by Paul Balles Atlantic Free Press 11/4/06

Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. –Thomas Jefferson

There’s no such thing as objectivity. Everything is seen through conditioned eyes. What we love or hate depends on the kind of washing our brains have been subjected to. That theory is verifiable. The practical evidence can be seen in the world’s press.

The Western mind looks at the world through the familiar eyes of CNN, BBC, Fox News, CBS, MSNBC, ABC, Reuters or the Associated Press and Rupert Murdoch. To the Eastern and Middle Eastern mind, much of the controlled Western perspective of the world doesn’t make sense. The Middle East TV channel Al Jazeera, broadcasting in Arabic out of Doha, Qatar, makes sense to 40 million viewers.

The channel has been the object of personal vendettas, agency closures, assassinations and vilification by a number of regimes and government organizations. The real reason for the hatred and attacks? Al Jazeera is the only completely free public broadcasting organization in the world.

Al Jazeera should be a lesson for journalists from other news organizations. Not that restrained journalists could do much to free themselves from the controls that inhibit and restrict them worldwide, but a few might realize the possibilities of truly working as the professionals that journalists should be. Because it exercises freedom from political restraints, here are some of the results experienced by Al Jazeera:

Irresponsible speculation

New Delhi Television (NDTV) is the third media organization where I’ve seen a story claiming that “a major insurgency group in Iraq has praised Al Jazeera television…saying that the Arab satellite station served the fight against the Americans.”

The story has no credibility and should not be making the rounds of the world press. “The speaker was not identified on tape” the story goes. Why would any media organization run a story that has no identifiable source? For all anyone knows, the statement could have been supplied by Israel’s Mossad or the US Department of Defence. Both have raged against Al Jazeera, and both have an interest in stopping Al Jazeera from broadcasting in English.

The NDTV story reveals that “US officials have frequently criticised the Qatar-based channel, accusing it of fuelling anti-American sentiment across the Middle East and giving terrorists a podium.”

Personal Vendettas

It’s bad enough when an arrogant, self-righteous über general like Donald Rumsfeld lies. When a so-called media critic distorts the truth, the result is appalling. Writer Cliff Kinkaid is consistent in his twisted rants against Al Jazeera. As Oscar Wilde once observed, “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Kinkaid outdid himself and several other anti-Muslim journalists in a bigoted article headlined “Al Jazeera’s ‘Muslim Scholar’.“ He referred to Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi as “a supporter of violent Jihad,” which is a complete distortion of the truth. He objected to Qaradawi’s outspoken opposition to homosexuality and nudism. Yet, Kinkaid supposedly supports freedom of expression.

The brand of freedom of speech and the press, to writers like Kinkaid, means that speakers or writers are free if they agree with their subjective views. A few days later (September 26, 2006) he used the most preposterous non-evidence in an attempt to discredit Al Jazeera.

Kinkaid is on a non-stop vendetta against Al Jazeera. A self-proclaimed editor of the Accuracy in Media (AIM) Report, Kinkaid is anything but accurate in his own forays. He referred to Al Jazeera as a “terrorist channel,” the worst kind of propaganda labelling.

On October 24th, Kinkaid wrote an article for the neocon website GOPUSA that he headlined “Al Jazeera targets Bush for Death.” Later in the article he claimed “Now its (Al Jazeera’s) website ran a headline suggesting Bush should be dead.” The headline Kinkaid referred to was “Death becomes Bush.” He completely misinterpreted the headline, ignoring the fact that the article was about a movie that depicted an assassination of Bush. Kinkaid also referred to Al Jazeera as “a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda terrorists,” another twisted bit of propaganda based on the fact that Al Jazeera has received and broadcast tapes from al Qaeda..

More biased negativity

From “Al Jazeera’s Edge” by Michael Wolff, New York magazine (4/28/2003) “It’s pretty hard to adequately describe the level of bloodiness during an average Al Jazeera newscast. It’s mesmerizing bloodiness. It’s not just red but gooey. There’s no cutaway. They hold the shot for the full viscous effect. It’s vastly grislier than anything that’s ever been shown on television before. It’s snuff-film calibre.”

And later: “It’s this unfiltered chronicle of mayhem, in the Israeli view, that’s been a key provocation during the most recent intifada and the reoccupation of the West Bank.” That makes it pretty clear that the mayhem itself is ok. What’s not ok is showing it on TV.

It may be as the New York writer said: “’It’s a propaganda tool’ is the thing you always hear. But relatively speaking, it’s the opposite of propaganda–nobody is being force-fed. Rather, the audience gets what the audience wants. It’s a ratings thing. A media rather than an ideological thing. Money rather than blood. Or money from blood.”

Fairer evaluations

Ian Urbina commented in Asia Times, “Al Jazeera’s editorial edginess is its mark of distinction. In the world of straitjacketed Arab media, Al Jazeera has one of the only free hands. Its talk shows can legitimately claim to showcase the full range of Arab opinion – the good, the bad and the ugly–on global affairs, and their featured debates put the sleep-inducing talking heads on American cable shows to shame.”

