propaganda. “[U.S.] critics have continued to assert that Al-Jazeera is being used in a willful sort of way, that it is acting as an instrument of propaganda for bin Laden and Islamic extremists.. . These people know little about AlJazeera. They may know little of AlJazeera’s short but illustrious history, much less its tireless pursuit of covering every single angle of any given story” However, the authors make it clear that just because the station lacks a particular ideology does not mean that those who decide what is news on AlJazeera will make the same decisions as CNN. One of the authors’ critical points is that the boundaries of acceptable debate in any media environment are determined by their “cultural context.” That is, the question of whether Palestinian suicide bombers should be called “martyrs” is as moot for AlJazeera’s viewers as the question of whether the attacks of September 11 were unprovoked is for CNN’s. The authors place this assertion of cultural context within a discussion of free speech, and allow it to come and go in a matter of pages buried somewhere in chapter three. That they so hastily drop a concept whose shadow hangs heavily over the remainder of the book seems an attempt to sidestep those accusations of “moral equivalence” routinely trotted out to silence those who dare to suggest that anger against the United States might stem from reasons other than inherent Evil.That is, they point out that “cultural context” exists, and then they change the subject, completely avoiding moral questions of whether anyone’s context is superior to anyone else’s. For example, when Al-Jazeera was the only network broadcasting out of Afghanistan, forcing U.S. networks to air Al-Jazeera footage if they wanted to air anything at all, most chose not to air images of Afghan civilian casualties to avoid dampening enthusiasm for the war. While many a media scholar would find plenty to rant about in our “objective” media so blatantly serving military interests, the authors merely present it as a “controversial” example of cultural The authors argue that if the U.S. government is really serious about exposing Middle Eastern audiences to “the American point of view” created media offerings will not do the trick. context–of course Americans wouldn’t want to see the bodies piling up!and move on. This even-handed approach, which depends more on examples than argument, may help the authors reach an audience who would scoff at books that make some of the same points from within larger arguments about hegemony or imperialism. Their “cultural context” argument says that it is normal and natural for most people to accept their own culture’s media mythology at face value \(although it sure would be nice if people tried to understand other peoment means accepting that it is also normal and natural for most people to see arguments that fly in the face of their cultural context as wacko. If this is the case, then radical critique is by no means the best strategy under all circumstances for changing people’s minds. In other words, the authors understand that sometimes it is better to push the margins of acceptable discourse, rather than try to overturn an entire set of cultural myths in one fell swoop. The authors’ only foray into advocacy is in their unwavering support for an unfettered press, such as when they call on Al-Jazeera to scrutinize the Qatari government with the same diligence as the rest of the region. And they jab at the hypocrisy of U.S. officials who last fall demanded that the network quit playing that tape of that guy in the cave. Their central plea is for more openness and dialogue, in language all sides can understand. To Al-Jazeera, the authors suggest that perhaps the occasional intelligent debate among moderates may serve a more important social role than providing a forum for extremists to mouth off at each other. In pursuit of cross-cultural communication, they suggest the station launch some English-language programming, so Americans can hear the Arab point of view for themselves. On the other hand, if the U.S. government is really serious about exposing Middle Eastern audiences to “the American point of view” \(whatever that created media offerings will not do the trick, since Arab audiences will see right through programs like Radio Sawa, the Arabic-language pop music and news station recently launched to serve such a purpose. To reach Middle Eastern audiences, the authors conclude, Americans must be willing to play by Arab rules, and to send Arabic-speaking representatives to duke it out on Al-Jazeera. As optimistic as it is informative, AlJazeera may disappoint readers hoping for intense theoretical critique.The very fact that the authors make suggestions for how the U.S. government can better influence Arab viewers, rather than questioning whether they should be doing so in the first place or the results of such actions, is an obvious sign that the authors prefer to let questions about unequal power dynamics in the global media marketplace go unasked. But again, while fire-breathing denouncements of U.S. foreign policy, and the media machine that supports it, certainly have their place, so, too, does the soft sell. Al-Jazeera, then, deserves praise not only for providing a careful history of the station and its profound impact on the Middle East, but also for using the cherished American value of press freedom as a back door to raise doubts, subtle as they may be, about the absolute correctness of a single worldview. Rachel Proctor is a graduate student in the joint program in Middle Eastern. Studies and Radio-TV-Film at UT-Austin. 9/13/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.