Nov 15, 2009

Burn Down Their TVs, Turn Their TVs on to Teach 'em and Move!

"Our audience actually expects us t o show them blood, because they realize that war kills .. .If we were not to show it, we would be accused by our viewers . . .of perhaps hiding the truth or trying to sanitize the war."

These words of an Al Jazeera spokesman describes the real difference between Al Jazeera and the Western media. The audiences of Al Jazeera (and to an extent Al Jazeera English), have actually seen war, violent political battles, and terrorism first hand. Though, like Americans, the Arab audience can tune out by watching Star Academy, they also must live under regimes that inhibit democracy and free speech - hence all of these nations cutting off ties with the Qatari government. Watching coverage of a war is very different when your own nation or a neighboring nation are involved and for this reason, media sanitation is ineffective and disingenuous. The spokesman is correct to state that to his audience, trying to hide the realities of war would be tantamount to lying. In reality, all Al Jazeera is doing is serving its audience. As the article stated, Al Jazeera's offices in Kabul was what set the network apart from all other international stations in the outset of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan (its not an invasion and its not an occupation). It was also Al Jazeera's offices in Gaza that set the network apart during the Israeli airstrikes of the Gaza strip earlier this year.

The reading gives a litany of examples of Arab leaders' anger towards Al Jazeera, but again, in regimes like Mubarak's that inhibit democracy (as Obama said, elections alone do not a democracy make) that is to be expected. In fact, the West should be happy that a network is willing to challenge the official government statements by such corrupt regimes. As for the references to Al Jazeera's airings of past interviews with Bin Laden after 9/11 and reading of statements by Al Qaeda on the air the question is not why would they, but, as a news station, why wouldn't they? Al Jazeera is a media outlet and Al Qaeda is an international organization that was at the epicenter of the news cycle at the time. Why not give their statements air time? If nothing else, to try and get a sense of how an organization like that thinks and operates? Also, the 'specter' of Al Qaeda is a very real thing in the Arab world - so why wouldn't they show these things on the air?

If anything, that is a shortcoming of the Western media - its need to de-sensitize and unwillingness to give real air time to unfavorable and threatening figures. They can give air time to the ridiculous vitriol of birthers, tea partiers, Lou Dobbs, and Glenn Beck but never to those that actually prove a serious threat or are guilty of truly heinous and criminal activities. If 60 Minutes were to do an interview with members of Al Qaeda there would be an uproar among American audiences about a 'liberal bias' or 'un-American' activity by CBS. In reality, however, simply not addressing the statements of bad people does not make them go away. It is more challenging to de-mystify them and to hear their twisted logic, not to justify them, but to try and understand (not sympathize) what leads people to such actions.

It seems as if in discourse about the International media there is the BBC, CNN, VOA and then there's Al Jazeera. It is never truly mentioned in the same breath of those other media outlets, it is always seen as the other, or somehow more of some kind of special force than those other media outlets. With that sort of diction, Al Jazeera automatically becomes the other, the different, mysterious figure, creating pre-conceived notions for people who have never actually seen the network.

For the rest of the world, where war, poverty, famine, terrorism, and corruption are an everyday part of life simply not showing something does not make it disappear nor does it make it any easier. In fact, it is nothing more than disingenuous.


  1. Heh, I couldn't agree with you more! The problem here is not just the alleged worry of Al Jazeera "sending the wrong message," but also the sheer discomfort of seeing news not really framed in an "orthodox" way. Given that NATO and "Coalition" governments couldn't really fight AJ successfully, they resorted to comforting themselves with actions that can be seen as equivalent to burning heretics at the stake by the Catholic Inquisition. Not really successful in achieving its true objective, was it?
    Yes, there's always the claim that "death is a VERY private matter" so it should not be on TV. But for some reason, it's ok to see flying bombs or tanks rolling in, as long as there are no dead bodies around (or, rather, no dead AMERICAN bodies).
    Yes, information IS power. But then, the supposed freedom these wars were waged for also supposedly includes the freedom of information, too, right? What I find most ironic, though, is the tolerance of the domestic public (and not just tolerance, but actually SUPPORT) of the government's actions when trying to discredit Al Jazeera or other "unfriendly" news media through counter-spins and DIRECT info-wars... as when the matter hits "home," they're suddenly all FOR "perfect" objectivity and freedom of expression/information. One just needs to look at the current controversy between MSNBC and FoxNews to see the extent of the double-standards: a fact that can be seen as blunt hypocrisy...

  2. I just think it's a lot of Western hubris that because a successful international media organization does not play by the West's rules and offers a different take on world events they must somehow be evil and sending "coded messages." I found that statement really offensive, because they are an Arab network airing Al Qaeda statements there must some sort of hidden meaning or double speak.

    You are very correct about MSNBC and FOX News. Think about it this way, how are pro-Palestinian intellectuals, activists and politicians treated in the Western media (if they are allowed on)? Even Obama himself worked with many pro-Palestinian groups in his college years right up until about the Primaries when he had to distance himself from that movement and we had Sarah Palin and Joe Biden going on during the VP Debates about who is a greater friend of Israel. I don't know, maybe you can see Israel from Alaska too…

  3. heh, indeed... you see, there are MANY causes for this... And no, I'm not referring to any "conspiracies" here, but to real PRAGMATIC and very strategic calculations, perceived cultural traits (supposedly deeply ingrained), historical background, superb organization, and well, a lot of money power.
    The most funny thing that has stuck with me is the case with Obama going to Jordan and Israel last summer, in the early stages of the actual campaign, after he was formally nominated... So, because of the whole hullabaloo regarding his middle name (i.e. his background), his entire staff was ordered NOT to wear ANYthing green during the visit, so as not to call for any further criticism on this matter... ( But well, during the same visit he made that famous prayer at the Wailing Wall with a yarmulke on..
    Go figure... if it's not clear.

  4. The Canadian Globe and Mail did a piece called Talking With the Taliban (I interviewed the journalist for my final project in my Media Writing course), but had it been The Times or the San Francisco Chronicle that did such a series there would have been a huge uproar in the United States about siding with the terrorists even though the series showed so many of the hypocrisies and sad truths of the Taliban.

  5. "If anything, that is a shortcoming of the Western media - its need to de-sensitize and unwillingness to give real air time to unfavorable and threatening figures."
    I absolutely agree with this. I think the worst part is that most of the media consuming public don't realize that this "editorial bias" constructs the images that they consume. People are more wary of news media these days, but still don't fully grasp the policies/agendas/editing that construct the purportedly factual, objective news reporting. I'm sure I don't even have a full grasp of things. Which, of course, makes all these readings so interesting...