Media Myths: Does the US control the Arab Media?

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Following the publication on July 21st of an interview about “Arab Satellite Television” that I gave to Elaph (the most influential Arabic News Website), I received a number of phone calls advising me that Aljazeera Programme “Opposite Direction” (A sort of “Cross-Fire” heated debate) would be hosting two guests to discuss the “Arab Satellite Media” on Tuesday July 27th. Here I focus on the conspiracy theory that was the main theme of the 56 minute Aljazeera Flagship Programme.

One of the guests insisted that the Arab Satellite media is an American imperialist conspiracy that aims to dominate the Arabic mind and cancel out the Arabic identity.

Familiar Platitudes

The conspiracy theorist adamantly adhered to his rigid view that the Arab Satellite media is an imperial conspiracy. He explained this by insisting that the role of the Satellite media is to distort the national identity and to obliterate the Arab culture. The Satellite media he argued is a weapon used against the Arab people and the increasing number of Satellite channels is not an innocent phenomenon. It is a kind of new imperialism that threatens our culture and civilization through the use of media power to serve American and Zionists interests.

This skewed thinking is not new. Haven’t we heard such malicious accusations about Al-Arabiya and Aljazeera Channels? Objective observers of the Pan-Arab media scene know very well that the media is sometimes used to achieve certain political ends or to promote a particular viewpoint. The media is also used to incite against a minority or a religious group. The Iraqi arena is the most flagrant example of this. It can therefore be argued that certain satellite channels have their own agenda but to put the blame exclusively on America or any other state is gross over-simplification and is unfair. This is not to say that the US Administration is not interested in what the Arabic media is saying or doing, but this interest is due to geo-political and economic reasons and not the classic sort of conspiracy people talk about.

Why the US is interested in Arab media

As a major strategic player in the Middle East, the US Administration takes interest in the Middle East Media scene but it does not control it. We all reject channels and programmes that incite hatred or violence. We all welcome programmes that promote peace and democratic values. If the USA promotes such values, this does not make it wrong or a conspiracy of some sort.

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But the idle talk of a conspiracy is yet another excuse by the Arabs to hide their own failure.

The Accusations Against Aljazeera for Example

Didn’t we hear back in 2005 that Aljazeera was a CIA tool, an agent of Israel and other similar baseless exaggerations? At one time, the accusations reached the pinnacles of absurdity when Aljazeera was labelled as agent for the Al-Qaeda, the Iraqi Resistance, the CIA, the Mossad, Hezbollah and Hamas all at the same time. To be an agent for one party and its allies may be plausible, but to be an agent for 10 parties some of whom are at war with each other is ridiculous and lacks logic. It also demolishes the conspiratorial myth altogether. Besides Qatar does not need external funding.

In this respect it is appropriate to refer to Hugh Miles’ book “Al-Jazeera, How Arab TV News challenged the world” 2006. In my review of the book in 2007 I explained how the author debunked the lies and myths woven around Al-Jazeera. The logical conclusion was that Al-Jazeera was not a tool of the CIA and the Mossad. Israel still holds the view that the Station is a mouth-piece for Arab terrorism. Didn’t Tony Blair talk President Bush out of bombing Al-Jazeera HQ in friendly Qatar in the spring of 2004? Wasn’t Al-Jazeera office in Kabul bombed in 2001 and the Baghdad offices in 2003?

This leads us to ask has the CIA or the Mossad any connection with Russia Today, France 24, and the BBC Arabic Service which are broadcasting to the Arab world via satellite. The religious stations and jihadist channels are not financed by the USA; they are locally funded and managed. The USA is naturally against any hostile news media that it consider harmful to US interest. What’s wrong with this? Aren’t we all against anything that is hostile and harmful to our interests?

What About Other Channels?

We often hear the accusation that this channel or that has a hidden agenda. It is not new to state that every newspaper and every TV channel has its own view and policy whether we are talking about CNN, Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times, The Washington Post, the BBC or Aljazeera. I am for any agenda that aims to educate the viewer, to promote tolerance and moderation. Any agenda that exposes human rights abuses is to be welcomed. Only dictatorial tyrannical regime would oppose such agenda.

Entertainment, music, films and dramas were often criticised for polluting the mind of youths. I would say if such programmes succeed in keeping the youth away from the radicals who brainwash them into hating the West and committing suicide-bombing, I am for such programmes and the more the better.

We ought to welcome programmes that promote democratic principles, love and co-existence, the rejection of violence, the condemnation of terrorism, the respect of human and animal rights and exposing abuse of such rights. This is what we need in the Arab world. It is not a conspiracy.