â€œCovering Islamâ€?: Al Jazeera vs. CNN
For this assignment, I have watched an interesting documentary called â€œPeace, Propaganda, & the Promised Land: US Media & the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.â€? This documentary was made by the Media Education Foundation, which is an independent organization that aims to provide documentary films and other sources in order to foster critical thinking and analysis about the interconnectedness of mass media and the corporate world, as well as political interests of different factions which have substantial influence on the media. This documentary was instrumental in making me decide which direction I wanted to go with this assignment. The two sources that I decided to focus on are the online Al Jazeera and CNN networks. My aim is to look at the ways in which these two media sources differ in covering the Middle East, hence, I only focused on their â€œMiddle Eastâ€? headline sections. How are the two sources different in covering the Middles East and the current conflicts in the region? In what ways does CNN, and similar American news media, shape American assumptions about the Islamic world? In what ways do both networks hegemonies problematic representations which further dichtomize the West and the East? These are some of the questions I would like to address in this project.
The below are the news topics in the â€œMiddle Eastâ€? section of each source
Al Jaziira headlines under â€œMiddle Eastâ€?
Saddam Sentenced to Death
Iran Ready to Provide Lebanon with missile Systems
US Aircraft Carrier Cruising in the Gulf
Israelâ€™s Massacre Slammed Worldwide
Israel steps up anti-Iran rhetoric
Qatarâ€™s â€˜modern mentalityâ€? includes outreach to Israel
Israel jets â€˜threatenedâ€™ French troops in Lebanon
Hezbollah minister quits cabinet
U.S. raid kills Iraqi civilians
The battle against Iran begins
Iranâ€™s nuke program â€œalmost completeâ€?- Ahmadinejad
U.S. soldier pleads guilty in Iraq rape-slay case
Israel Kills 9 Palestinians in â€œmajor Gaza operationâ€?
Egypt sends 5,000 troops to Gaza border
Palestinians block Gaza roads, protesting unpaid wages
â€œIsraelâ€™s massacre in Gaza slammed worldwideâ€? aljazeera.com
CNN headlines under â€œMiddle Eastâ€?
U.S. officer: Iraqi army lacks discipline
Five U.S. troops die in Iraq
U.S. officer describes disarray in Iraqi army
Dozens more killed in Iraq
Howard: Iraq strategy won't change
Palestinians: Israelis kill 19 in Gaza
Baghdad's morgues so full, bodies being turned away
Israel to expand Gaza assault after Palestinian attack
Iraqi Sunnis kill 10 Shiites, kidnap 50 others
According to the BBC, Al Jazeera is â€œon of the world's most influential media brand and the fifth most influential in any field, after Apple, Google, Ikea and Starbucksâ€? (BBC). Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, in which the Emir of Qatar funded its establishment ten years ago as a media source which will report fair and balance news from all over the world. Many of Al Jazeeraâ€™s early reporters where from BBC. In its ten years, the channel and the magazine has been very controversial, both from a Arab/Middle Eastern and western viewpoints. The network is known for irritating Arab regimes and elites when it comes to reporting their evil sides. In contrast, Western leaders accuse Al Jazeera for being â€œdisgracefulâ€? for showing the close-ups of the bodies of dead western military personnel. It is also criticized for being Bin Ladenâ€™s â€œmouthpieceâ€?, since it is the first network to receive Osoma Bin Ladenâ€™s videos. Al Jazeera claims that any news channel would get the tapes and be the first to show them if they had the opportunity, however, since it has a studio in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Al Jazeera has advantage over other news media. Al Jazeera is launching its English news channel which will be the first English news coming from the Middle East with audiences around the world (BBC).
The Cable News Network, or CNN as its widely knows as, is one of the major cable television news channels. Ted Turner established the network in 1980 as part of the Turner Broadcasting System, which is owned and operated by the Time Warner corporation. Since 1980, CNN has become one of the most respected and most watched news networks in the U.S. as well as outside the nation. It has headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Washington D.C., and New York City. CNN is said to be available to â€œ88.2 million American households and more than 890,000 U.S. hotel rooms. CNN international is the global part of the network, which reaches 1.5 billion viewers in over 200 countries (BBC).
Analysis and Discussion
I chose to pair Al Jazeera with CNN in this assignment because a) both networks are accused of being biased in their coverage of the Middle East/Western affairs, and b) both networks have substantial influence on their viewersâ€™ assumptions about the Middle East, as well as the rest of the world. When I went to both Al Jazeeraâ€™s and CNNâ€™s websites, I looked at the headlines under the â€œMiddle Eastâ€? section and read view of the articles there. The two networksâ€™ coverage in this region heavily depends on what is important to them, in other words, the geopolitical interests of the regions they are operating from have impact on what and how they cover their stories. Being in the Middles East, Al Jazeeraâ€™s main focus is on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as well as the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah. One of the article I read is titled â€œIsraelâ€™s massacre in Gaza.â€? The article discusses the Israeli shelling of a neighborhood in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. Eighteen Palestinians were killed, mostly women and children. Within the article, there are thought provoking and discomforting images. One is a mother and her two children, probably under the ages of 4 or 5, killed by the shells, and covered by their dried blood. Another is a muddy ground filled with the blood of the victims. The third image includes two men who are lifting a wounded or dead child, while protesters are behind them in a chaotic street. Family members and mourners gather around another victimâ€™s body. All these images are very graphic and are instrumental in showing viewers the reality of the conflict brewing in the Middle East, especially in the Israel/Palestine region. Whether it is the Iraq war or the Israel/Palestinian conflict, almost all the articles contain graphic images of brutal death and destruction. The reader/viewerâ€™s emotions will be evoked, no matter what. The language used to describe the conflicts is another factor that plays an important role in Al Jazeeraâ€™s coverage. The article above, for instance, uses the word â€œmassacreâ€? to describe the recent death of the eighteen Palestinians from Israeli shells. Another articleâ€™s title reads â€œIsraelâ€™s forces kill Palestinian women.â€? These words get to the point by evoking oneâ€™s thoughts. Powerful images combined with powerful words are some a strategy used in mass media, and Al Jazeera does just that.
