Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Al Jazeera Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

10 years on the island
Al Jazeera is the Arabic word for the island. It may be known to the West (and by West I am referring to its natural definition ;the USA and the UK and if anyone has a problem with that go to the US oh...sorry I mean the UN) as the channel where Osama Bin Laden airs his videos and addresses the world ,or the channel with access to Al Qaeda.

It may have caught Donald Rumsfeld's attention when it aired clips showing American troops killed,burned,mutilated and taken hostage in less than two weeks into the War in Iraq which lead to the bombing of its offices there and the killing of at least one of its reporters. For God's sake, George Bush threatened to bomb its headquarters in Doha they must be doing something right!

All this is great for a news channel to achieve in 10 years. But the real accomplishment in my opinion is that Al Jazeera managed to do in 10 years what the whole of Arab media combined failed to do in decades;Al Jazeera earned the Arab viewers' trust. It showed them a news angle(oh wait...first it showed that there is such a thing as a news angle) they were not used to.

Al Jazeera ,as opposed to most Arab channels and other media outlets ,showed two...would you believe it!!! TWO sides of any argument, living up to its motto "The Opinion and the Other Opinion". I know that ,translated into English, this doesn't sound like much but in Arabic it's become symbolic of a freedom unknown to the Arab public for centuries. Al Jazeera is not just a channel, it's an icon of credibility.

What's it like off the island?

I moved to the UK only 4 months ago and was dumbfounded by the diversity and liberty of the media. And I don't mean entertainment channels,God knows that is the only thing our media has taken from the West with excellence, I mean news channles and programmes.
Chris Horrie, my broadcast journalism course leader at the University of Westminster, once told me that here in the UK politicians fear journalists because journalists have the ability to corner them and make them look stupid.

Where I come from,politicians fear no one except bigger and more influencial politicians. Media (or at least 99% of it) in most Arab countries is merely a political tool. Media in the Arab world is not the voice of the people it's the voice of those who govern them. It is not the sound of truth, it is the sound of consent. It is not a means of exposure but that of promotion of someone's predominant and indeed imposed political agenda.

Media in most Arab countries and in other totalitarian or democratically dictatorial countries,is not there to inform people.It is there to distarct them. It is there to make sure they are silenced,kept in the dark and hopefully worried about anything other than what really matters.

You see, politicians in general and Arab ones in particular hate alot of things but what they hate the most are people with voices that can be heard. So far, most Arab governments have been able to handle the annoying voices they heard. They either bought them or just shut them up altogether.

Freedom of speech in most of our beloved Arab democracies means that you are free to say what the government wants.

And then there was Al Jazeera
From day one Al Jazeera was equally shocking and refreshing to the Arab viewer. For the first time people had access to news 24 hours a day with quality reports and full coverage. They heard two sides to any argument and had the oppurtunity to call in and say what they really thought.

Politicians and leaders were put on the line and were being held accountable for their actions and for their peoples' dismal reality.

Al Jazeera...Damned if you do and damned if you ...do
Al Jazeera was determined not to be called an Arab biased channel. That is why it would frequently have Israeli politicians on its programs or in the news to discuss their side of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This didn't go too well with some Arab viewer's specially those of fundamentalist Islamic views who accused the channel for being an Israeli platform allowing the Zionists (as they would call them) to justify their atrocities.

Ironically enough , Al Jazeera is frequently and heavily critisized by Israel who accuses the channel of backing up suicide bombers or terrorists as they would like to call them and of fuelling the Arab-Israeli conflict by airing footage and pictures of palestinians being killed to stir the world's sympathy.

And of course the United States who accuses Al Jazeera of being Bin Laden's Channel and of being anti-American and did not hesitate to bomb its offices and detain and kill its journalists ,be it in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Whatever al Jazeera did was going to be loved by some and hated by others but it was definately going to be heard by all. That ,in essence, is what makes Al Jazeera what it is, the fact that no matter what anyone thinks of it, its presence and influence are unavoidable.

Future challanges
With Al Jazeera International launching this month, its audience and responsibilities will become alot bigger. Al Jazeera can't just live up to its name now, it'll have to outdo itself not to mention face competition. BBC Arabic Channel is launching soon as well.And there's one big question; What can Al Jazeera International offer the west that the BBC hasn't already done and what can BBC Arabic offer the Middle East that Al Jazeera hasn't already done?

One final thought
The only thing that bothers me about Al Jazeera and its amazing demonstartion of independence and freedom of speech is that the channel didn't earn its independence ,it did not win its freedom but was rather given it all by the Qatari government who invested in the channel to be a symbol of the country's own new progressive values.

What happens if the Qatari government changes its mind or is forced to change its mind about Al Jazeera (given that the American government ,a strong Qatari ally, is not too keen on the channel)?

What happens if the Qatari government is changed completely with a new leader and a new agenda and what if that leader decides he doesn't care for Al Jazeera too much and closes it.What will happen then? Would that be the end of Al Jazeera? Or could it stand on its own?Will the Arab public stand by it and call for their right to be informed?

That is the only thing that worries me; the fact that
the destiny of a powerful channel like Al Jazeera is still in the hands of more powerful individuals; individuals that fund it and allow it to exsist. The fact that the Arab public is not solid enough to stand in the face of its rulers and to make things happen.

Al Jazeera's name is well fitting. It is an island in a sea of public frailty and political oppression.

1 comment:

chris_horrie said...

You quote me as telling you that UK politicians fear journalists because journalists have the ability to corner them and make them look stupid.

But surely a better example is Adam Boulton of Sky questioning Tony Blair over the execution of Saddam.

See the comment on Adam's Blog - "Ah well, there goes the knighthood"

- http://adamboulton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/11/hanging_saddam_.html#comments