Control Room Reaction

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When Al Jazeera began in 1996, there were few broadcast news presentations in the Middle East that were not state-run. Cable options were limited to CNN, which was already taken on an American slant, and the BBC World Service, which was having trouble keeping its Middle East bureaus running because of censorship. The time was ripe for Al Jazeera to fill a gap in the market for regional and international news free from the ruling-party propaganda of countries like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Over the years, by maintaining their fierce editorial independence while reporting on some of the most repressive regimes in the world, Al Jazeera has made many enemies. At no time, however, was their position more at risk than when the Bush administration began its campaign of intimidation, censorship, and perception management in the days soon after September 11th and in the lead up to the Iraq war. Of the many dictatorial regimes Al Jazeera had faced, the democratic US proved to be their most formidable opponent. I have seen Egyptian Jihane Noujaim’s documentary Control Room several times, and each time it was emotionally difficult to watch. The cinema verité technique used by the director accurately captures the feeling among the Arab news media as one of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” The Middle Eastern media is a closely-knit family, and many of the same people do the media jobs on different networks and platforms. In essence, they all share the political inclination that Hassan Ibrahim, who I immensely respect, shares through his skeptical questioning in the documentary. He’s not exactly a radical. He worked for the BBC until their troubles in the 90’s, and then went to work for Al Jazeera. And I’ll put i... ... middle of paper ... ...of Qatar and more figuratively in the sense of their independence from state-run, state-censored media of the Middle East. Given the choice between the state-run medias in Syria or Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Morocco, and Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera gives people a true chance at more impartial, and certainly more open, news. Because most people in the Middle East have their own satellite dish and receiver, there is little way for these governments to block it, also. They provide viewers with what they need to know. Al Jazeera might not be perfect; it might also give viewers some of what they want to feel, but it is still in its adolescence and hasn’t yet had the benefit of long experience like many Western media outlets. But when they do well, they are closer to promoting a democratic ideal than Bush ever was able to. Al Jazeera informs the people of the Middle East.

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