The al-Jazeera Effect

I don’t think there’s much that the US can and should do about the existence of these talks shows other than welcome them and get our own representatives on as often as they’ll have us so that we can take part in the conversation.

Marc Lynch on Open Source

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Al-Jazeera: Different Views [Sabbah / Flickr]

When the satellite-TV channel al-Jazeera started broadcasting from Qatar in 1996, it revolutionized Arab media with its uncensored political talk shows and news coverage. Until al-Jazeera, media in the Arab world was limited to state-run papers & TV channels and a few transnational papers (all but one owned by the Saudis) printed in Europe. Any kind of open political conversation was hard to find. Al-Jazeera shook thing up by bringing democratic debate to the Middle East long before the U.S. invaded Iraq. Other alternative Arabic news outlets have since cropped up — with varying degrees of political independence — taking their cues from al-Jazeera and continuing to broaden discussion, but al-Jazeera remains the most popular and probably the most trusted.

So here’s the question: if al-Jazeera is a good measure of how the Arab world talks to itself — about itself and about us — shouldn’t we be listening? Very carefully?

The U.S. government seemed to encourage al-Jazeera until 9/11 and our invasion of Afghanistan, when Uncle Sam began accusing the channel of spreading terrorist propaganda. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to figure out whether al-Jazeera really does veer into sensationalist or biased journalism (a good question to ask ourselves about our own media, too) or whether it presents an uncomfortable but valid alternative viewpoint?

Among other things: How did it cover the recent Palestinian elections? What is it saying about nuclear rumblings in Iran? What did it say and show about our invasion of Iraq? Has it had anything to do with fanning the Danish cartoon flames in the last week?

Marc Lynch

Professor of political science at Williams College.

Author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today

Blogger, Abu Aardvark

Thanks to praktike for suggesting Marc Lynch.

As’ad AbuKhalil

Professor, Dept. of Politics & Public Administration, Cal State Stanislaus

Blogger, The Angry Arab News Service

Samar Jarrah

Former reporter, Jordan Television

Former contributor, CNN World Report

Blogger, Arab Voices Speak

Author, Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts

Abderrahim Foukara

UN Bureau Chief for al Jazeera

Former correspondent, BBC Arabic Service

Thanks to to Bob Katz for emailing us this afternoon to suggest Abderrahim Foukara.

Haitham Sabbah

Blogger, Sabbah’s Blog

Related Content

  • Watching the documentary Control Room ( should be a prerequisite for this one; and maybe you could get the director Jehane Noujaim on the show?

  • digitalcommuter

    I picked this up from another website which quoted Europundit:

    “UPDATE: Immediately after being deposed, but before going into exile, Khruschev had a brief and secret meeting with Brezhnez in the Kremlin.

    He gave his successor the key to a secret drawer in his desk and told him: “I’m leaving you three letters numbered one to three in that drawer; if there’s some huge crisis in the USSR, a crisis that you cannot solve in the usual ways and with which you cannot cope at all, open the first letter and follow the instructions; do the same with the next letters if there are further crises�.

    Some years later Brezhnev sees himself in the midst of such a crisis and opens the first letter. It says: “Blame me. Yours truly, Khruschev�. That’s what he does and he overcomes the crisis. Time passes and there’s a second crisis. The second letter reads: “Blame the Jews�. It works. Eventually, there’s a third crisis, even worse than the earlier ones. Brezhnev sees no way out and opens the third letter. It says: “Write three letters�.

    Since it doesn’t look as if the cartoon crisis could be blamed on the US, Bush, the Jews, Sharon, the usual suspects, what will Europe and the MSM do now: write three letters?�

  • Pingback: Sabbah's Blog()

  • fiddlesticks

    Guys and Gals, the show was a real dissapointment.

    For a more substantial discussion on this issue listen to today’s program On Point on WBUR.

    Sorry Chris, but you dounded like you were trying out for a job at al Jezeera.

  • Nikos

    Good show.

    But what a pity that Samar Jarrah came on last! She was, I thought, the single most illuminating guest, but her slot was the one when many if not most listeners are beginning to experience attention fatigue. (We’re Americans, after all.) So, I recommend to all you ROS listeners who’ve been silent on the blog to give it another listen—just for the show’s final guest. You won’t regret it, I promise. (Chris was quite good in that stint too.)

    Unlike fiddlesticks I didn’t think Chris overly friendly to the ‘al-Jazeera concept’. (sorry f.s., but what else can you expect from a pinko commie radical like me!) My only critique is that As’ad AbuKhalil was entirely right to dispute the notion of an ‘Arab mind’. This is a shorthand stereotype like the threadbare ‘American People’, that means essentially nothing. There are as many Arab minds as there are Arabs, and as many American minds as Americans, and I tire of the politicians who claim to speak for the mythical ‘American People’. Enough already.

    Aside from that, thanks again for the show. It’s just the sort of illumination we prize ROS for.

  • Pingback: Sabbah’s Blog » Blog Archive » The al-Jazeera Effect()

  • gesualdo

    I just caught the end of the show, and I agree that Samar Jarrah was excellent. Chris asked her at one point, regarding the footage on al-Jazeera of bombs landing, at what point it was too much, and descended into sensationalism. I don’t think showing people the effects of war ever descends into sensationalism. If we had had to watch every time a man, woman or child was blown up by American bombs during the war to rid Saddam of his WMD, I doubt the “American People” would have supported it. As it is, in the American media, it is almost impossible to even find out how many Iraqis have died or been wounded. Even in the much-publicized case of Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, about whom we heard all the details of their medical treatment and recovery, there was only this: “one Iraqi soldier was also wounded,” or in one case, “I think one Iraqi was also wounded.” I guess that even though this unknown man spends his life under constant threat of attack and his family is at constant risk of reprisals by the insurgents and he can not retreat to the shelter of the green zone for a respite when he’s stressed out, we don’t care enough to even report on his medical condition when he is wounded. For some reason, I doubt that HE was medivacced out of Iraq to Landstuhl Army Medical Hospital with the two other injured parties in his convoy.

  • loki

    Globe OP-ED today 2/09/6 great essay on Islam. What did the government ban this guy from the US?

  • Hey, thanks for taking my suggestion, and great show! I’m a big fan of everything you’re trying to do here, both content and blogwise. Keep up the good work.

  • F*ckinˇ amazing things here. Iˇm very satisfied to look your post. Thank you so much and i am looking ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?