mr. zilla goes to town

Monday, September 11, 2006

media matters

Al-Jazeera presents an object(ivity) lesson:

The summer of 2006 marked an important milestone for Arab media. Israel and Hezbollah were locked in a bitter conflict that would claim the lives of more than 150 Israelis and an estimated 1,000 Lebanese – a third of them children. Each day brought brutal new images of civilian casualties.

On American television, leading journalists, such as CNN's star presenters Anderson Cooper and John Roberts, regularly referred to Hezbollah as "terrorists" or a "terrorist militia," without bothering to attribute the label to Israeli or U.S. sources. But on the news broadcasts of the Arab world's dominant all-news channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, such polarizing language was rarely heard.

The irony, of course, is that Al-Jazeera was condemned by the Bush administration for using terms like "martyr," "aggression" and "terrorism" in describing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Arab journalists should be "unbiased" like their colleagues in America, was the constant refrain from Washington.

"The words 'terror' and 'terrorist' are not in our dictionary," Ahmed Sheikh, Al-Jazeera's chief editor, told me in late summer, as a shaky cease-fire took hold in southern Lebanon. "We only use them when we are quoting someone." Nor were dead civilians or fighters referred to as shaheen, Arabic for "martyr."

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