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Al-Jazeera: we’ll furnish the war AND the pictures


 

I was impressed and humbled with the performance of the al-Jazeera news network during the recent revolution in Egypt. As CNN floundered and Fox News simply ceased to have even vestigial relevance, al-Jazeera seemed, for a moment, to be living up to its promise as a bridge between the Arab world and the West—if not transcending that promise and becoming something greater: a tribune of the Arab peoples and their neighbours; an influential, omnipresent witness of precisely the sort that the students in Tiananmen Square lacked; and, perhaps, one of the world’s essential institutions of news.

That potential is still there. The world is certainly a very much better place with al-Jazeera than without; it would be better still with five al-Jazeeras. But the time has come to raise an abstruse, nitpicky ethical point that reflects back on some of the Western journalists who have gone to work for al-Jazeera, and some of the Western leaders who have praised it so effusively. It’s this: is it quite all right for a news agency to have its own army?

I ask because it is a little difficult to disentangle al-Jazeera, which is owned by the Qatar Media Corporation, from the autocratic Qatari state. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani is as nice as absolute dictators get—a man arguably in the tradition of the enlightened despots of Europe’s quite recent past, who shared outstanding personal qualities, a common commitment to education and equality, and a dedication to advancing liberal ideals, albeit by undemocratic means. It’s traditional, in enlightened autocracies, for the required oppression to officially be deemed temporary, and for this pretence of temporariness to be kept up at all costs. Official U.S. sources, keen on avoiding offence to an important ally, advance Qatar’s claim to already be a “constitutional monarchy”. (Since the current emir took power in a coup, and permits no democratic national assembly, political parties, or elections, this is the grossest imaginable insult to an actual constitutional monarchy like our own. But since our planes sometimes need places to land in that part of the world, perhaps it is best to shrug it off.)

Al-Jazeera may represent Skeikh Hamad’s ultimate defence at the bar of history, as Bach’s Musical Offering and Lagrange’s Mécanique analytique are Frederick the Great’s. The channel is described as the personal brainchild of the emir, the head of Qatar Media Corporation is one of his cousins, and the whole shebang is funded by a series of “loans”, which may or may not ever be paid back, from the Qatari treasury. It treads softly in covering Qatar’s domestic affairs, while being brave and unflinching and professional, as we have seen, in covering the more momentous ones of its neighbours. That’s a good deal for the Western consumer, and al-Jazeera is being looked at by U.S. cable companies now, thanks to a sudden spontaneous demand for its perspective.

But now Qatar has gone to war with one of the major subjects of al-Jazeera’s recent reporting.

Doha, March 20 (BNA)–Qatari Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani said Qatar would take part in the military operation being carried out against Libya. He also added in an interview with Al Jazeera following Paris summit yesterday that the aim of the Qatari decision is to stop mass killing of citizens in Libya. “Qatar will take part in the military operation out of belief in the need for Arab states to contribute for the situation has become unbearable in Libya,” he said describing the situation as a declared war and urging to stop it very quickly.

This Sheikh Hamad is not to be confused with Sheikh Hamad the emir, his uncle, or Sheikh Hamad the head of QMC, a cousin from a cadet branch of the al-Thani ruling family. And, yes, the names are a hint that al-Jazeera is tied up with the Qatari state and its vendettas in a way that, say, the BBC is decidedly not with the government in Westminster. Pro-government forces in Libya have killed at least one al-Jazeera journalist and have detained four more. The on-air talent was already starting to lose its well-bred reserve before the boss scrambled the jets:

While some people ask where are the Arab jets, the international coalition – for now at least – has a more powerful weapon on its side: the al-Jazeera television channel.

The Qatar-owned al-Jazeera had highlighted the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as American aggression against Muslims, but in the case of Libya, the popular channel has supported the revolution.

Presenters refer to those killed by the Libyan regime as “martyrs” and to the air strikes as “western military operations” by an international coalition.

No worse journalistically than the worst of Fox News, you say? Well, Fox News doesn’t have its own air force. Yet. As much as we enjoy having our Western liberal pieties confirmed by al-Jazeera—without thinking too much about how the sausage is made—there are obvious questions about the viability of a news network whose owner can ring the palace and order up a bombing.

