Wednesday February 28, 2024

Speaking truth to power

April 07, 2017

Arab and Muslim intellectuals often blame many of the Islamic world’s woes on the media and the ‘Zionist lobby’ that apparently controls and sets the agenda of the global media. But is the alleged media bias really a myth?

The Western media narrative is indeed hopelessly flawed and skewed and is often dictated by its economic and political interests worldwide. It remains hostage to powerful lobbies – especially the all-powerful Israeli lobby. Muslim intellectuals complain that it is this monopoly over the media that ostensibly allows them to distort and misrepresent our reality.

From the never-ending Middle East conflict to the general state of affairs in the Muslim world, the aggrieved Muslims believe that the world tends to view the complex reality of the Islamic world through the Israeli prism. And thanks to this stranglehold of the lobby over the global media, Arabs and Muslims lose the battle for hearts and minds even before it is begun.

So the Palestinians struggling to survive in their own land in which they have lived for centuries have to suffer the indignity of being demonised as ‘terrorists’. Their fight for freedom and dignity is painted as the terrorism of the followers of a ‘hateful ideology’, bent on blowing themselves up to destroy the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East and its peaceful Western friends.

While the West props up its handpicked men as ‘moderate’ leaders, Arabs and Muslims are vilified for their ‘inherent’ inability to ‘embrace’ the blessings of Western democracy and freedom.

Clearly, this is an impossibly one-sided, asymmetrical battle. The Muslims feel that they are faced with a giant propaganda machine and its awesome power that has for years controlled their world and dictated its agenda. And their claim and historic sense of perpetually being at the receiving-end is not entirely without basis.

From the worldwide media empire of the likes of Rupert Murdoch – whose News Corp owns scores of newspapers, television channels and radio stations around the globe – to the stable of Time Warner – which owns some of the world’s most powerful newspapers, magazines and television networks – the lobby’s stranglehold over the global media industry is firm and complete.

This control even extends to Hollywood, the mighty dream factory that plays a critical role in building and perpetuating stereotypes and age-old myths and biases about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in Hollywood-speak.

Many of the major Hollywood studios and production companies are wholly or partly owned by the Zionist and pro-Israel groups and families. So it is little surprising then that Arabs and Muslims do not exactly come across as the friendliest and most likeable people on earth in films and television shows like ‘24’ and ‘Homeland’.

The fact that some of the top editors, columnists, writers and filmmakers in the US and elsewhere also happen to be pro-Israel also hasn’t helped our cause. Just look at the New York Times and the Washington Post – the two most formidable voices of the US establishment – and the proud line-up of their editors and columnists. From Tom Friedman to Charles Krauthammer, some of the biggest names in the business are staunch supporters of Israel and its divine claim over Arab lands.

If America as the sole superpower and the political and economic master of the free world controls our world, the Zionists, in turn, are seen as controlling Uncle Sam. No wonder the Republicans and Democrats are often vying with each other to woo the Zionist lobby. The lobby can make or mar any politician.

But to be fair to these movers and shakers, if they are there right at the top of the US establishment, they have every right to be there. After all, they have worked hard for years to be in the position that they are.

In fact, Muslims have no reason to bemoan the fact that the world pays them little attention while lapping up the distorted reality offered by the Zionist-controlled media and intellectual establishment.

After all, what have they done in all these years to present their side of the story before the world anyway? Very little, even though they have considerable human and natural resources at their disposal. While their precious resources are splurged on ostentatious delusions of grandeur, they have invested next to nothing in initiatives that could have helped them fight this critical battle of ideas.

Most media in the Muslim world lacks a killer instinct and professional approach. Many of them are preoccupied with what is considered non-news elsewhere, ignoring the real needs and challenges facing their people. The official media remains focused on paying endless tributes to men in power.

This is precisely why when Al Jazeera Arabic made its debut with its refreshingly bold and innovative approach more than two decades ago, it was lapped up by the hungry Arab audience. Again, this is why Al Jazeera English has made an unprecedented impact around the world. Today, it is heartwarming to see many international networks tune in to Al Jazeera to catch up on stories that they have missed.

Without doubt, this is the first credible attempt to meet the challenge on this front. This is the first media initiative targeting a global audience from a Middle-Eastern perspective. Although Al Jazeera Arabic also reached and targeted an international audience, it had always been, and is seen as, an Arab-Muslim perspective for an Arab-Muslim audience. The English news channel has consciously sought to present itself as a global news network with a difference.

The arrival of Al Jazeera thus represents a seminal event in the history of the Middle East and the Muslim world. It is a sign of the Middle Eastern media coming of age. But more than the Middle East, Al Jazeera’s arrival marks a new era for the global media.

Speaking and reporting in a language spoken and understood across the world, Al Jazeera English has been reaching out to a truly global audience. More importantly, it offers an alternative reality to the Western audiences and the rest of the world – a reality that is decidedly different from the sanitised worldview offered by the likes of CNN, BBC and Fox News. Broadcasting from four continents, the channel has put together a dream team that is known for its professional excellence and integrity.

Today, it is widely respected in the region and around the world for its world-class reportage and courage to take on issues that had once been perceived as taboo. In the process, it has also ended up ruffling many feathers and bruised many giant-sized egos. If its reporters have faced the wrath of el-Sisi’s Egypt with their coverage, the network’s offices in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region have been repeatedly bombed by the US under former US president George Bush. But then, whoever said speaking truth to power is easy?

Of course, reaching out to a world audience – especially the Western viewers – and winning their trust isn’t going to be easy for a network that is still panned as the ‘Bin Laden channel’. But a journey on this road has been started in earnest.     

With its professional approach, dedication and persistence to report “all sides of a story”, the network is truly in the forefront of this battle of ideas. And hopefully Al Jazeera’s example would inspire others in the region and around the world to follow suit. We need more such channels out there.         

The writer is an award-winning journalist.