Al-jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That Is Challenging the West (英語) ペーパーバック – 2006/2/9
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A revealing look inside one of the most controversial news organizations in the world reveals a fledgling Arab-language network struggling to balance its commitment to time-honored standards of journalism with the needs of its audience in the Middle East. Reprint.
"An uncomfortable and indispensable book. Miles bluntly challenges assumptions many Americans hold about that part of the world. Indispensable because it gives readers a more vivid, accurate understanding of that world."
Discovering the phenomenon of Al-Jazeera had been discussed but had never been given an overview, Hugh Miles set out to rectify that lack. This son of a diplomat had solid credentials for researching the history of the new news channel. Fluent in Arabic, Miles was able to talk to station management, reporters and viewers in various places. His summation is an excellent example of investigative reporting, well presented. By the time Miles began his project, the subject had already undergone both amazing growth and intemperate vilification. He explains how Arab governments find Al-Jazeera a fomenter of sedition and rebellion. Some see it as a tool of the Isreali government seeking to destabilise Arab rulers, while others are certain it's an arm of the CIA. Americans, especially the Bush regime, view it as a mouthpiece for terrorist societies and probably anti-Isreal. Viewers, Miles finds, all have their own opinions about Al-Jazeera's political orientation, but still make it their first choice for Middle East news.
The key event in Al-Jazeera's progress was, of course, the 9/11 attacks on the WTC and Pentagon. Any news from the Arab world suddenly became of great importance and Al-Jazeera was clearly the leading voice. That situation probably led Al-Queda to use it as a conveyance for pronouncements to the world. Al-Queda tapes broadcast on Al-Jazeera immediately led to the branding of the station as a "voice of terrorism". Station management laughs at that, particularly when the western news channels are breaking down the doors to use Al-Jazeera news clips they cannot obtain elsewhere. The competition at one point was stiff enough to lead CNN to write a contract giving it Al-Jazeera video clips six hours ahead of the other broadcasters. The invasion of Afghanistan intensified the situation, since Al-Jazeera was the only news source on the ground when attacks began.
There's a risk being at the forefront of a battle to report events. Americans, certain that Al-Jazeera was "the mouthpiece of Al-Queda", "accidently" destroyed the Kabul office. Later, in Baghdad, more "accidents" occurred, this time killing one reporter. Al-Jazeera was the sole occupier of the Palestine Hotel, which was also attacked. No "accidents" happened to other news agencies. And the attacks occurred after Al-Jazeera had informed the Defence Department of their locations in the city. Correspondents are supposed to be immune from assault by military forces. Iraqis themselves avoided being interviewed because the station was presumed to be a target of American military forces.
It says much that the United States has demanded the Emir "tone down" the station's material. He has rejected these admonishments, both because they're self-defeating and because he funds the station without managing it. Meanwhile, the viewers increase daily and the addition of an English-language channel will broaden it further. Viewers now look for the "golden plum" logo on one corner of the screen to ensure they're watching an authentic news source. Subscription to Al-Jazeera is a minimal cost, considering you'll see news unavailable elsewhere. The Opposite Direction, a talk show airing a multitude of outlooks, may not be as valuable for facts, but it will likely give you information you wouldn't find elsewhere. Read Hugh Miles and learn why this new station is so important and so admired. And vilified. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
There is a great deal of credence to Miles' opinion as he shows how the station went to great lengths to cultivate intractable relationships with the Taliban and the Bin Laden organizations. This strategy turned out to be invaluable after 9/11 when al-Jazeera was the only one able to provide taped communiqués from Bin Laden and conduct a clandestine interview with two planners of the 9/11 attacks in Karachi in 2002. Miles also shows how critical al-Jazeera's role was in reporting the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 and the U.S. response to 9/11 with the Afghani invasion where the station has the only bureau in Kabul. After initially expressing condemnation, the Western media giants have begrudgingly embraced the intelligence uncovered by al-Jazeera in central Iraq where embedded journalists have otherwise faced escalating degrees of risk. This level of dedication and exclusive access has brought the station a great deal of loyalty among its viewers, and the U.S.-sponsored al-Hurra network has done little to tarnish al-Jazeera's hold on the public.
Even with the praise he heaps upon the station, Miles does make it clear by the end of the book that al-Jazeera does maintain a viewpoint in their coverage that is less than objective. For example, Osama bin Laden is seen not so much as a terrorist mastermind but as a revolutionary with a commitment to face down Western imperialism and pro-Israel support. In fact, he knows he is seen legitimately by al-Jazeera and exploits the pervasive sense of rage and helplessness in the Arab world in light of what the public sees as Western-based oppression. While fascinating from a journalistic standpoint, this line of thought is compromised somewhat by Miles' own disdain for the Bush administration. The author is unable to be completely fair-minded in highlighting the network's significant lapse in not promoting greater responsibility in their coverage and reporting more on bin Laden's weaknesses.
Miles also does not heavily criticize al-Jazeera's deliberate use of gory images from Iraq, the West Bank and Gaza that add fire to the Arab world's anger and resentment. In a move that would make Charles Foster Kane proud, al-Jazeera does not initiate the rage but rather manipulates the visuals that bolster such feelings. The author reserves his vitiol for the U.S. attacks on al-Jazeera offices, first in Kabul on November 12 2001 and then on April 8 2003 in Baghdad, where their journalist Tareq Ayyoubi was killed. He ends his narrative prematurely in late 2003 before the onslaught of masked kidnappers and their cowering captors dominated the airwaves. Such images could have allowed a stronger sense of introspection and balance to Miles' account. However, it is perhaps best to look at his take on al-Jazeera as a reflection of the Arab people who view honor above all else. Consequently, it is not the spread of democracy that the station is espousing but rather a stronger sense of nationalism. Within this context, Miles shows how a discriminating use of propaganda can be tolerated toward that end.
One could argue that the author is predisposed to some degree of cheerleading AlJazeera, but given the detailed research and discussion on the efforts of non-Quatar countries in the region, the U.S. and U.K. to shut down or impede the operations of the channel, it is clear that the channel has managed to become the enemy of everyone on almost all issues. Maybe as the author implies, the channel is infact doing something right! There is no doubt that a readers respect for CNN will decrease after reading the book and considering that until this book, Western media focused on villifying this channel, the book is bound to temper those wrong notions....Maybe the channel will get its due respect. One can easily be swayed by flag waving "experts" on talkshows (some of whom have been semi-exposed in this book), this book is a fairly good "other side of the story" for those willing to listen. Persuasiveness of the author is diminished by what seems his blind cheerleading of the channel....An excellent read, providing accounts of the main Gulf wars and 9/11 from a different perspective devoid of sensationalism.