One would be “Can you rightly call it a ‘news network’ at all, except in the vestigial sense in which one might use the term to apply to the North Korean Central News Agency or the old Soviet-era TASS?” Another would be “Isn’t this the sort of thing that is likely to compromise al-Jazeera’s vaunted access to Muslim regimes pretty quickly?” And the most awkward of all: “If the reporting activity of al-Jazeera correspondents is implicitly backed up by the threat of hellfire from the sky, isn’t it justifiable for governments to regard and treat those people as enemy agents?”


 

Al-Jazeera: we’ll furnish the war AND the pictures

  1. And, yes, the names are a hint that al-Jazeera is tied up with the Qatari state and its vendettas in a way that, say, the BBC is decidedly not with the government in Westminster.

    Well, OK, but your overall thrust (should a news agency have an army), and it's a great one, does not go away entirely when one considers the BBC, the CBC, and even more so for. let's say, VOA…

  2. And, yes, the names are a hint that al-Jazeera is tied up with the Qatari state and its vendettas in a way that, say, the BBC is decidedly not with the government in Westminster.

    Well, OK, but your overall thrust (should a news agency have an army), and it's a great one, does not go away entirely when one considers the BBC, the CBC, and even more so for. let's say, VOA…

  3. Wow…I've heard of a boarding house reach, but this is a doozy!

  4. Wow…I've heard of a boarding house reach, but this is a doozy!

  5. I'm going to file this under "shrug it off" (for now) as Mr. Cosh implies.

    I don't think anyone can probably point to another Arab television network that would be a better replacement for al-Jazeera as the most popular Arab news source (and I mean that from BOTH the perspective of what's good for us in the West AND from the perspective of finding something close to "real" journalism) so I think this probably ranks as #12,562 on the list of "things that could be better in the Middle East", somewhere between "I wish there were fewer beheadings" and "Damn, is it just me or is it HOT here???"

  6. I'm going to file this under "shrug it off" (for now) as Mr. Cosh implies.

    I don't think anyone can probably point to another Arab television network that would be a better replacement for al-Jazeera as the most popular Arab news source (and I mean that from BOTH the perspective of what's good for us in the West AND from the perspective of finding something close to "real" journalism) so I think this probably ranks as #12,562 on the list of "things that could be better in the Middle East", somewhere between "I wish there were fewer beheadings" and "Damn, is it just me or is it HOT here???"

    • I think a free press is one of the most important things for the Middle East and Al Jazeera is doing a great job providing just that. Al Jazeera is credited by many to have been a driving force for the recent rise of democracy movement in the region.

      It certainly is not #12,562 on the list. It's close to #5, between the application of real democracy and freedom of Peaceful Assembly

  7. Hell, most individual journalists have to deal with more editorial bias from their local finders and fixers than they do when dealing with the corporations.

    Still, in a time when even the U.S. Army has its own army.(Blackwater, anyone?) why are we surprised at the convergence of media with big business and government? Does Rupert Murdoch not own a few legislators?

  8. Hell, most individual journalists have to deal with more editorial bias from their local finders and fixers than they do when dealing with the corporations.

    Still, in a time when even the U.S. Army has its own army.(Blackwater, anyone?) why are we surprised at the convergence of media with big business and government? Does Rupert Murdoch not own a few legislators?

    • in a time when even the U.S. Army has its own army

      That's an interesting point.

  9. Hillary Clinton is right. Al-Jazzera is doing a better job reporting the real news. Readers might be surprised at the number of respected and capable journalists who now work for al-Jazerra, including Canadians.

    Of course, most in Canada will not be aware of how good al-Jazzera coverage can because we are one of the very few countries that does not offer it with basic cable service. This is no accident.

    Al-Jazzera is well funded, and their journalists enjoys a degree of autonomy that is not offered by the North America media. They have an army now? Right. I am discounting the innuendo in this article as simple jealousy.

  10. Hillary Clinton is right. Al-Jazzera is doing a better job reporting the real news. Readers might be surprised at the number of respected and capable journalists who now work for al-Jazerra, including Canadians.

    Of course, most in Canada will not be aware of how good al-Jazzera coverage can because we are one of the very few countries that does not offer it with basic cable service. This is no accident.

