The Arabic-language cable news network Al Jazeera, subject of the recent documentary CONTROL ROOM, stirs up controversy wherever it is broadcast. In the United States, the channel is associated with the airing of tapes purported to come from Osama bin Laden. In his 2004 State of the Union Address President Bush referred to Al Jazeera and others as "hateful propaganda" coming from the Arab world, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called the network "a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda and a vehicle of anti-American propaganda." Especially troubling to some critics of late has been Al Jazeera's broadcast of the graphic images of war casualties of the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as images of captive American soldiers.
In the Arab world, Al Jazeera has also come under harsh criticism for its outspoken criticism of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. In addition, Al Jazeera correspondents are banned from several Arabic-speaking countries and, according to the International Committee to Protect Journalists, often under threat of attack throughout the Middle East.
Al Jazeera, founded in 1996, is a breakthrough in news coverage for the Arab world. The Qatar-based network was born when the BBC shut down its own Arabic-language network. Its correspondents wanted to create a BBC/CNN-style 24-hour news and talk show. In an area where many of the news media outlets are state-run and state-sponsored, Al Jazeera's confrontational style and willingness to criticize local governments broke new ground. Today, the network has an estimated 40 million viewers across the Middle East and Europe. The U.S. State Department has created its own Arabic-language station, Al Hurra, to reach the same satellite-owning households.
In an attempt to counter some of the criticism its coverage has engendered, Al Jazeera sponsored a two-day media conference in Qatar in June. While the station defended its right to report "the ugly face of war" it also issued a code of ethics it said would ensure balanced and sensitive reporting. Among the pledges Al Jazeera promised to treat its audience "with due respect and address every issue or story with due attention to present a clear, factual and accurate picture" and to respect "the feelings of victims of crime, war, persecution and disasters, their relatives, viewers and individual privacy." Other conference attendees from around the world applauded the decision.
In recent weeks the network has again been the focus of controversy over its coverage. In late July at the Democratic National Convention Al Jazeera's logo banner was taken down leading to speculation that the Democrats were squeamish about a visible presence for the network during convention TV shots. The Canadian Radio and Television Commission recently responded to criticisms that the network is anti-Semitic with additional restrictions which make it unlikely that the channel will be broadcast in Canada in the near future. On July 26, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called Al Jazeera coverage one-sided. He also criticized several other Arab news outlets, accusing them of becoming "channels for provocation." On July 7, 2004, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi ordered that Al Jazeera's Baghdad office be closed for at least a month.
Find out more about Al Jazeera and Middle East media below.
Sources and Suggestions
Of course an ability to read and understand Arabic adds greatly to your ability to get news and opinion from the Middle East. However, there are several English-language papers and international news services which offer daily round-ups from papers and broadcasts from around the globe.
The BBC has a helpful introduction to Middle East media in its Country Profiles. The profiles includes links to major newspapers and magazines (English and Arabic), television networks, and the government press agency.
The World Press Review Online publishes excerpts from media around the globe. They are following "American elections" in a special Web compendium. Another recent feature tackles the question "Does Arab TV Generate Anti-Americanism?"
Clearly, much of the world's news is broadcast in languages other than English although more and more often Web sites are offering limited English-language versions of their news coverage. The BBC also provides a useful service in their free Media Report a daily English-language look at what is in the international news. These reports, which contain direct quotations from foreign media and BBC analysis, are compiled by the BBC World Monitoring Service. The service monitors press coverage worldwide and offers full translations to subscribers. In addition to the Media Reports, the World Monitoring Service also posts a selection of original articles from around the world on its Web site each day in English.
There is one more service provided by the BBC to Internet newshounds The Week Ahead. This feature lists important upcoming political and economic events from around the world.
The Egyptian State Information Service also maintains a Web site which offers 24-hour radio briefings and a daily round-up of Arabic-language press.
The U.S. State Department also collects foreign media reaction to important news stories. You can read the selected coverage each day at the Issue Focus Reports Web site.
More on Al Jazeera
The English-language Web site for the network.
Attacks on the Press 2004
The Committee to Protect Journalists identifies attacks against the press in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East in the year 2004.
WIDE ANGLE, "Exclusive to Al Jazeera"
PBS's WIDE ANGLE explores the impact Al Jazeera's uncensored coverage has had on the Middle East.
Inside Al Jazeera
Writing for the COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, an American journalist visits the Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar. The article addresses criticism of Al Jazeera's coverage as being biased, including a November 2001 article in the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, by Professor Fouad Ajami, lambasting the network's Afghanistan coverage.
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Al Jazeera TV
The U.S. Department of Defense has provided this transcript of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's February 25, 2003 interview with Jamil Azer of Al Jazeera.
On the Media: Eyes on the Arab World
The National Public Radio program ON THE MEDIA interviewed Jihad Fakhreddine, a media analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, in February of 2003. In the interview, Fakhreddine comments on Al Jazeera as well as the then-fledgling Al-Arabiya 24-hour news network.
Additional Sources: "Superiors ruffled by Marine's role in film about Al Jazeera,", Mark Mazzetti, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, August 4, 2004; :The mixed messages of Al Jazeera; Some say the brash Arabic TV network that sells hostage videos is losing its edge," Caroline Byrne, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, August 3, 2004; "Canadian distribution of Al Jazeera unlikely," Laura Bracken, VARIETY, August 2, 2004; "For Al Jazeera, Loss of Convention Sign Brings Banner Publicity,", Nora Boustany, THE WASHINGTON POST, July 28, 2004; COUNTDOWN TO HANDOVER: "Arab Pulse," CNN: Special/Live Event, June 21, 2004; :Jazeera maverick revels in riling Arabs with show; Andrew Hammond, Reuters News, June 28, 2004; "Al Jazeera unveils ethics code to answer critics," Samia Nakhoul,Reuters News, July 13, 2004; "Al Jazeera Adopts a New Code Of Accuracy and Good Taste," THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 14, 2004; "Al Jazeera Network Rejects Iraqi Criticism," Voice of America Press Releases and Documents," July 26, 2004.