independent
He adds: "No broadcaster working in a situation like this has got entirely
clean hands. If we are going to talk about biased broadcasting then go no
further than Fox TV in the US, which makes no attempt to see the war from
any other perspective. It's pretty rich that the US can accuse Al-Jazeera
of bias and lacking in judgement and taste when there is a channel with
reporters saying they will use guns against the likes of Osama bin Laden."
The funniest thing is, is that those who claim that A-J is this-or-that, are those who shout loudest about democracy/freedom/liberty/all-those-other-bullshit-terms-used-to-justify-a-war, yet they are totally against a network which exists because of one of those most simple 'freedoms' -- freedom of the press -- and which uses that freedom to report the news, whereas most other western news networks (especially American network) use that freedom not to report the news, but rather the propaganda.