Urbina added, “Indeed, Al Jazeera gets hit from all sides. The Israelis have complained about the station’s alleged pro-Palestinian bias, mostly because its reporters refer to Palestinian fighters as “martyrs”. But hard-line Palestinians say the station is a bastion of Zionism for having invited Israeli officials, including Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, on the air. Iraq yanked the credentials of Al Jazeera’s Baghdad correspondent for stories considered too pro-Western, while Kuwait recently blocked the station from using its satellite link because it considered the channel’s coverage too pro-Iraq.”

National reactions to perceived criticism

In December 2002, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulla refused to attend a GCC summit in Doha, Qatar because Al Jazeera had been “disrespectful to the Saudi royal family.” The Saudis had actually recalled their ambassador to Qatar in September.

According to Urbina, “Jordan closed Al Jazeera’s news bureau in Amman after a Syrian commentator criticized Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, describing Jordan as “an artificial entity” populated by “a bunch of Bedouins living in an arid desert..

“Kuwait also ordered Al Jazeera’s bureau closed after an Islamic militant calling an Al Jazeera phone-in program from Europe suggested that Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Jaber al-Jaber al-Sabah, should be ousted for agreeing to extend the vote in Kuwaiti elections to women.”

Thus, when Tunisia pulled its ambassador to Doha recently because they claimed that Al Jazeera had insulted the Tunisian government, the charge was nothing new.

According to 7 Days (out of the UAE), The Tunisian move followed the airing by Al Jazeera of interviews with Moncef Marzouki, an opponent of the regime of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in which he called for “civil resistance.” Al Jazeera “ignores truth and objectivity every time that it deals with current affairs in Tunisia … apparently waging a hostile campaign aimed at harming Tunisia,” the Tunisian foreign ministry said.

Further commenting, 7 Days wrote: Al Jazeera would welcome “any Tunisian official who would want to speak to the channel,” Khanfar (director general) said. “When we host certain figures, it does not mean that Al Jazeera endorses their positions,” he said. The television station broadcast an interview with the French-based Marzouki on October 14, and another on Saturday, several hours after he returned to Tunisia.

One interesting aspect of blaming Qatar for what Al Jazeera broadcasts is the automatic association of the local media with the government. Those who have objected to what Al Jazeera broadcasts have been admitting that in other countries media is controlled by the governments.

This happens despite Qatar’s efforts to assure others that it doesn’t exercise control over Al Jazeera. From this it would seem that Al Jazeera is really the only broadcaster that’s truly free. Broadcasters elsewhere are not.

BBC reports additional criticism

They received angry criticism for filming and broadcasting pictures that other networks have not got or will not show.

Al Jazeera drew criticism from the US for broadcasting footage of killed and captured American soldiers.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has expressed “horror” at the broadcast of pictures believed to show two dead British soldiers.

Its reporters have at times been banned or harassed in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. It has been criticised by Saudi Arabia and was according to Al Jazeera described by Bahrain as being pro-Zionist.

The criticisms are an attempt to muzzle Al Jazeera.

MQ7 Net reports

Al Jazeera, often dubbed “the Arab CNN,” gained world fame through its exclusive reporting of the US military intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001 and the airing of videotapes of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

This has earned it the wrath of Washington, which accuses Al Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for Islamist extremists, notably in Iraq, where the channel has been banned from reporting since 2004.

Its offices in Kabul and Baghdad were both hit by US strikes, despite the channel having told the US where they were, while a leaked memo last year suggested US President George W. Bush considered bombing the channel’s Doha headquarters in 2004.

If you can’t shut them up, detain or assassinate them

An Al Jazeera cameramen detained in Afghanistan is still being held without charge at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, while one of the channel’s journalists was jailed last year for seven years accused in a Spanish court of collaborating with Al-Qaeda. One of Al Jazeera’s reporters was killed in Iraq.

Freedom too important to yield

Explaining the reluctance to go private, Al Jazeera’s editor-in-chief said: “A government which funds you and gives you a wide margin of freedom is better than private capital subjected to commercial pressures.”

Having referred to its 10th anniversary, on November 1st, of Arabic broadcasting to more than 40 million viewers, Al Jazeera will launch its English service beginning on November 15th. They hope to reach 40 million households in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

A recent poll found 53% of Americans opposed the launch of the channel and two-thirds of Americans thought the US government should not allow it entry to the US market. So much for American love of free speech and a free press.


According to, “the station says its research shows some of the world’s one billion English speakers, including Americans, thirst for news from a non-Western perspective.

“The ever-contentious Middle East will be its specialty. And the news, including coverage of Israel, will be served up from an Arab perspective, Al Jazeera executives have said.”

The West doesn’t appreciate the freedom exercised by Al Jazeera; and they like its balancing perspectives even less. An English broadcast service that’s not bound by commercial considerations and one that’s sponsored by funding that doesn’t interfere with policy or reporting is long overdue.

Al Jazeera is about to show the English-speaking world what it really means to be a free press.