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.