Al Jazeera's Genius of Western-Hating Commerce

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/21/2010 12:09:00 AM
In the Eighties (for those old enough to remember them), Eddie Murphy came out with a novelty song called "Kill the White People" that parodied those ostensibly decrying all things Western while harbouring essentially commercial motives:

We sing of freedom and ooh equality
But we really don't care we just want money, money, money
We want to drive in a big black limousine
Get so high off ganja we can't even see
And then we kill the white people - ooh we gunna make them hurt
Kill the white people, yeah, ooh but buy my record first...

Which brings me to this interesting feature from The Economist on the rather nefarious cable channel Al Jazeera. Aside from pillorying the West endlessly, it also takes aim at any number of other Arabic governments that don't happen to be Qatar's. See, the Qataris--now owners of that rather decadent symbol of Western consumerism Harrods, if you remember--have been the funders of Al Jazeera from the get-go. Unlike the more sedate Saudi-funded Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera's declamatory--and, to be honest, inflammatory--style has made it far more of a success in the Arab world. As with many successful propaganda campaigns, you must have a simple message and pound it in relentlessly.

That, of course, contrasts with the essentially Western-ish commercial motives and production values behind Al Jazeera that you'd otherwise think its powers-that-be would decry. Yes, it's very much in the tongue-in-cheek kill the people, but buy my record first mould. The slyness of Al Jazeera, however, is that it clears up its tracks adequately enough while inflame passions on the Arab street in a way many others haven't--for commercial gain, of course:
The influence and reach of Al Jazeera continue to astound. It is certainly the most powerful news-and-current-affairs channel in the Arab world, well ahead of Al Arabiya, its Saudi-owned, more pro-Western rival. Al Jazeera claims to beam its main Arabic-language channel into around half of all Arab homes. Its English-language channel is said to reach 200m elsewhere, making waves in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Quite a lot of Europeans watch it, too.

This year, thanks to the munificence of the emir of Qatar, who is said to put at least $400m a year into its coffers, Al Jazeera’s clout may yet strengthen. The English-language channel and the Arabic one between them have at least 60 bureaus, with 12 in Africa alone, a number unthinkable for their shrinking Western rivals. Ten more, beyond Al Jazeera’s hubs in Doha, London, Washington, DC, and Kuala Lumpur, are expected to open by the end of next year. Coverage of events such as Sudan’s recent election, to which seven staff reporters and a score of technicians were assigned, put Western media in the shade.

The two language services are editorially separate. The English one’s choice of topics reflects the third-world interests of its viewers, concentrating more than its Western counterparts do on global poverty and the anger often felt towards America and the West. But it offers a wide range of opinion and covers Western politics well too. Both language services have bureaus in Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah (the Palestinian Authority’s seat), regularly giving Israelis a voice.

The Arabic service is a lot more controversial. Pro-Western Arab governments, particularly those of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which denies Al Jazeera a bureau, repeatedly accuse it of bias. In particular they say it favours the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s chief opposition, and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and refuses to recognise Israel...

Al Jazeera’s anti-Western populism was strongly echoed at its recent forum on “the Arab and Muslim world: alternative visions”. Many speakers, denoting piety or loyalty to political Islam, prefaced their remarks with incantations of reverence for the Prophet Muhammad. On Palestine, not a single one of 200-odd invited participants spoke up for a two-state solution...

On Iraq, not a single speaker, apart from a forlorn parliamentarian from the Iraqi prime minister’s party who made a desultory comment by video-conference, expressed a flicker of sympathy for the new Shia-led order, which several voices denounced as wholly illegitimate. The Gazan who edits al-Quds al-Arabi, a populist London-based newspaper that resonates in the Arab world, drew the loudest applause with a ringing call to back the continuing Iraqi “resistance”, even though the fight is now almost entirely between Arabs. No wonder Al Jazeera makes pro-Western Arab leaders, excoriated as puppets, feel queasy—Qatar’s, of course, excepted.
What can I say? Like it or not, more coverage will emanate from it as traditional Western media shrivels due to the unprofitability of selling newspapers and the like. Al Jazeera, like its near-polar opposite in terms of message Fox News, is brilliant in its own way even if the end product isn't what you'd consider as the pinnacle of journalism. While their messages may differ, both have a similarly masterful grasp of the medium. Just as the former has Fox News Babes, you can rest assured that the (rather better clad) anchorwomen on the latter do not fall short in the looks department. To paraphrase Eddie Murphy's incisive brand of satire, on Al Jazeera 24/7 it's kill the white people--but watch my channel first!