Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera
Fans of The Control Room
will wanna read up on the renegade news channel and its unique charter through our diseased media times. Miles compiles a pretty thorough and broad essay on the channel; it’s probably as good an introduction as can be done at the moment. The problem of course is that the Iraq occupation is an ongoing concern; and hence so is the US smear of the station. The most entertaining value of the book is to lay bare how shameless, depraved and supremely American the NeoCon occupation and global war on terrr really is. The stunned mullet of Bush coming to grips (ever so slightly) with the hatred of the US and US foreign policy in the Middle East, and the laughable PR manoeuvres to try and correct this image with advertising guff and smokescreens and new media initiatives (cf the various cynical and corporate ad attempts at rivalling Al-Jazeera, bringing in the likes of Charlotte Beers and her corporate delusions). And the sheer, deepest hypocrisy at the heart of it all in a nutshell, forcing the rhetorical concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ onto other countries and yet castigating the one truly free and democratically-relevant channel out there. On top of all the blatant lies and the totally false evidence for war and WMD. When, if they really wanted to get their perspective across, the US could’ve efficiently used Al-Jazeera as a conduit even Qadhafi learnt that lesson early on.
America doesn’t just come across badly (even a minor list of its errors and lies could’ve had that effect) but as one of the major and most guilty propagators of disinformation out there today. If Rumsfeld et al successfully cast their spin over the most heinous and bloody crimes in the war, then you know 99% of the (US) media simply aren’t doing their job. Which is the deepest shame in the book (contrasted with the braveness and integrity (hey, bias? Yes) of the A-Jazeera crew) the narcolepsy and self-censorship affecting Western media today. Remember the major US networks falling over themselves to patriotically follow the White House brief by not broadcasting Bin-Laden because his messages could be coded? To accuse Al-Jazeera of enemy propagandising (when you’re the biggest propagandiser of all) is an amazing act of slander and misinformation; and now a quiet majority of Americans think of AJ as partial to Bin Laden (the counterpart of this argument is that Hicks line of partitioning information in such a way to keep (American) people stupid). The great news is that most Iraqis are smarter than that. Most Arabs are cynically aware of how governments use the media and so they had a good laugh at the American attempts at positive spin (though add up all the hundreds of millions wasted in the process… and you get an idea of war consultancy profits and sheer waste). The sad fact is that the major Arab concern in Palestine is still not being addressed in a meaningful way by the US. If only Bush could realise that to do so would instantaneously transform the image of the US in Iraq. Obviously, that is a heavy load to realise in one go and not a single NeoCon hawk would have the smarts to suggest it. With the result that the broad ‘Zionist Conspiracy’ argument will continue to be aired in the Middle East. (It bears noting that Al-Jazeera is often labelled an Israeli plot in the Mid-East what Fisk called the perpetual Conspiracy mentality).
Al-Jazeera represents the single most important step forward in the Middle East today. An independent media outlet is a crucial prop for democracy in any form today. And considering this is the rhetorical goal of the US, their squashing, slandering and abusing Al-Jazeera (in the field as well as diplomatically) leads one to conclude that there are latent or unspoken goals driving their invasion and occupation besides the ones touted: freedom, democracy, regime change. Oil no doubt. [Though, in an aside, I’ve got more to say about the sheriff’s stance the US is adopting over Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon the probable real motivating force just south of the border is keeping its cards close.] Al-Jazeera is a brave enterprise; and with the launch of the English version, it should become a major media voice on the global scale and hence no doubt even more castigated (with all the integrity and underdog kudos attached). At least, my hope is that if AJ does become the BBC of the Middle East, then it’ll start attracting the cream of journalists and analysts, those with enough integrity left to ask difficult questions and scalpel through the tissues of lies and spin. This could be the single strongest corrective measure in the modern media since the smokescreen began with Dubya’s election (and possibly much earlier). Maybe Fisk might join the crew. But then Fisk is probably a bit too reactive for the AJ ethic of ‘the opinion and the other opinion’. I was reading an interview with the Fisker a while back in which he pricks the bipartisan myth of journalism, of allowing right of response when you’re faced with the kinds of extreme and continuing atrocities such as occur in Palestine, in which case you need to call a spade a brutal, criminal and grossly inhumane, illegal occupation. A crime is a crime by any other name. Which reminds me of the article on Al-Jazeera recently, of a Japanese legal team which concluded that Bush and Blair could legally be tried as war criminals to the full extent of the law. Didn’t see that article anywhere else.
For Arabs everywhere, everything America does in the Middle East is seen through the prism of Palestine. Washington is blamed for blocking attempts to find a ‘just and lasting peace’ between Israelis and Palestinians, for freezing the road map to peace and for supporting an extremist Israeli government that is in contravention of international law. When President Bush calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ‘a man of peace’, all the advertising expertise of Madison Avenue will not help win Arab hearts and minds. You cannot polish a turd. (p386)
Also of note is the battle over words like martyr, occupation, invasion, resistance, which Al-Jazeera used freely at one point. And the subtle shifting of power away from Saudi Arabia, especially now the US has bases in Qatar, Iraq etc.