Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, is threatening to shut down Al Jazeera in areas controlled by Israel, comparing the Doha-based network to a Nazi newspaper published in Germany during World War II? Possibly motivated by the Foreign Minister’s words, someone opened fire on Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza. Last night, the Al Jazeera reporter filed from the AP office next door. As of yet, to the best of my knowledge, no one has opened fire on the AP.
I’ve been watching all the news networks I normally watch, Euronews, France 24, the BBC and Al Jazeera. Rarely do I bother with American broadcast news with the exception of Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now!” It’s just too much of a disappointment. Anyway, if I want to see one of America’s journalistic guiding lights like Brian Williams, I can always tune in one of his comedy bits from Saturday Night Live,” or catch the newest video of him rapping (through the use of clever editing) on what now passes for the Tonight Show on NBC. How does that line from the song “Dirty Laundry” go? “I could have been an actor, but I wound up here.”
For those of you who aren’t old enough to know, tv news in America used to be pretty good. It was news-driven as opposed to being personality-driven and weighted in favor of journalism rather than doing whatever might be necessary to increase a show’s ratings. But then, in the 1960’s, the consultants came along, convincing station (and network) owners and managers that newsrooms could be profit centers. And with that, we were off to the infotainment races. Millions of dollars were on the line, as once serious newscasts became happy, chatty and entertainment driven. If meaningless crime stories and Hollywood gossip drew an audience, then that’s what the nation’s tv news moguls would provide. Meaning, American broadcast journalism, for the most part, went right down the crapper, which is why I watch the European news channels and Amy Goodman. Because they continue to put journalism ahead of entertainment.
Al Jazeera, is right there, putting journalism first, and being slammed by the Israeli Foreign Minister, for doing so. Perhaps that should be expected? Some in the United States were doing exactly the same thing when U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. Reporters from the U.S. news outlets were “embedded” with the troops, which meant they were contained, controlled and limited in their ability to gather information. It was a brilliant PR move by the Pentagon. Of course you could say they were working for their side in the conflict. If you think that’s okay, then you know nothing about objectivity. Or free speech. Or supporting a democracy. It’s an admittedly fine line. American journalists shouldn’t do anything to put American lives in jeopardy but they also have an obligation to their viewers and readers to present a full and legitimate picture of war. It’s a call that must remain in the hands of journalists, not generals or foreign ministers or the guys and gals in the sales department.
Al Jazeera, is funded by the ruling family of Qatar, the House of Thani. They are a monarchy backed by proven oil reserves of 15-billion barrels. Their oil wealth means they don’t need Monsanto, Pfizer, General Motors, AT&T, Walmart, or any of the other advertisers to survive. And that makes Al Jazeera, a threat. At the same time, under the time-honored “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” rule, I don’t expect them to do much real reporting on the Royal Family or the Qatari government. That aside, AJ appears to have greater freedom to report what they want without having to worry about losing advertisers.
Another threat to those who would use the media for their own purposes, is the British newspaper, The Guardian, which is funded by a trust “which aimed to ensure the paper’s editorial independence in perpetuity, maintaining its financial health to ensure it did not become vulnerable to take overs by for-profit media groups.” Like Al Jazeera, The Guardian, has been criticized for its coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
U.S. officials didn’t care for Al Jazeera’s reporting during the Gulf War, because their reporters weren’t embedded with U.S. troops, which meant they were showing what was happening, warts and all, the actual horrors of war, while the U.S. outlets broadcast sanitized video-game images handed out by the Defense Department and standups (selfies) of reporters riding with the troops. No blood, no bodies, just targets going boom and being eliminated in little puff of smoke while the reporter did his voiceover from the bank of a tank. Just like a computer game. At the same time, Al Jazeera was criticized and called biased because they were covering the news. I watched both, the U.S. networks and Al Jazeera through both U.S. invasions. The difference was both dramatic and enlightening as to the human tragedy, the actual horrors of war being caused by a vastly superior American force. It’s no wonder American officials wanted to hide visuals of children, women and the elderly being torn to bits by artillery fire. It wouldn’t have played well with the folks back home. It was a lesson they had learned from Vietnam. A mistake they weren’t going to make again.
And now Israeli officials are having these same problems. And once again, similar to American officials during the Gulf War, it’s not Al Jazeera they fear. It’s the truth.