US Influence and Change Under Way

by mkleit

It can also be the other way around

As they seek to redefine themselves, Arab journalists are developing the framework for a new journalistic mission.

This mission, as our survey found, combines a quest for objectivity with a view of themselves as agents of change and defenders of the Arab homeland. It is a view very much in keeping with Al Jazeera’s own philosophy.

It is also a mission that is at the root of Western criticism of Al Jazeera and other Arab media outlets. The Bush administration and others claim that Arab journalists are “biased” as they take a tough new approach to covering the region.

This nascent independence is an integral part of the democratic change Washington has been demanding in the region.

Yet the Bush administration refused to invite the Emir of Qatar to a G-9 summit on democracy in the Arab world as punishment for failing to “control” Al Jazeera, an irony not lost on democracy advocates in the Arab world.

In many cases, Arab media have been willing to show the kind of disturbing scenes rarely glimpsed on US television, which is precisely what angers their Western critics.

What many Western policymakers, columnists and researchers fail to understand is that Arab journalists are defining their own set of standards and practices, not re-creating themselves in the image of what has proven to be a deeply flawed Western, and particularly American, media model.

Mounir Shafik, a Palestinian author and intellectual, said at the 2006 Al Jazeera Forum: “[Western media] has always bragged when comparing itself to the Russian media but … it should stop comparing itself with the Soviet Union and start comparing itself with us.”


“Standing in the Al Jazeera newsroom one afternoon, I asked anchor Muhammad Krichane how he sees himself.

He replied, with pride in his voice: “I am an Arab, Muslim journalist.” It is a pride that increasing numbers of reporters across the region are coming to share.

Still, the challenges to Arab journalism remain formidable.

As the assassinated columnist Samir Kassir put it exactly a year before his death: “Thanks to a handful of journalists, we have indeed re-conquered our freedom of opinion and expression, if not yet fully our freedom of information.”

In the weeks before his assassination, Rafiq al-Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, was called in by Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president. He was ordered either to force An Nahar, Lebanon’s most respected mainstream daily, to end its criticism of the Damascus regime or sell his 20 per cent stake in the company.

In Jordan meanwhile, media reform is being trumpeted as a harbinger of greater political reform.

A panel discussion about media liberalisation organised by the Jordanian government at an international conference in Amman turned into a free-for-all as Jordanian journalists mocked the government’s decision to scrap the ministry of information and repeal a key press law.

One reporter shouted at Marwan Muasher, Jordan’s former deputy prime minister: “You eliminated one law but there are 22 others on the books that can send us to prison.”

Yet that the event, broadcast on Jordanian TV, even took place was itself an indication of the dramatic changes under way.”

Lawrence Pintak is director of the Adham Centre for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo, and publisher and co-editor of the journal Arab Media & Society. His latest book is America, Islam & the War of Ideas: Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens


Freedom to Speak, Respectfully.

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