Frontline World

About the Series


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE/World, two Stories From a Small Planet.


(map, TV images)

ANNOUNCER: In the Middle East, powerful Arab television channels are fueling a media revolution.

Mr. Al-Rashed, General Manager, Al Arabiya: Here politics and news is a matter of life and death.

ANNOUNCER: They are fighting a war of ideas.

(TV images, control room)

Capt. Eric Clark, Dubai Media Team, CENTCOM: Al Jazeera is catering to their audience just like Fox News


(control room)

Dave Marash; America has never been more isolated and nobody needs to understand that more than Americans.

(promo images)

ANNOUNCER: Around the world there has never been a more deadly year for journalists.

Sheila Coronel: Harrant was shot just outside his office by a 17-year old Turkish nationalist. 100,000 people came to his funeral.


Sheila Coronel: Atwar’s killing shocked Iraqis, because to them she was really the symbol of national unity.

(promo graphics)

ANNOUNCER: Frontline/World is made possible by Shell. Supporting freedom of the press.

From promo: As you can see, people are gathering around …

ANNOUNCER: And the independent journalists

Kate Seeley: How do you respond to these charges …

ANNOUNCER: Who tell the stories of our times.

(Skoll images)

ANNOUNCER: And by the Skoll Foundation

(Skoll graphic)

(WFHF graphic)

ANNOUNCER: And by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

(JDCMF graphic)

ANNOUNCER: And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

(Goldman graphic)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding of News War is provided by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

(NC graphic)

ANNOUNCER: With additional funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

(Frontline graphics, map of Beirut)


(music up)

(street at night)

Audio: Arab TV news bulletins


Audio: Arab TV news bulletins


The US State Department has over 30,000 employees. Only 20 speak Arabic fluently, and just 150 are even conversant.

(Duncan in Car, heading into State Dept.)

One of them is Duncan MacInnes. His skills are so valuable, he’s been reassigned to fight a new kind of war: the war over America’s image in the Arab world.

Duncan: The US has been a difficult time in the Middle East since 9/11. It's a very tough environment with a lot of anti-Americanism.

(RRU Unit)

It's five AM in Washington, already afternoon in the Middle East.

(RRU Unit)

The State Department's new «rapid response» unit wades through 150 Arab news channels – to hear what they're saying about America.

(Arch: various, ends with «george bush» etc.)

Duncan MacInnes, Rapid Response Unit, State Dept.: What are Arabs seeing, and what does that mean for us?  For instance in Iraq … because Arabs are upset about the presence of armed forced in an Arab country, there are no good images of an American soldier. An American soldier building a hospital in Iraq is still an American soldier in Iraq.  So in that case, all images are bad.  And, so we need to know that, we need to know that that’s what they see.

(AJ sting, others)

A decade ago, these channels didn’t exist.

(AJ sting, others)

Then came Al Jazeera – the first Pan-Arab news channel. It launched a media revolution across the Middle East.

Now, hundreds of channels compete for market share – and political influence.

At a time of convulsive change and war, television is a weapon in an epic battle of ideas.

And Washington has joined the fight with its own Arab News Channel, based in a D.C. suburb.

Al Hurra – which means, “the free one” – beams the U.S. Government’s view of the news to the Arab world 24 hours a day.

Brian Conniff, General Manager, Al Hurra: There are some 250 satellite channels in the Middle East for is instance and we have to be credible and we have to be engaging in order for them to listen to us. We don’t believe there is one single channel out there that accurately portrays America and … and its values and it’s policies. And … or even the news in general for that matter.

The top tory this day was from Lebanon – the birthplace of Arab journalism. As their Beirut correspondent described, the Pro-American government was under threat.

(GB riding in car, Nasrallah waving…)

and so I went to Beirut, the first stop on a journey to see the Arab media revolution in action.

On the road into town, the leader of the Islamic Hezbollah Party, Hassan Nasrallah, asserts his authority.

(Going to Al-Hurra)

I was curious how Washington’s channel, Al Hurra, covered Hezbhollah – one of America’s sworn enemies.

At a desk rented from the Associated Press, I found Al Hurra’s bureau chief, who I’d seen reporting on TV.

(Chat: Hi, this is al-hurra etc.)

We’d barely met when she got an anonymous text – from Hezbollah.

Claudi Abi Hanna, Beirut Correspondent, Al Hurra: If you are interested watch the important speech to Said Nazeella at 1:30 today afternoon on Manar TV. Wishing you a beautiful Sunday. I don’t know who’s the person that sent this SMS to me.

We agreed to meet later. I wanted to see Manar TV, the Hezbollah channel. We were taken to a secret location.

(Driving to Hez TV)

(Crew driving, chat about Hez location…)

GB: So we can’t film where we’re going?

CR: No, and someone is going to come get us and take us to location. Because they’re really careful about security, they’re really paranoid I guess, or afraid because they’ve been hit many many times during the war,

Israel had tried to bomb Al Manar off the air, and failed.

CR: …and they just want to make sure that we don’t know where the place is.

