Al Jazeera's newsnet neutrality

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Courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily, a look at Al Jazeera's new standards and practices:

"The words 'terror' and 'terrorist' are not in our dictionary," Ahmed Sheikh, Al-Jazeera's chief editor, told me in late summer, as a shaky cease-fire took hold in southern Lebanon. "We only use them when we are quoting someone."

Nor were dead civilians or fighters referred to as shaheen, Arabic for "martyr." Such terms are still bandied about on Al-Jazeera's talk shows, which tend to resemble the cable shoutfests in the U.S., but they were officially exiled from news reports.

At Al-Arabiya, the story was much the same. "We use Hezbollah 'fighters' and sometimes 'militants,' but we don't use 'fighters for freedom,'" executive editor Nabil Khatib told me. "We agreed we would not take a clear position supporting Hezbollah. We are covering this war as a war."

Al-Arabiya went a step further, imposing an almost complete ban on showing dead bodies, a radical move in an Arab media culture in which the camera often zooms in on open wounds.

The whole article applauds the new standards and takes a few swipes at American media in the process, but also notes the likelihood that this is as much a Shia/Sunni pissing competition as a genuine move toward balance. I haven't seen Jazeera in almost a year, but I note that they made a point of calling this summer's conflict "The Sixth War," a colorless term if not necessarily a neutral one. (For one thing, it implies that the only wars in the Middle East have been the ones involving Israel; for another, I know many of you fine folks think anything short of "Israel's Heroic and Humanitarian Act of Self-Defense Against Islamofascism" is an improperly balanced reference.)

I examined the way Jazeera's coverage of the Iraq invasion made for a compelling and coherent, if ultimately inaccurate, story and cited the AJ doc Control Room as an example of why I think documentaries are all bullshit.

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  1. Check it out: Daily Kos linked to Radley Balko’s study of SWAT overkill:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/9/10/115520/124

  2. Unfair and unbalanced is what our hearts truly desire, eh?
    Go, Al Jazeera!

  3. I would be interested in knowing more about what is actually talked about on AJ, but the impression I have gotten is that it is far from balanced in any meaningful sense, especially as compared to western media, including our own. Just look at how much time our major networks spend talking about our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, accidental civilian bombings, or any of the crimes that our soldiers apparently committed as individuals). We often spend as much time being self-critical as anything else.

    On the contrary, I have never that the Arab media, or AJ in particular, spends any time trying to analyze why the Arab world is so screwed up and why they cannot get alone with almost anyone. Frankly, I have never heard any non-westernized Arab/Muslim express such thoughts and concerns.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but if there is much self-reflection in the non-western Muslim community,
    it is darned well hidden.

  4. I would be interested in knowing more about what is actually talked about on AJ, but the impression I have gotten is that it is far from balanced in any meaningful sense, especially as compared to western media, including our own. Just look at how much time our major networks spend talking about our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, accidental civilian bombings, or any of the crimes that our soldiers apparently committed as individuals). We often spend as much time being self-critical as anything else.

    On the contrary, I have never that the Arab media, or AJ in particular, spends any time trying to analyze why the Arab world is so screwed up and why they cannot get alone with almost anyone. Frankly, I have never heard any non-westernized Arab/Muslim express such thoughts and concerns.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but if there is much self-reflection in the non-western Muslim community,
    it is darned well hidden. For example, I have heard many Muslims moan “The occupation justifies the terrorism”, yet never heard one admit that “The terrorism justifies the occupation” is equally true. Most of us here in the west seem to grasp this point and are struggling to end the cycle of violence. Muslims seem to refuse to acknowledge that it exists, which is in large part why it never ends.

  5. Crumb was pretty good though.

  6. Chad,

    I’ve never seen any more of Al Jazeera than the clips our own newsies choose to show, but from what I’ve read, criticisms of reactionary Islamism and oppressive governments are very common on their talks shows.

    A couple months ago, there was a great hoo-has among right wing blogs about an incredibly brave Arab pundit who dared to go on al Jazeera and make the kind of criticisms you’re talking about. There was a great deal of amazement expressed, and congratulations for her willingness to do something so unheard of and dangerous.

    The punch line is, the sort of things she was saying are a daily occurance on that channel. One Arab commenter compared it to expressing amazement that someone would dunk in the NBA.

  7. I’ve read somewhere the AJ while quote the Israeli point of view for a given story. While AJ tends to heavily favor the muslim side of the story, the fact that the average AJ viewer has NEVER seen the Israeli side of a story presented on televsion is progress of sorts.

    I guess you could call AJ ‘baby steps’ on the road to modernity for muslim culture.

  8. All of the major regimes in the ME (Saudi, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) supposedly hate AJ because it takes a pretty unflattering view of those Arab governments.
    Admittedly these are anecdotal stories from my wife who teaches alot of middle easterners.

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