News and Views

News and Views Note: When News and Views was published in the August issue of MCI enewsletter, the first 24 lines were missing for some unknown reason. I am reposting it here for those who would like to read it in full.

We like to think that if people only knew the ‘truth’ (or a more accurate depiction) of something, then things would be different, better. Unfortunately it is an innocent idea,  a wish not a prediction. If people don’t want to know other than what they already believe, they can easily avoid learning the ‘truth’, denying its veracity, or simply being unfazed when confronted with ‘awkward’ facts. Test that: provide your own examples – such as beliefs about global warming, Israeli assaults on Gaza, appropriate treatment of drug addiction, the moral superiority of the West. None of us budge easily.

Not that we can afford to allow one view to dominate public opinion. Making a new knowledge or viewpoint available to others is a valuable step in itself, whether people pay attention to it or not.

So the current news about al Jazeera is good news: as of August 22 their news program is available in Australia: five weekly half-hour news on SBS 1 mid-afternoon, and a one-hour Sunday afternoon special. This is significant given its history.

Al Jazeera began about twelve years ago, conceived and lavishly sponsored and financed by the Qatar royal family. Its comprehensive, critical approach to Middle East affairs, identifying with and speaking to and for the masses made it immediately unique and notable – unpopular in ruling circles, welcome in the street and initially fulsomely praised by the American government.

However, when it began reporting civilian deaths after the American invasion of Afghanistan it immediately became the enemy. Its office in Kabul was accidentally destroyed by American bombing. Its office in Baghdad, one room in a multi-storey hotel, was accidentally hit by an American rocket killing the journalist staff inside in the first week of the invasion of Iraq. It was described and dismissed regularly by Donald Rumsfeld as the “mouthpiece of Al Queda”.

Several years ago, when it established a global English-language television news service, its official reception in America was sufficiently antagonistic that few networks were willing to touch it. Up until last month the service was available only in the corner of four small states and in Washington. A few weeks ago it was made

available in New York City. And two weeks ago throughout Australia on SBS. (I am not detailing its global presence)

It is commonly recognised that its comprehensive presence throughout the Middle East was a significant factor in preparing and promoting the current Arab Spring.  America suddenly broke with its tradition. President Obama acknowledged its value at the time of the end of fighting in Egypt – an intriguing change of tune.

A logic can be traced here: during the critical 10 days or so in Egypt, the American Administration’s  stance on the issue changed daily, as the political situation on the ground changed. Vice-President Biden kicked off by declaring President Mubarak “a great friend of America”, but the immediate and negative response made America realise it could no longer intervene to shape the outcome; at best it could identify itself with the eventual ‘winners’ of the confrontation – whoever that may be. As each day the situation changed, the official word from Washington changed appropriately, with language carefully phrased to leave all options open as much as possible – provided it wasn’t militant Islamic.

A few weeks ago, Hilary Clinton addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced the new official ‘realism’ when she admitted that Al Jazeera and other Middle Eastern news services were ‘winning the information war’ against the American news sources because they are presenting ‘real news’ which is changing the minds and attitudes of people – whether ‘you like it or hate it – you may not agree with it’. It is said that Obama now has Al Jazeera in the Oval Office. The most accurate and up-to-date news is now seen as critical to America in the changing global scene.

Al Jazeera  is consolidating its role and its increasing presence. It is certainly a highly professional and comprehensive service. And it gives a detailed, unprecedented picture of the Middle Eastern masses.

For those interested it will provide a new setting and voice, in and of which neither London or Washington is the sole heart and mind. The sun now rises and sets in multiple quarters of the world. A monopoly mind-set is beginning to become history.