Now, we could film only in their news director’s office.

GB: What are you watching?

Mohammad Afif, News Director, Al Manar: Well, you see that’s BBC, CNN, Jazeera, Arabiya, and Lebanese Channel …

Hezbollah says Al Manar is, quote, “A station of resistance against the Zionist enemy.”

Mohammad Afif, News Director, Al Manar: (Translator) People here have a cause. And it’s very difficult to separate between of the cause and their work // Well anyway, I will ask you: do you know any neutral media in the world, can we say that BBC for instance is neutral, can we say CNN, if they are neutral.  There is always an influence between the owner of the media and the people who work there. And as you know, Lebanese cannot…

AFIF: Or the media itself. Between the owner and the media itself.

GB: Yeah, I understand.

Trans: Between the owner and the media itself. So, are we soldiers maybe, but we are first professionals.

AFIF: Journalists.

Trans: Professional journalists, yes of course.   

(Hezbollah café)

They wouldn’t let us near Nasrallah’s speech. We were taken instead to a Hezbollah-run café in South Beirut, the only place foreign media were allowed to film Hezbollah supporters watching their leader … on Al-Manar.

Founded in the early 90s with help from Iran, Al Manar is now on Satellite too – a part of Hezbollah’s strategy to spread its message across the Arab world.


About 15 million people watch Al Manar -  and its steady stream of propaganda.


In America and much of Europe, the channel is banned as a terrorist outlet.

(Nasrallah speaking)

I was invited to sit through all of Hassan Nasrallah’s speech. It lasted over an hour … I didn’t understand a word.

(Nasrallah on TV, edit room)

(Claudie Abi Hanna, Beirut Correspondent, Al Hurra, editing at Al-Hurra)

That night, I was back with the correspondent for Al Hurra, the American channel. Its policy has been to restrict coverage of Hezbollah. She cut the speech down to 30 seconds.

GB: Which part of this one-hour speech are you using?

(Claudie Abi Hanna, Beirut Correspondent, Al Hurra: [in Arabic] Yes, I explain.)

She told me Nasrallah was threatening street demonstrations if the government didn’t resign immediately. And that he mocked the Prime Minister as an American puppet.

Nasrallah speech:  In the end, this government is not legitimate and it is not constitutional! The government’s controlled by the U.S. Ambassador not the prime minister.

(Claudie with Misbah Ahdab, Member of Parliament, Lebanon)

For the other side, she found a pro-government official – the kind of Arab politician America likes to think is an ally. I wondered, how useful Al Hurra was to him?

GB: What do you think about Al Hurra and why do you decide to go on it?

Misbah Ahdab, Member of Parliament, Lebanon: Well let me tell you I will be very sincere with you, I think that with Al Hurra being an American television, what do you say in English if the one carrying the message is not credible then the message is not credible. So I think that it’s much more of a television that is perfect on all levels and which I have lots of friends, but still speaks in the name of America in this part of the world. Like Al Manar for instance, Al Manar speaks for Hezbollah. They don’t have anything neutral.

(Claudi standup)

Al Hurra claims 20 million viewers.

Claudi standup: Claudia Bi Hanna, Al Hurra, Beirut

Outside experts say that real number is closer to a tenth of that.

(Starbucks etc.)

To broaden its appeal, the channel recently expanded coverage of Hezbollah and other anti-American groups. But for many viewers, Al Hurra still has a long way to go.

Voxpop7: I think there’s nothing important in Al-Hurra except maybe some of the documentary programs.  Actually I watch the documentary programs on Al-Hurra, the animals programs and something like this. it is very useful … but not the news. Not the news.

Voxpop1: I watch Al-Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Syria TV Jordan TV and I watch foreign TV like TV5, BBC, English TV.

Voxpop3: Each station is supporting a team which is fighting against the other; that’s why they are not neutral.

GB: How about Al-Manar, do you ever watch them at all?

Voxpop: Lately maybe. 

Since the war with Israel, Al Manar’s influence has grown.

It’s better than LBC and Future.

(Beirut WS, satellite dishes)

But in Lebanon and across the Arab world, the most watched channel remains Al Jazeera, with over 50 million viewers.

(GB & Claudia on street)

So far, their PR advisors – wary of more bad press – wouldn’t give us access. After weeks of phone calls, they finally agreed.

Claudia Rizzi: Well, listen thank you so much for calling back because we were getting a bit desperate …Yes.

(Walking into AJ bureau)

That got us into Al-Jazeera’s Beirut bureau – by far the largest in town.

They’d just heard the prime minister was about to respond to Hezbollah’s demand that he resign.

Bushra Abdel Samad, Beirut Correspondent, Al Jazeera: It’s at 11:30 so if you want to go we can go in half an hour I think.

GB: Oh 11:30. OK fine.

Bushra Abdel Samad, Beirut Correspondent, Al Jazeera: Israeli massacres are precluding any effort to solve this crisis. The children of Lebanon pay with their blood for any ceasefire.

