Al-Jazeera TV Leads the New Arab Free Press

Knives are out for the Arab world’s one
and only uncensored television station. The
Qatar-based satellite station al-Jazeera is being
demonised as the “voice of terrorism”. Colin Powell, the United States secretary of state,
describes it as “the most vitriolic,
irresponsible” TV channel in the world.
Condoleezza Rice, the US national security
adviser, has asked American broadcasters not to
show al-Jazeera’s exclusive pictures from
Afghanistan. Both George Bush and Tony Blair want
it censored.

Knives are out for the Arab world’s one
and only uncensored television station. The
Qatar-based satellite station al-Jazeera is being
demonised as the “voice of terrorism”. Colin Powell, the United States secretary of state,
describes it as “the most vitriolic,
irresponsible” TV channel in the world.
Condoleezza Rice, the US national security
adviser, has asked American broadcasters not to
show al-Jazeera’s exclusive pictures from
Afghanistan. Both George Bush and Tony Blair want
it censored.


Al-Jazeera was started in 1996 after a BBC
Arabic-language satellite channel based in Saudi
Arabia was closed down by the Saudis. The staff,
all BBC-trained, went off wholesale to the new
station, which had received $100m from the Emir of
Qatar.


In programmes such as The Opposite
Direction
, More Than One Opinion and
No Frontiers, al-Jazeera broadcasts the
kinds of discussion people in the Arab world used
to have only behind closed doors.


It is the only station that provides a voice to
Arab opposition parties, openly discusses
democracy and human rights, and exposes abuses of power.


Only on al-Jazeera can Arabs discover
Israel’s viewpoints and see Israeli politicians
being grilled by hard-nosed professionals. And
most of all, it is the only airspace where Islamic
alternatives to the status quo, moderate as well
as extremist, are critically examined.


Recently, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the
Syrian media to be “calm, logical and balanced” in their reporting, which must “respect the intelligence of the audience”. Other governments are contemplating relaxing their media laws as the
audiences for local, censored channels dwindle to
a handful of the party faithful.


Al-Jazeera has set an example for other satellite
stations. The London-based al-Mustakillah
Television has acquired a huge following,
particularly in the Maghreb.


Launched in 1999, al-Mustakillah devotes a great deal of its programming to issues of human rights, democracy and freedom of expression. Shedding a Light on the Culture of Human Rights, presented by Abdul Hussein Shaban, the president of the Arab Human Rights Organisation in the UK, is one of its most popular programmes.


When I appeared on its weekly 90-minute phone-in
programme, The Diplomat, this month, the switchboards were jammed with calls from
Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
According to Le Monde, when The
Diplomat
is on air, city streets across the
Maghreb are as deserted as in a state of emergency
or under a curfew.


While al-Jazeera is slick and ultra- professional,
al-Mustakillah’s production values can only go up.
However, both these stations are ushering in slow
but definite change to societies in the Middle East.


President Bush should beware: any attempt to close
or censor the most popular and free television
station in the Arab world would prove a sure
recipe for losing the hearts and minds of Muslims.


Indeed, it is this kind of strategic nonsense that
confirms how little western leaders know about how
the Arab world works.


Wouldn’t it be ironic if the first collateral
damage from Operation Enduring Freedom turned out to be the stirrings of a free press in the Arab
world?


[ also see related items:

Civilian Casualties We’re Not Hearing About in the U.S. – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1554

Alarm Grows Over Scale of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1521

Coming This Fall … More Media Deregulation – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1546

ACTION ALERT: Op-Ed Echo Chamber: Little space for dissent to the military line – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1543

ACTION ALERT: CNN Says Focus on Civilian Casualties Would Be “Perverse” – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1541

US Buys Up All Satellite War Images – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1523

MEDIA ADVISORY: Networks Accept Government “Guidance” – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1519

One Big Happy Channel: Media Consolidation and the Homogenization of the Public Mindshare – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1398

The War in Afghanistan 101: 47 Questions and Answers – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1539 ]

Author: Ziauddin Sardar

News Service: The New Statesman – 22nd October 2001

URL: http://www.consider.net/forum_new.php3?newTemplate=OpenObject&newTop=200110220008&newDisplayURN=200110220008