    Al-Jazzera is well funded, and their journalists enjoys a degree of autonomy that is not offered by the North America media. They have an army now? Right. I am discounting the innuendo in this article as simple jealousy.

    • Since Canada is number one with a bullet on internet usage let's just assume most Canadians who are online have watched Al Jazeera. | know I have it on my Facebook feed.

  11. in a time when even the U.S. Army has its own army

    That's an interesting point.

  12. Nothing's perfect.
    Take what you get with open eyes but they are a step ahead of western news agency's for the region.

  13. Nothing's perfect.
    Take what you get with open eyes but they are a step ahead of western news agency's for the region.

  14. I think you make a good point about its connections to the Qatari State and the conflicts of interest that creates but I would highlight that while say Fox news doesn't have an army it is just as clearly biased and its reporting is far inferior. I picked on Fox news because its horrible and an easy target but I think the same could be said for much of the news I encounter.

    I however appreciate a stated bias in the news. I feel that the idea of unbiased news is unrealistic at best and hypocrisy at worst. Gonzo journalism is our forced reality not just a novelty whether its stated or not. I feel in the case of Al Jazeera I know there feelings on the issues so I can say well its a story about Palestine so they will criticize Israel then they will criticize the PA and American foreign policy then I can check the story out at in a western source and between the two of them I can make a much more informed observation. There is an honesty in it and for the moment their news is far better then the competition. I'll be sad if there connections with an autocratic leader sour this.

  15. I think you make a good point about its connections to the Qatari State and the conflicts of interest that creates but I would highlight that while say Fox news doesn't have an army it is just as clearly biased and its reporting is far inferior. I picked on Fox news because its horrible and an easy target but I think the same could be said for much of the news I encounter.

    I however appreciate a stated bias in the news. I feel that the idea of unbiased news is unrealistic at best and hypocrisy at worst. Gonzo journalism is our forced reality not just a novelty whether its stated or not. I feel in the case of Al Jazeera I know there feelings on the issues so I can say well its a story about Palestine so they will criticize Israel then they will criticize the PA and American foreign policy then I can check the story out at in a western source and between the two of them I can make a much more informed observation. There is an honesty in it and for the moment their news is far better then the competition. I'll be sad if there connections with an autocratic leader sour this.

  16. Why I love Al Jazeera, let me tell you in all the 7 ways!

    1. Not for profit (Thank you, oil rich Qatari Shaikh!)
    2. Small 'm' Middle Eastern & Muslim point of view. Note: every broadcaster has a bias; Fox has it, BBC has it and so do all others
    3. Inclusive. It has news people of ALL nationalities and ALL backgrounds.
    4. It covers the neglected news topics; third world, under dogs, and maligned & oppressed
    5. Fearless. Its news personnel have risked personal safety and have paid price in Guantanamo, at the hands of mob, by tyrannical governments
    6. It is a mirror to view the world, factually, truthfully and accurately
    7. Every people have opportunity to tell their stories, their concerns, their hopes and aspirations in self produced documentaries

  17. Why I love Al Jazeera, let me tell you in all the 7 ways!

    1. Not for profit (Thank you, oil rich Qatari Shaikh!)
    2. Small 'm' Middle Eastern & Muslim point of view. Note: every broadcaster has a bias; Fox has it, BBC has it and so do all others
    3. Inclusive. It has news people of ALL nationalities and ALL backgrounds.
    4. It covers the neglected news topics; third world, under dogs, and maligned & oppressed
    5. Fearless. Its news personnel have risked personal safety and have paid price in Guantanamo, at the hands of mob, by tyrannical governments
    6. It is a mirror to view the world, factually, truthfully and accurately
    7. Every people have opportunity to tell their stories, their concerns, their hopes and aspirations in self produced documentaries

  18. Interesting topic.

    Nice piece of writing, Colby – as always.

  19. Interesting topic.

    Nice piece of writing, Colby – as always.

  20. I don't think Al Jazeera is comparable to BBC, CBC, VOA, CNN. FOX, etc.

    On March 5, 2011, in the midst of the Arab revolt, Al Jazeera reported the story "Amnesty: Qatari blogger detained ". In it they described how Amnesty International had issued a report saying the Qatari authorities were detaining a blogger for speaking against the regime.