Her reports during the recent war made Bushra Abdel-Samad well known across the Middle East.

She’s Lebanese herself – and says objectivity is impossible, especially about Israel.

(Driving to governent palace)

Bushra Abdel Samad, Beirut Correspondent, Al Jazeera: I try to be neutral because you know, all the political problems in Lebanon, so it’s a bit difficult to be neutral. And that is the main is issue I think about almost all the time.  After the war in Lebanon lots of people used to think that we are pro-Hezbollah just because it was our position during the war. It wasn’t with Hezbollah - it was against what Israel was doing. So, you cannot have another position in a situation like this I think.

(Press conference, bunch of cameras)

I followed her to the government press conference. I was about the only Western journalist there. And now I understood what this media revolution was all about.

For the first time in history, Arab journalists had the freedom and clout to bypass governments across the region, and shape public opinion.

Prime Minister Sinoura, a key US allay, seemed desperate, his power slipping away.

Prime Minister: (On Viewfinder): We’ve had enough turbulence. We cannot afford repeating our mistakes.

(Driving away from govt building)

GB: No we’re finished. No, we’re finished. Camera down Frank, camera down Frank.

Beirut was tense.

It felt like a crisis was about to break … but we were late for our flight to Al Jazeera’s headquarters.

(Loading gear)

Hotel Bellman: Have a nice day.

GB: Bye.

(Arch: assassination)

As we arrived in the Gulf State of Qatar, we learned a top government official had been assassinated minutes after we’d left Beirut – the latest in a string of political killings.

(Watching TV in hotel room)

CNN: A father and a country in shock as another prominent anti-Syrian politician is assassinated in Lebanon…

Pierre Gemayal was from a prominent Christian family and many of his supporters blamed Hezbollah. Suddenly, Lebanon seemed on the brink of Civil War.

(Driving to AJ, Doha)

(AJ, in newsroom)

At Al Jazeera’s headquarters, we met their Beirut bureau chief, who happened to be in town. He learned about a fax – from a Lebanese group claiming ties to Al-Qaeda.

Ben Jeddou: (On phone) Did you see the communiqué of “Belad el Sham” organization?

Many extremist groups use Al Jazeera to get their message out.

Ben Jeddou: (On phone) Did you receive any communiqué signed by “Belad el Sham” organization? “God made us succeed today finishing the agent Pierre Gemayel.”

GB: What are they saying?

Ghassam Ben Jeddoul: They are saying that behind they are behind.

GB: Behind the assassination?

Ben Jeddou: Yes Behind the Assassination.

GB: Is this an unknown group?

BJ: Unknown group yes for the first time.

GB: What are you feeling; you don’t think you don’t think they really did it.

BJ: I don’t , I don’t think … you know now in Lebanon we have Al Queda, a strong Al Qaeda,, but I doubt they are behind the assassination of Mr Pierre Gemayal.

GB: Were you surprised?

BJ: I was surprised of assassination of Pierre Gemayal. He was my friend.

The group’s claim wasn’t reported on air.

That power to filter information used to rest with Arab governments – until the journalists at Al Jazeera began to interpret events themselves.

Wadah Khanfar, Director-General, Al Jazeera: The last few years in the Middle East the main hotspots of the world are taking place here around us. Around the territory of Al Jazeera. In a way that if you speak about Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Dafur wherever, Lebanon, this area has become an open conflict zone. Therefore, we are a TV station that is trying to project a certain reality rather than trying to influence the course of events. 

Qatar skyline

Though its journalists claim independence, Al Jazeera is in fact owned by the government of Qatar – which, rather incongruously, also hosts the biggest American base in the Middle East.

Government officials won’t talk about Al Jazeera. Analysts say it’s part of a delicate balancing act …

Mamoun Fandy: Qatar is very small tiny place and the only thing to do to be a big on the international scene is to have … to be a media mogul. That’s the only way to make sure to put your enemies on the defensive to make sure that you have enough audience to support your cause if you are taken over by Iran or some neighbouring country.

(Insurgency footage)

From the start of the Iraq War, the channel covered the insurgency from the inside … including footage of attacks on US troops.

The Bush administration was incensed – Mamoun Fandy, an Egyptian-American scholar of the Arab media, advised Washington on its response to the channel.

Fandy: Al Jazeera in terms of the Iraqi story was a tool of recruitment of fundamentalists throughout, through videos through various programming that’s worth three division of the American army. 

Mr. Khanfar: After the fall of Baghdad.  the Americans started accusing us of inciting emotions against the American troops.

Interviewer: Were you?

Mr. Khanfar: Of course not. I was at that time the bureau chief actually in Baghdad. 

In 2004, Al Jazeera was kicked out of Iraq.

Kanfar: The environment then was very tense, and I think they thought closing down the bureau will enhance the opportunity of projecting another image about Iraq. Unfortunately that was not the case. During the last two years, things have escalated in Iraq. That was not Al-Jazeera that was actually responsible for giving that image about Iraq.

