Hugh Miles, author of "Al Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel that Is Challenging the West," offers wishful thinking in Foreign Policy magazine. Now that there will be an English version of the Arab channel, Al Jazeera International, he says that the new network "might just become your network of choice."
The number one criticism of Al Jazeera by the West is that it is too close to terrorists, and is used as a terrorist mouthpiece to enable the dissemination of the Jihad message. Miles says this is merely because Al Jazeera has its own version of Fox News' "fair and balanced": "The opinion and the other opinion." I assume it sounds catchier in Arabic.
Just as it describes in its motto, “The opinion and the other opinion,” Al Jazeera has lent airtime even to hated political figures and extremists, including prominent members of al Qaeda. It’s this willingness to present terrorists as legitimate political commentators that has prompted outspoken critics such as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to refer to Al Jazeera’s coverage of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as “inaccurate and inexcusable.”
After all, when Al Jazeera offers its estimated 50 million viewers exclusive interviews of Osama bin Laden, it’s easy to confuse access with endorsement. And when a journalist who conducts those interviews is jailed for collaboration with al Qaeda, as Tayssir Alouni was in a Spanish court last year, the line between impartial observer and impassioned supporter is certainly blurred.
The bar is set low for what it means to support terrorists:
But the network has never supported violence against the United States. Not once have its correspondents praised attacks on coalition forces in Iraq.Gee, thanks. Now I want this channel in my home.
As for bias, Miles insists it's no worse than Fox News or CNN.
“Al Jazeera Is Biased”Although America is supposed to be the "world’s freest media market," it is having trouble finding any carriers in the U.S. Which cable company wants to face the wrath of the entire conservative movement?
True, but no more so than Fox News or CNN. Al Jazeera employs the same stringent editorial processes as the Western media, but it ends up with a different product. During the war in Iraq, Al Jazeera’s tone was notably sympathetic to the Iraqis and hostile toward the Americans. Similarly in Afghanistan, the Taliban was often presented as the noble underdog and America as the vengeful, colonial aggressor. A general cynicism about Arab regimes allied to America is detectable, and though Al Jazeera has employees from many religions, including Jews, the network is clearly sympathetic toward the Palestinians.
This bias in no way invalidates the network’s news. Knowing it is scrutinized more rigorously than any other news channel in the world, Al Jazeera is fastidious in presenting all sides of a story. Certainly compared to most other Arab news stations, Al Jazeera remains a model of professionalism and objectivity. Journalists around the world treat Al Jazeera with the same respect they treat news from any other major international news network. Al Jazeera has sharing agreements with CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX, BBC, Japan’s NHK, and Germany’s ZDF, all of which regularly use Al Jazeera’s footage and reports.
Of course, it won’t be so easy to break into America. Even securing distribution for AJI has been tough: As of press time, not one U.S. cable company had offered to carry the channel as part of a general news package. Ironically, it is the world’s freest media market that poses the biggest challenge to Al Jazeera.Why should we watch Al Jazeera? Miles says it's because Western media outlets are nothing but an echo chamber. Not an echo chamber for the terrorist message, naturally, but an echo chamber of the Western perspective.
None of which changes the fact that Al Jazeera has permanently reshaped the landscape of world news to and, soon, from the Arab world. In a region where the United States is engaged in a protracted war in one country and the West as a whole faces a nuclear impasse in another, it hardly makes sense to simply turn the dial—and remain confined to an echo chamber of recycled opinion. If Al Jazeera International hits the airwaves this fall, America would do well to tune in.
One can imagine an American living room: "Okay, kids, gather around. Osama bin Laden's address is about to begin."