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When Will We Learn?

Jul 19, 2006


Consistent criticism by Arab and Western governments, far from damaging al-Jazeera, has perhaps served as the channel's most effective public relations. Accusations of the news organizations' intent to thwart everything from the American-led War on Terror to the stability of several key Arab regimes has not only drawn increased attention to the channel, but also inspired renewed vigor in al-Jazeera's coverage of issues and controversies sensitive to today's geopolitical players. After all, if every government openly criticizes the channel, than whom else can al-Jazeera represent than its 50 million loyal viewers?

American efforts to discredit the organization, exemplified by Donald Rumsfeld's repeated claims of al-Jazeera's heavy-handed anti-American agenda, are often aired by al-Jazeera itself. Rumsfeld's criticisms not only fail to resonate on the Arab street, where most people believe that anti-Americanism is the fault of American policy, but it also placed the United States policy further at odds with the widely popular news organization. This has made it exceedingly difficult for moderates and an otherwise undecided Arab citizenry to side with even the best of intentioned and implemented American policy.

Israel is falling into a similar trap. Over the last week, Israel has repeatedly detained al-Jazeera journalists accusing them of collusion with Hezbollah while allowing Isreali-operated news organizations nearly unfettered access. According to Israel's Channel 1's Bar Shalom, "the [authorities] suspect them immediately. They never suspect me."

Faced with open hostility in much of the Arab world, Israel should be careful of engaging in any activities that enhance the already rife perception that it is engaging in information control and/or a propaganda campaign against Hezbollah. Regardless of the truthfulness of their accusation, many in the Arab world will hear of the detainment of al-Jazeera crews as a reason to discredit any and all information they receive from Israeli sources about the conflict. Denying al-Jazeera access to the recently attacked Israeli facilities denies the news organization the ability to show the damage that is being done to the Israeli people and infrastructure, important components of Israel's public justification for its attacks in Lebanon. In other words, attempts by Israel to contain the channel will only amplify its credibility both in the region and beyond.

Israel should remember that the ways that media platforms frame violent and controversial events has tremendous consequence not only for swaying public opinion, but also for the ways in which political and military actors frame their hard power responses. The perception that the Israeli government is censoring the opposing frame can only heighten its credibility.

The media war and the physical war are inextricably intertwined. History is filled with examples of cases in which victories on screen have had important implications for tactical decisions off screen. While this is surely why al-Jazeera crews were likely not allowed equal access to Haifa, the result of these actions could be the wholesale discrediting of Israeli coverage of all attacks within its territory, a strategic loss in the information-driven media battle that Israel cannot afford to lose.


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As an Australian, I've

As an Australian, I've noticed here and internationally a real backlash against the US .
Indeed anti american feeling in the wider Australian community is openly de rigeur these days despite a sycophantic Howard government always kowtowing to the U.S.

Iraq, US actions worldwide, open scepticism on this blighted so called 'war on terrorism' and U.S cultural inperialism are annoying Aussies
of all walks of life.
When the general public are off side with our supposed closest ally, then the alliance is in deep trouble as there is a clear gulf between the supine government and an angrier public regarding the US .
The author is correct in US actions are counter productive in criticising media outlets it doesn't like and suggests an arrogance in the US that includes a pettiness that is intolerant of any criticism from anywhere and a hostility to people who dare do anything different to Us wishes.
So much for self determination and free expression !.
Its about timethat Americans realised they they are not special nor is their way the only way for humanity and their views the only way to see things.
Australians appreciate the underdog and modesty yet the US acts like a school yard bully, despised by all and the cause of its own problems.
Its been long coming really and decade of interference in other peoples affairs worldwide has reached a limit with current US hubris the straw that broke the camels back.
Its doubtful that the US will ever regain even some of the support it once had.
The split is irrevocable now, even amongst reasonable people in allied countries like Australia.
If Aussies are annoyed with the U.S then things are very bad indeed.
The irony is that this disdain for everything about the US can be laid fairly on the actions of the US itself.
No-one likes arrogant bullies and the US is definitely the most disliked bully around .
Serves you right really and its time your wings were clipped!.

On July 10 I represented my

On July 10 I represented my University (Glamorgan, Wales) at a conference organised by the Centre for Arab and Muslim Media Research (CAMMRO). The subject was � �Mapping the Al-Jazeera Phenomenon & its impact on audiences & international journalism practice. Al-Jazeera's chief executive Mr Wadah Khanfar was a speaker. Mr Khanfar is that rarity in television in that he is an experienced reporter who has reached the top executive post in his organisation. He maintained that journalists should not have a political agenda and that Al-Jazeera was wrongly looked upon as a political actor rather than just a TV station. He pointed out that Al-Jazeera was actually threatened by militant Arabs for using a graphic showing Israel on a map of the Middle East. The station did not support terrorism he stressed.

He denied Al-Jazeera was subject to any political censorship from the Qatari government; they had actually complained about some of the coverage. However, he added: �We must keep up good relationships with the authorities since it opens gates for us.� He stressed that the station wanted �scoops� and was not interested in political correctness. He also pointed out that the controversial Osama Bin Laden interview, for which Al-Jazeera was heavily criticised worldwide for transmitted, was actually first transmitted by an American station.

Shawn Powers' analysis is correct and Al-Jazeera needs to have the freedom to operate without the chains imposed upon it. Lest anyone thinks I speak as a mere academic, I have had 25 years experience as a journalist, and a further 10 as a UK government media adviser. In the latter post I dealt with policy leading up to the Iraq 2003 War in the Prime Minister's office. In that capacity I was always impressed by Colin Powell...and deeply depressed by the lack of strategic thinking by Rumsfeld.


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