American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently cited Al Jazeera for fine news coverage while at the same time criticizing the American media. She claimed that the United States was losing the information war by not reporting the real news, while Al Jazeera was “changing peoples’ minds and attitudes” by reporting on important issues. For example; on the same day her comments were made, 24/HR news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and FOX News were concentrating more on the ramblings of actor Charlie Sheen than on the situation in Libya.
In the fifteen years since its inception, Al Jazeera has grown to rival BBC World News with about 40 -50 million viewers and an English channel which can be viewed in a hundred million households. Since the Arab unrest started in Tunisia and Egypt, its English website viewership has grown by more 2500%. Experts believe that the Arab unrest will be as positive for Al Jazeera as the first Gulf War was for CNN.
The Arab news network has of course seen its share of growing pains, largely due to censorship attempts by the United States. In November of 2001, during the US invasion of Afghanistan, a U.S. missile strike destroyed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul. When Al Jazeera went on to report very graphic footage from inside Iraq, US officials decried Al Jazeera as anti-American. In April of 2003, Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad was hit by a U.S. missile, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding another.
In 2005, a leaked memo from Britain claimed that U.S. President George W. Bush had considered bombing Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters a year earlier. At times it seemed the Bush administration was at war with Al Jazeera as much as it was with Al Qaeda. In fact, one Al Jazeera cameraman spent seven years at GuantÃ¡namo, and was repeatedly interrogated by US operatives attempting to falsely link Al Jazeera to Al Qaeda.
Luckily for George Bush, the American media was much more compliant. The unrest and subsequent revolutions in the Arab world were made possible with the help of Al Jazeera opening the eyes of the people by televising the revolution. In contrast, Fox News and CNN helped make the Iraq war possible by closing the eyes of the American people and blindly reporting whatever the government told them.
Unfortunately not much has changed today. While Al Jazeera reports from the front-lines of major stories and sticks with them, the American networks are content to give their opinions on stories they barely cover. It seems if it isn’t “breaking news”, it’s not worth following up on.
One of the major American news channels last week decided to break from coverage of the Libyan uprising in order to show a “breaking news” story of Lindsey Lohan’s latest arrest. It’s just as sad to see CNN try new gimmicks to attract viewers; such as asking them to vote via text message on which of three stories they should report on, when all three are equally important.
It’s a shame that Al Jazeera English can only be seen in four of the fifty states in the Union (while in Canada it has been available since 2009). I find it more shameful to see that the most trusted name in news in America today comes not from FOX, CNN or from NBC, but from Comedy Central’s Daily Show.
This being the age of information it’s more important than ever to get the right facts, but more importantly it’s important that we learn from them. After all, knowledge is power and right now Al Jazeera has both.
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.” –Noam Chomsky