    Now the reality is that this story was so mundane that none of the other news agencies in the world even covered it. Yet Al Jazeera went out of its way to prove its objectivity. You will never see this degree of self-criticism from any other station. On Fox it would be considered a form of treason.

    Take the CBC, considered to represent the liberal left in this country. Not once did they report on Amnesty's numerous denouncing of the Canadian government (whether on rights of indigenous peoples or over its failure to defend the rights of Omar Khadr.)

    The fact that Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, which is a non-important rich tiny state with reasonably warm relations with every country in the world, can further dismiss any allegation of bias due to undue influence by government figures

    Al Jazeera is truly an objective international news station, unlike any other and it is a total breath of fresh air.

  21. I don't think Al Jazeera is comparable to BBC, CBC, VOA, CNN. FOX, etc.

    On March 5, 2011, in the midst of the Arab revolt, Al Jazeera reported the story "Amnesty: Qatari blogger detained ". In it they described how Amnesty International had issued a report saying the Qatari authorities were detaining a blogger for speaking against the regime.

    Now the reality is that this story was so mundane that none of the other news agencies in the world even covered it. Yet Al Jazeera went out of its way to prove its objectivity. You will never see this degree of self-criticism from any other station. On Fox it would be considered a form of treason.

    Take the CBC, considered to represent the liberal left in this country. Not once did they report on Amnesty's numerous denouncing of the Canadian government (whether on rights of indigenous peoples or over its failure to defend the rights of Omar Khadr.)

    The fact that Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, which is a non-important rich tiny state with reasonably warm relations with every country in the world, can further dismiss any allegation of bias due to undue influence by government figures

    Al Jazeera is truly an objective international news station, unlike any other and it is a total breath of fresh air.

    • I guess you missed the part where Qatar is at war with Libya. But maybe it's a reasonably warm war.

  22. I think a free press is one of the most important things for the Middle East and Al Jazeera is doing a great job providing just that. Al Jazeera is credited by many to have been a driving force for the recent rise of democracy movement in the region.

    It certainly is not #12,562 on the list. It's close to #5, between the application of real democracy and freedom of Peaceful Assembly

  23. I guess you missed the part where Qatar is at war with Libya. But maybe it's a reasonably warm war.

  24. Mr. Cosh, you embolden the premise of mostly non-factual, opiniated 'news' perpetuated. I do not see a single factual reference to your hypothesis but interestingly find a lot of opinions. I, like LdKitchenersOwn will say that, 'I'm going to file this under "shrug it off"'

  25. Mr. Cosh, you embolden the premise of mostly non-factual, opiniated 'news' perpetuated. I do not see a single factual reference to your hypothesis but interestingly find a lot of opinions. I, like LdKitchenersOwn will say that, 'I'm going to file this under "shrug it off"'

  26. "questions about the viability of a news network whose owner can ring the palace and order up a bombing"

    No more so the highly placed US officials with significant vested interests in Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater and Halliburton

    These people have PROVED they will order up a war on a moments notice, falsifying WOMD reports if necessary all in the name of profit.

    al-Jazeera has, as yet to do so, for ALL the fright attempt in this article.

    "But now Qatar has gone to war with one of the major subjects of al-Jazeera's recent reporting."

    And we, in the West have been asking "Where are the Arab Countires in this battle?

    One come in directly, and we question the ceracity of the News Agency.

    Will we ever make up our mind(s)

    I have yet to hear of

  27. "questions about the viability of a news network whose owner can ring the palace and order up a bombing"

    No more so the highly placed US officials with significant vested interests in Bechtel, KBR, Blackwater and Halliburton

    These people have PROVED they will order up a war on a moments notice, falsifying WOMD reports if necessary all in the name of profit.

    al-Jazeera has, as yet to do so, for ALL the fright attempt in this article.

    "But now Qatar has gone to war with one of the major subjects of al-Jazeera's recent reporting."

    And we, in the West have been asking "Where are the Arab Countires in this battle?

    One come in directly, and we question the ceracity of the News Agency.

    Will we ever make up our mind(s)

    I have yet to hear of

  28. Since Canada is number one with a bullet on internet usage let's just assume most Canadians who are online have watched Al Jazeera. | know I have it on my Facebook feed.

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