(AJ: Bin Laden intro)

Anchor: Good evening and welcome, We’ll try in today’s show to understand what’s behind the latest declarations attributed to Al Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden. 

But the channel is responsible for the prominence it gives each new statement from Osama Bin Laden.

Anchor: How right is Al Qaeda’s leader in explaining what is happening in the world today by the principle of the clash of civilizations?

(Arch: bin laden tapes)

In this recent tape, Bin Laden criticized Western governments for trying to influence the Arab media.

Bin Laden: What does the continuation of the media and culturally hypocritical media invasion mean?  By creating new TV channels, adding to the Voice of America, BBC and others, they are trying to continue their intellectual invasion of our nation,

The tapes are not played in their entirety. Each is followed by analysis from several viewpoints.

Abderrahim Foukara: When those tapes are aired they are aired for their news value. And the official position is that it is a valid viewpoint. I think you have to put the sattion in its cultural and political context. And the cultural and political context is that the region is becoming increasingly more conservative. And the idea is that if you have an audience that you want to capitalize on you have to reflect the hopes and concerns of that audiece.  And that audience is getting increasingly more conservative. 

From inside its bureaus in Washington and around the world, Al Jazeera can look like any other news organization.

But its accusers say it is staffed by members of Islamic political groups …

Fandy: Many of Al Jazeera members, journalists, are Islamist and actually my own numbers show about sixty percent of Al Jazeera journalists are Muslim brotherhood –

GB: sixty percent are Muslim brotherhood?

Fandy: Yeah.

Other scholars dispute Fandy’s claim, and Al Jazeera denies its been infiltrated by any political group.

Foukara: At least some of them, some people in Doha, they will tell you that, that shouldn’t come as a surprize that there is a certain category of people, Isllamists or whatever, in the station because that represents a wide section of Arab society, or Arab societies I should say.

(GB in hotel)

News Headline: Sadr city is burying more than 200 dead, and the Sadr party is suspending its participation in the government and.

At my hotel in the Middle East, I watched Al Jazeera’s evening news -

(Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon)

As on many nights, the lead story was Iraq. In Baghdad’s Sadr city, 200 Shi’ites had been massacred in the biggest sectarian attack since the invasion.

(CENTCOM on AJ, responding to Sadr City massacre)

But tonight, Al Jazeera followed its report with a US Military spokesman – and asked him if America had orchestrated the killings.

Presenter: You are accused by many Iraqi sides of being behind what happened in Sadr city. Where do you really stand after all that happened?

Captain FRANK: The US and Coalition armies had nothing to do with what happened in Sadr city. These accusations are totally absurd.

I wondered – if Al Jazeera was banned from Iraq, why was this officer sitting in their studio?

(Dubai, tunnel & driving)

I found the answer across the Arabian peninsula in Dubai, where I met two officers from U.S. central command.

Capt. Eric: Yeah, we love our work.

Capt. Frank Pascual, USN, Dubai Media Team CENTCOM: We’re very passionate about it, that’s what most people say, they detect that, it’s been without a doubt the best assignment I’ve ever had in a twenty-four year military career, no question about it.

They are the vanguard of the military’s new strategy to embrace Arab news channels.

Capt. Eric Clark, Dubai Media Team, CENTCOM: We are trying to get rid of the hatred towards America, particularly America’s military members. I’ve been to Bosnia, I have to Kosovo, but clearly fighting the perception, fighting the likes of Al Manara, Al Jazeera or Al Araybia and those who want to use those outlets. Al Queda and others, those who wants to leverage those media outlets to reach and propagate their lies and extremist viewpoints. This is a tough, tough fight.

Although they acknowledge many officers still believe Al Jazeera is the enemy, these spokesman say their mission can’t succeed without it –

Capt. Eric Clark, Dubai Media Team, CENTCOM: What I think people forget is that Al Jazeera is much like any other media outlet, it’s a business they are catering to their audience. The message just like a Fox News, Fox caters to its audience, they deliver and package news with the right message content that will resonate to there audience. There is no question that Al Jazeera is the same way.

Capt. Frank Pasual US, Dubai Media Team, CENTCOM: In addition when you consider that they reach 50 million throughout the Middle East throughout the Arabic speaking world, we find ourselves in a position of those are the people we are trying to reach. And if Al Jazeera helps us get to those people we want to talk to them. we want to have the opportunity to be on camera, we want to have the opportunity to talk them on background, we want be a source. We want them to call us up.       

(CENTCOM guys walking into Arabiya)

I followed them to the channel’s arch rival, Al Arabiya. Launched just three years ago and backed by Saudi Arabia, it seeks to counter Al Jazeera’s influence.

(Sign: we see hope everywhere…)

(CENTCOM walking through newsroom)

The officers make a constant round of courtesy calls to Arab newsrooms.

Neither speaks Arabic.

They were back to see Al Arabiya’s director of news.

(Into Hage’s office, Hi, how are you etc….they sit down, chat … Last time you kissed me on my cheek.  He was in the way this time, etc.)

It was the day of Pierre Gemayal’s funeral.

