Confessions of an Al Jazeera Fan

Several old high school friends – people who have been out of touch for 30 plus years – have become Facebook friends. One was quite alarmed when she read on my newsfeed that I had become a Fan of Al Jazeera English.

“Are you serious?” she asked. “Why?”

I replied that I felt it was really hard to find good international coverage – especially about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan or the US bombing of civilians in Pakistan – in the US and that I felt I had a duty as an American citizen to stay informed about what my government does in my name. “Sometimes getting another perspective on an issue helps clarify it,” I added.

Her response came right back. “I’ll say that’s another perspective. But are they fair and balanced?”

I answered no, that I didn’t believe any news outlet was fair and balanced. “But I’m tired of only getting the pro-corporate, pro-Wall Street, pro-War point of view.”

Al Jazeera English

I was really excited when I learned in early 2006 that Al Jazeera was about to launch an English language station and website. Why was I excited? I had recently done some research on Irangate – an illicit covert operation the CIA undertook after Congress ended funding fund for the Nicaraguan contras in the early 1980s. Cash raised from the sale of missiles to Iran – which was illegal, as Iran was an enemy nation – was used to pay for shipments of small arms to Contra bases in Honduras. What has always intrigued me about the Iran Contra scandal is that the US mainstream media spiked the story – that it first came to public attention via a small Middle East (Lebanese) magazine. From there the European press picked it up, and the US networks and dailies could no longer ignore it.

My concern about US coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that it virtually vanished after George Bush declared victory on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2004. In my mind this is censorship pure and simple. Moreover if I can’t get good reporting from the American media, I will continue to seek out alternative news sources till I find one that covers the issues that are important to me. And Al Jazeera provides regular, reliable reporting on military initiatives and casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Does Al Jazeera have a Bias?

On Wednesday April 7th I undertook a detailed comparison between the headlines on the BBC World Service and Al Jazeera English websites. I chose the BBC World Service because, like Al Jazeera English, it brands itself as an international news service – whereas there is no American “international” news service of comparable prominence. The lead article on both sites was the US reversal of their first strike nuclear policy, followed by Gordon Brown’s call for a May 6th election.  The Brazilian mudslides, the escalation of the Red Shirt demonstrations in Thailand, the deadly raid by Maoists in India, the newest wave of explosions in Baghdad and the arrest of two men for the murder of the South African white supremacist Eugene Terblanche were also major headlines on both sites. The BBC also featured the most recent launch of the US space shuttle, which failed to make Al Jazeera’s front page.  Whereas Al Jazeera gave prominence to the Sudan partial vote boycott and an earthquake in Indonesia, neither of which made the BBC lead headlines.

The most interesting feature I found on Al Jazeera English was their lead opinion piece: an article by a recent CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan – about the significance of some informal contacts between low level members of  the Obama administration and the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.

Leave a comment