Throughout the war in Iraq, al-Jazeera has been accused,
both by U.S. and Mideast officials, of being a propaganda tool. But continued
attacks on the Arab satellite network, most dramatically exemplified by the
recent U.S. bombing of a newsroom in Baghdad that killed a correspondent, shows
that al-Jazeera's approach to covering the war - both critical and
multidimensional, with an ideological commitment to democracy, openness and
pluralism - has seriously threatened the political projects of the world's most
Al-Jazeera's extended, uncensored, on-the-ground coverage of the invasion
has demonstrated, contrary to U.S. and British claims, that this has not been a
bloodless, costless and clean war. The coverage has reflected the Arab
recognition that the Saddam Hussein dictatorship was a tragedy, but it has also
questioned the claim that the war has been motivated by interest in regional
democracy and liberation.
In addition to showing images largely censored by the U.S. media of the
death, destruction and pain of war on all sides, al-Jazeera has conducted
interviews with Kurdish leaders who have explained their alliance with the
Arabism, visited a small town in Iran that is the haven of Iraqi Shia refugees
who fled Hussein's rule and shown the anger, as well as political
sophistication, of anti-war demonstrators in the region.
Al-Jazeera viewers have also received live, full coverage of press
statements and conferences held by U.S., Iraqi, United Nations, Arab League,
European Union, French, British, Egyptian, Saudi and other officials, thus
always reflecting multiple realities throughout the war that are once again not
covered routinely by the U.S. news networks.
In covering the war, al-Jazeera was unique in the number of independent
reporting teams distributed throughout the region, some of whom have been
beaten by Kurdish forces, banned by Iraqi government officials, and reprimanded
almost daily by U.S., Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Jordanian and other state and
military officials at press conferences. These states recognize the
destabilizing potential of al-Jazeera's brash willingness to ask difficult
questions and give voice to the marginalized majority.
Charges of al-Jazeera Arab and Muslim bias ring untrue given the U.S.
television media's crass nationalist apologetics, best demonstrated by Fox News
and CNN, and their heavy reliance on superficial sound bites, interviews with
current or former government officials, and expertise from a narrow ideological
range. Rather than being an anti-Western propaganda tool, al-Jazeera is
popular in the Arab world because it addresses issues that are already on the
minds of people in the region: U.S. foreign policy and militarism, Israeli
occupation, poverty, democratization, gender inequality, and the role of
religion in public life.
What Arabic-speaking viewers see in al-Jazeera and similar news outlets is
hope - the possibility of democratic change facilitated by an independent and
critical media. Indeed, viewers in the United States would benefit from an
English-language television station that followed the al-Jazeera commitment to
democracy, debate and accountability.