Capt. Frank: How’s funeral going on?

Hage: The coverage is going very well, what’s going on there is terrible.

Capt. Frank: Yeah, it’s a horrible set of circumstances. 

(Control room, Gemayal funeral)

A million Lebanese were on the streets in support of the US backed government.

(Control room, Gemayal funeral)

Al Arabiya’s coverage was sympathetic – but its moderate tone doesn’t mean it’s pro-American.

(GB in Hage office)

GB: So you just saw our friends from the US military.

Hage: Uh huh.

GB: Do you find that useful?

Hage: Having US military people here?

GB: Yeah.

Hage: Well, I think it is – America is doing a charm offensive towards this part of the world. But at the same time they have an extremely difficult job to do because they are trying to sell unsellable product.

(Al Arabiya newsroom)

I let him get back to work. Across the newsroom, I looked for Al Arabiya's chief executive,  a Saudi newspaper columnist who spent twenty years in London before the power of television lured him back to the Middle East.

(Introductions, etc.)

Mr. Al-Rashed, General Manager, Al Arabiya: It’s different. Maybe politics and news in general in the west is something more part of entertainment.  Here it’s not, it's part of a matter of life and death.

GB:            Is there a struggle of ideas going on?

Mr. Al-Rashed: A big struggle. This is actually why this region is torn for a long time. It's mostly because of ideas.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, General Manager, Al Arabiya: This is similar to Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th century, people talk about different ideas and they will go and shoot and kill and have wars because of their ideas. 

In an attempt to get American ideas into the mix of broadcasts coming out of Dubai’s booming “media city” -

(Michael Pelletier in car, speaking Arabic)

Last summer, the state department sent its own spokesman … with a key difference – (Pelletier sound) he can speak the language.

GB: Now, you don’t have an office

Michael Pelletier, Dubai Media Officer, State Department: No. This is my office, which never leaves me, if you tie yourself to an office, if you tie yourself to a location, if you tie yourself to being behind four walls you’re not getting out there any engaging, you’re not dealing with people and the way the media works as you know, you have to be out there you have to be were the story is happening.

The State Department saw Gemaya’s assassination as a direct challenge to American interests in Lebanon.

So, within hours, Michael Pelletier was on the air, giving Washington’s line, in Arabic.

Michael Pelletier, on Al Arabia: Our aim is to consolidate the commitment of the international community in knowing the truth about who’s behind the political assassinations

Pelletier: I think the responsibility falls on us as the American government and the American people to get out there and get our viewpoint across. The more people we have who can get on those programs and speak Arabic and present our opinions in all their diversity, then the better off we will be. And that's what they want for their programs as well.

Mr. Al-Rashed: Americans are very much far away from the region. They come here as two groups. Either they are business people that come to do business and walk out, so they don't mingle, really, and talk and convince or change minds. And the second group, the politicians, they stick to the official line. And official lines are not good enough to convince anyone.

For Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, who’s devoted his career to speaking out against fundamentalism, the real agenda is countering the rise of Al Jazeera.

Rashed: We are winning without Bin Laden tapes, without Bin Laden help, and I think this is -- in my opinion it's a phenomenon, and I think it's, it’s a challenge which we need a model to show to people that we can do a news station without being bad. Um bad media.

GB: what do you mean by bad media?

Rashed: Without being very much on the rhetoric side, with the demagogy on the street.

(Al Jazeera sting)

But Al Jazeera still has the bigger audience – and a global ambition.

(AJ English headquarters)

This is Al Jazeera English – a new state of the art, high definition, global channel beamed to worldwide audience.

It cost the Emir of Qatar an estimated one billion dollars – the most expensive start-up ever in broadcast journalism.

Mr. Khanfar: We are moving from a pan Arab regional TV station into an international media corporation.  So we thought, okay, let us start the English channel, English is the biggest language.

At a time when Western news channels were cutting back on their foreign coverage, Al Jazeera was hiring – and paying top dollar.

Journalists from America and Britain signed up by the hundreds.

The crisis in Lebanon was their first big story.

Parsons: People have used this phrase reversing the flow of information, south to north instead of always north to south. You know we are rooted here n the middle east which is the world’s news hot spot.

(AJ English Control room)

(Robert Fisk live intv …)

They claim they’ll offer opinions ignored by other channels –

(Robert Fisk live intv…)

And point to last year’s war in Lebanon as an example of the Western media’s bias towards Israel.

Nigel Parsons, Managing Director, Al Jazeera English: Had we been on air during that conflict in the summer then I think that’s the kind of story that once again proves why the world needs Al Jazeera in English. We didn’t feel the offerings in English language of major international broadcasters at that time was particularly balanced or really told the story of what was going on.

(Editorial meeting)

The channels’ Arab executives, just across the road, retain ultimate editorial control, especially over divisive issues –

Nigel Parsons, Managing Director, Al Jazeera English: Sure Al Jazeera is sympatric to the Palestinians but they do balance the story they give the Israelis give their side. And that’s never happened before.