Unlike Al Jazeera, CNNâ€™s main focus is the Iraqi war and the so-called war on terror. Again, this has to do with the geopolitical interest of the country/region the media network operates. Washingtonâ€™s current priority in the Middle East are the war on terror and the Iraqi war, so it is not surprising when most of the CNN coverage of the region are within these two American â€˜concernsâ€™. Many of the articles on CNN website are on American soldiers in Iraq, the escalation of violence in Iraq, when the U.S. plans to pull its troops out, and the rift between the Sunnis and the Shia of the country . Since a large portion of the American public views this network, it is obvious why it covers stories that the ordinary American might want to know about. A few nights ago, I watched â€œAnderson Cooper, 360*â€?. Cooper discussed the affects of wars, especially the current Iraqi war on the American soldiers. Whether they lose their limbs, battle post-traumatic disorder, or become homeless and drug users, soldiers in the current war and previous wars have experienced isolation from the rest of the very society they risked their lives to protect. Programs such as this one are very common on CNN, both on line and on TV. The war on terror, is another constant coverage theme, not only on CNN, but also on the many other news outlets in the country. Few week ago, I wrote a blog on the geopolitical influence on the American media. I talked about how the image of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmedinjenad, on Time Magazine is influenced by the relationship America has with him and his country. Before the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Shahâ€™s portrait on the magazine showed a favorable representation of the pro-American leader, and when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, the representation shifted. Hence, political interests of the U.S> foreign policy in the region is crucial in this debate. From an economical standpoint, CNN is part of a corporation which also controls many other mass media sources. This corporation, like any other institution, has its own agendas on the profit they want to make from their news sources, their own political interests in the issues covered, and the influence they want to have over their viewers. As a result, the geopolitical interests of the nations in which media networks operate, as well as the economical interests of the owners are crucial in understanding the ways in which representation are constructed for the consumption of the American viewing/reading public.
â€œPeace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land: US Media and the Israel/Palestine Conflictâ€œ. -Although this documentary by the Media Education Foundation is criticized for being one sided - on Palestineâ€™s side - it provides an insight look into the factors which dictate how and why we see what we view/read on the media:
-Director of the documentary: â€œWe rely on the media for information about events occurring in the world. News, especially, Television news exerts powerful influence on our perceptions; telling us which events are important, and shaping our understanding of the issuesâ€¦Controlling the images and words used to explain the conflict [Israel/Palestine conflict] has become as important extension of the struggle [between the two groups].â€? The director goes on to say that coverage of this conflict is â€œinfluenced by complex set of institutional relationshipsâ€? which she refers to as filters:
1) Among the most important of these filters are the business interests of business corporations that own the mass media, interest that extends beyond the United States and across the globe to the Middle East
2)The economic interest of corporations are shared by political elites, politician and policy makers who form a second filter These political elites have power to access and influence the mainstream media and are themselves part of a system dominated by corporate money and interests
3) Israeli/American PR and lobbying firmsâ€¦Most important of these is APAC (American/Israeli Public Affair Committee) widely regarded as the most powerful foreign lobby in Washingtonâ€?
-The director calls these â€œinstitutional filters,â€? which determine what American news anchors will show and discuss on TV about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
-Different journalists from the Middle East as well as the U.S. and Europe provide their input in the documentary.
-â€œIn non-American coverage, BBC, for example, the suicide bombings are generally put
in the context of the occupation, and that they are response to conditions
which are very dehumanizing to Palestinians, against which they are defenseless,â€? says Professor Karen Pfeifer (Middle East Research & Information Project, USA).
says. Rabbi Michael Lerner (Founder & Editor of Tikkun Magazine, USA): â€œThere is absolutely no understanding on the part of the American media, and hence
the American population that is educated by that media about what creates
Within the documentary we are shown a clip from MSNBC: â€œMSNBC investigates the â€˜Mind of a Suicide Bomberâ€˜, so hard for us to understand why they would be willing to sacrifice their lives in this way.â€?
This documentary is powerful in the way it shows what shapes the news we see everyday about the Middle East, especially the Israel/Palestine conflict. The documentary looks at political and economical interests of the corporation who own the media networks, as well as the geopolitical relationship and interests of both the Israeli government and Washington. Although I could not find a similar well-done documentary critiquing Middle Eastern media, such as Al Jazeera, and their coverage on the U.S./West and Israel, I think non-American medial also face criticism of being biased due to where they stand on the issues covered. Overall, this documentary is recommended to anyone who want to look outside the box and see how powerful the media is and its ways of constructing representations of the rest of the word.
Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World by Edward Said. Although written in 1979, Saidâ€™s critique of the western media in covering the Islamic world is relevant to the todayâ€™s debate on biasness in the western media. The ideas discussed in this book are continuation of Saidâ€™s milestone work, Orientalism. Said argues that western media, specifically the American mass media, constructs a representation of the Islamic world - its political, cultural, and religious aspects - which further dichotomizes Islam and the West. This Orientalist discourse is today seen in all the media networks. In both Orientalism and this book, Said warns against the limitation of such discourses which will produce dire consequences for cross-cultural understanding.