GB: And that sympathy you said, their sympathies towards the Palestinians will that carry forwards into the English language.

Parsons: Yah, without a doubt we will have the same kind of editorial guidelines and the same code of ethics and, um, without a doubt I think we would be sympathetic to people living in occupied Palestine.

(Al Jazeera English sting, Top of Hour)

The channel has four global broadcast centres – including Malaysia, an Islamic nation where English is widely spoken –

(Broadcast intros)

Around the world, there are over one billion Muslims who don’t speak Arabic.

GB: Who are you trying to reach? Who is your target audience?

Wadah Khanfar, Director General, Al Jazeera: Every English-speaking person.

(London, Thames)

On a brief stop over in London, where I now live, I found a group of young Muslim lawyers and teachers. All of them were tuning in to the new channel –

GB: When you heard that it was about to launch, were you anticipating it?

Man 1: I was really excited, yes, because I used to watch Al Jazeera in Arabic.

GB: Do you speak Arabic?

Man 1: No I don’t but it’s the images, for example, of Iraq, the Afghanistan war, it was obvious to everyone who was watching BBC, CNN, Fox and Al Jazeera the amount of information and coverage that Al Jazeera did and the difference between BBC and Al Jazeera. It was obvious.

These views aren’t unusual. I know a lot of British Muslims who feel their opinions are ignored by mainstream media.

Man 2: Westerners don’t understand this idea, they find it difficult to understand. The Muslims in the Middle East, the way we look at it, we have this idea of one Uma … the way we look at those Muslims is, when I say demographics, as if my own mother gave birth to this. So every time I see someone being attacked or killed unjustly of course I’m thinking that’s my brother. It’s as if my own flesh and blood is being killed.

They seemed to think Al Jazeera English was meant for them -

Man 3: I saw it when it first came out and even right now the continuing stories that they’re following, like the middle east and what’s happening in the Middle East – now that’s an important story for everybody. But yet within the British media and within the American media they don’t want to highlight it that much because it shows their flaws or their mistakes and errors which they make in their own foreign policy.

(Ext, State Dept.)

I arrived back in Washington, where each morning at the State Department they listen to the stream of criticism about America from the Muslim world –

Gray haired guy: Good morning, this is Rapid Response Unit. Today we’re looking at…

At 6AM there’s a daily conference call with the unit’s hubs in Europe and Dubai -

President Bush was in Amman, meeting Iraq’s Prim Minister …

Joe: Well, they both covered the press conference live

… Secretary Rice was in Palestine and Israel.

Joe: And they’re highlighting statements form President Bush and saying essentially that we’re going to support the Maliki government and stay in Iraq until we accomplish the mission.

And in Lebanon, Hezbollah announced plans to topple the pro-American government, starting tomorrow.

VO Gray Haired Guy: The big story in the pan-Arab press is democracy in Lebanon. We have Nasrallah is live at the moment or just gone live – Joe – on calling for demonstrations in Lebanon.

Joe: Yeah, Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech through the Al Manar …

By 7:30 they send a daily report to top US policy makers around the world, summarizing what the foreign media are saying about America.

(RRU Chit chat…)

Duncan: The Hezbollah one is very important.

Guy: Bush and Maliki talks, the issue is leadership. How about something like that. 

I noticed, on a lot of their screens was Al Jazeera’s new channel -

GB: You’re watching something most Americans cannot watch on their screens which is Al Jazeera English. 

Duncan: Right…we’ll it’s a new station – and, it’s an important station because it’s trying to reach a global young audience.

Guy: English as a second language audience in the world is very big, very big and pretty influential.

(Arriving at Accuracy in Media)

But this conservative media group launched a campaign to keep Al Jazeera English out of America.

Cliff Kincaid, Accuracy in Media: Clearly we were disturbed because we knew the reputation of the Arabic Al Jazeera. Everybody knows it’s been a mouthpiece of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

GB: Let me have a look at that, can I see that? 

Woman: Oh sure –

Every major cable and satellite provider in the country refused to carry it.

GB: Dear Mr Murdoch. Thank you for declining to distribute Al Jazeera English in the United States. You made the right choice not only for Direct TV but for America as a whole.  Did you send this to Mr Murdoch and others.
Kincaid: Yes. Whole list of them…

GB: Oh, this is the list.

Kincaid: All we really did was alert US cable and satellite providers, to the channel’s history. I don’t think they needed a lot of convincing. I don’t think there’s a big demand out there for Al Jazeera.  

(Ext: AJ English, GB walking into bureau etc.)

(AJ English bureau, DC)

Down the road on Washington’s K Street, I found the channel’s broadcast centre for the Americas.

Their anchor was formerly of ABC’s Nightline, David Marash.

GB: Dave – Hi, Greg Barker, FRONTLINE.

Marash: Greg, nice to meet you.

GB: Good to meet you.

He didn’t seem worried about the bosses back in Qatar –

Marash: In my contract it says that if I find myself at editorial loggerheads with the home office, I can leave. So as I put it, you know, I’ve got my pill in my pocket, I don’t expect to need it.

Marash was covering the same busy news day as the State Department’s rapid response team –

GB: You’ve got a lot of stories of crisis happening simultaneously in the Middle East now…

David Marash, Washington Anchor, Al Jazeera English: We do and I have to say that we have been encouraged to add that up.  What is it that explains simultaneous not just crises but confrontational challenges to American policy in Tehran, Baghdad, Beirut and Palestine at the same time?

(David Marash on set)

Tonight, Marash’s top story would be Lebanon, not Bush’s meeting on Iraq. His old colleagues at ABC would likely play things differently.

David Marash, Washington Anchor, Al Jazeera English: The American networks will start with Iraq and Bush first they’re American and so is all of their audience.  We’re global and so is almost all of our audience.

That perspective means a more critical take on America –

Marash: America has never been perceived as more isolated and less influential. I think that probably we’re pursuing that angle harder than our network colleagues are and it’s not because we want to undermine America’s position, it’s because the reality is that America’s position is undermined, and nobody needs to understand that more than Americans.

(DC, at night)

It was my last night on the road.

(ABC, NBC news etc – )

In my hotel, I watched how the networks covered that day’s flood of events from the Middle East.

They were , as David Marash predicted, all very American-centric.

(GB watching, computer … AJ English)

Over on Al Jazeera English, things were different. But to find it here in America, I had to go online …

… and I remembered a conversation I had had back in Dubai –

GB: What do you think about all the controversy in the states over Al Jazeera English?

Frank: Well, I – you were doing really well. I think it’s ludicrous. I think it’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s another outlet, another chance to get another point of view out to the American public. So the fact that they can’t get a license in America I think is preposterous. It’s a disservice to Americans, who unfortunately are becoming more and more insulated, more and more insular.

Capt. Frank.: And by not having Al Jazeera available in the US it doesn’t allow it to stand or fall on its own merits.

In their efforts to improve America’s image in the Muslim world, these officers have come to believe that we have something to learn too -

Capt Frank: I’ve never been afraid of ideas, and I have no fear that any ideas brought through journalism to the United States would be something that would so harm us not we not only can’t survive, but can’t learn something from it and do better.  And it’s a part of the world we need to do better in.

(Driving pov)

(Zoom out from map of Dubai)

ANNOUNCER: Finally tonight, how reporters are risking their lives and their freedom to uncover stories that challenge the powerful.

(Zoom in to map of Iraq)

(Music up)


Essay by Sheila Coronel

Journalists are the eyes, they are the watchdogs of power. Without journalists there are very few checks on the excesses of wealth and power. Journalists provide information that allows people to make decisions about their lives.

Democracies around the world continue to function, because there are journalists out there still doing their jobs, risking their lives, still believing that they can make a difference.

I’m Sheila Coronel.  I’m an investigative journalist from the Philippines. I left last year to teach at Columbia University. I am also on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

I started out during the twilight years of the Marcos dictatorship. I was working for the largest newspaper in the country. We were not allowed to write anything negative about the regime. We couldn’t even print photographs showing Imelda Marcos’s double chin.

We had great hopes for freedom after the fall of Marcos but 21 years after the Philippines has become one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist. This is because the rule of law is weak. The courts, the justice system, the entire structure of government cannot provide protection. 60 journalists have been killed since 1986.

I’ve lost friends in the Philippines killed because of their reporting.  While the situation in my country is especially bad, it’s not unique.


13 journalists killed since 2000
With the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a very brief period when a lot of independent newspapers and TV stations came out with critical reports of the government.  But that whole era is over. The euphoria ended very fast.

The Russian media has been put under severe restrictions by Vladimir Putin whose allies have taken over most of the media organizations. The critical voices are limited to small circulation newspapers.

Anna Politkovskaya was an investigative journalist. She was writing for a relatively small newspaper about the war in Chechnya. She wrote about a very dirty war that most Russians would rather forget.  She’s been called the conscience of Russia.

Anna Politkovskaya: [SUBTITLE] I know the sacred rule of war reporters, that no shot or story is worth your life. That’s true. But I think that the second Chechen war is such a cruel and unjust war that in reporting this material you have no right to think of yourself. You just don’t have this right. If you are the transmitter of this truth and I think of myself as simply a transmitter, that is worth a life.

Anna is one of 13 journalists who’ve been killed in gangland style executions since the takeover of Vladimir Putin. She was killed in her own apartment. A hired assassin shot her once and shot her again to make sure she was really dead.

I think Russians will always remember that in this dark moment of their history Anna Politkovskaya spoke out.



More than 65 journalists prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness”

Turkey has a free press.  But there are certain touchy issues that the Turkish authorities are very sensitive about. Any attempt to resurrect the genocide of Armenians that took place in 1915 is not tolerated.  Several journalists and writers have been convicted of insulting Turkishness for writing about the Armenian question.

Hrant Dink was a Turkish Armenian. He was the editor of a well-known daily. 

Hrant Dink: [SUBTITLE] I’ve been prosecuted in Turkey for saying what has happened and referring to it as genocide. Freedom of opinion is a must for everyone.

Sheila Coronel: Hrant was shot just outside his office by a 17-year-old Turkish nationalist. A hundred thousand people came to his funeral. Those who gathered there appreciated the importance of his work.

Mourner: Today is the day we stand up all together and say as Armenians, we’re going to show the world that we will keep Hrant’s wishes alive. We will follow what Hrant’s words were, what his mission, what his objectives were in life.



More than 90 journalists in exile

In many countries in Africa, the press has become free after the fall of autocratic regimes.  But there are places like Zimbabwe where the press is very much in the thrall of Mugabe.

Geoffrey Nyarota, Editor in Chief, The Daily News: Mr. Mugabe's government has total control over the media. He appreciates that there is power in journalism. He fears the free flow of the information because he knows the potential to undermine him.

I started a new newspaper when it had become so obvious that the people were so tired of government propaganda. The motto of The Daily News was, "Telling it like it is." And that's what we went out to do and predictably we soon ran on a collision course with Mugabe’s government. I was arrested. Then, some people bombed the printing press and I was advised to desist or I would face dire consequences.

My greatest frustration is I am away from the situation where I can play a meaningful role in the development of my country.



32 journalists in jail

The press has never been freer in China than it is now and that freedom comes from rapid economic growth.  The market, not the State, freed the media.  Journalists have been able to write exposes about government corruption, about social problems.

But journalists must be constantly aware of how far they can go because the power of the State can be exercised arbitrarily and there are no legal guarantees of a free press. 

Jiang Weiping was writing about corruption involving high officials in Northeast China where he worked.  He wrote about vice mayor who lost $3 million gambling debt, he wrote about a mayor who built houses for 29 mistresses.

Jiang was in prison for more than 5 years.  While in jail, he wrote a message for his daughter:

Though the road home has many twists and turns,
Your Daddy believes that we will be reunited soon,
This world contains so many things that are not eternal,
But only truth and justice truly rule
The drama of human life
Your old father will not be toppled on this cold night,
The giant dragon strides into a new century,
Your old father stands on the dragon's shoulders,
He will certainly pick up his pen once again!

Released from prison in 2006, but officially barred from practicing journalism


97 journalists killed since 2003

In Iraq, some journalists were killed in the crossfire but what people don’t know is that most of the journalists who have been killed have been deliberately targeted.

Atwar Bahjat was a reporter for Al Arabiya Television. Her father was Sunni and her mother was Shiite.

Atwar Bahjat: [SUBTITLE] Whether you are Sunni or Shia, Arab or Kurd, there is no difference between Iraqis, united in fear for this nation.

She reported fearlessly on the war and never took sides in the increasingly violent conflict there.  During her broadcast she always wore a pendant representing a unified Iraq.

Atwar Bahjat: [SUBTITLE] Our work as reporters comes with a heavy price and that can sometimes be death. What we hope is that death brings peace

She was reporting in Samarra in February 2006. She was gunned down there by unknown men who just grabbed her from where she was broadcasting. 

Atwar’s killing shocked Iraqis because to them she was really the symbol of national unity.  Gunmen even shot at Atwar’s funeral procession. She was only 30 years old.


We’ve just talked about a few journalists of the hundreds who’ve been murdered or jailed because of their work. The paradox is that the press is freer or more powerful now than it has ever been before. The tragedy is that journalists who exercise that freedom pay a very high cost. 

What makes us humans is because we can express ourselves. If we are unable to speak out and we cannot be fully human and these journalists remind us of that.

(Music up)

(Promo graphics)

ANNOUNCER: There’s more of the world to explore on our Web site. More on Arab media, and journalists under fire around the world. And also a special web video of an online newspaper in Korea with 40,000 citizen reporters.

(Vanessa Hua walking into newsroom)

Vanessa Hua: Oh My News is also a brilliant business model. It pays its citizen reporters almost nothing. But it’s not all volunteer. Paid professionals write the more in depth, complex stories.

ANNOUNCER: Discuss the world. And tell us what you think about our Stories From a Small Planet at


ANNOUNCER: Next time on FROTNLINE, Steve Hayward was given three years to live, but that didn’t stop him from living.

Woman: Yes! I would have this man’s baby.

Hayward: Oh you are so very handsome!

ANNOUNCER: This is the story of one family’s extraordinary search for a cure. And their revolt against fate. So Much, So Fast. Next time, a FRONTLINE special presentation.

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From promo: As you can see, people are gathering around …

ANNOUNCER: And the independent journalists

Kate Seeley: How do you respond to these charges …

ANNOUNCER: Who tell the stories of our times.

(Skoll images)

ANNOUNCER: And by the Skoll Foundation

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ANNOUNCER: And by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

(JDCMF graphic)

ANNOUNCER: And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

(Goldman graphic)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding of News War is provided by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation.

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ANNOUNCER: With additional funding from the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

(Frontline graphics, map of Beirut)