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The Essential Al-Jazeera April 13, 2007

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The Arabic television station Al Jazeera recently hosted its 3rd annual forum in Doha, Qatar. The gathering attracted a wide range of speakers from across the journalistic world. Independent reporter Dahr Jamail reported the proceedings:

The Al Jazeera television network could be emerging as a freedom champion against US pressures on the channel, leading media figures say. ‘I support Al Jazeera because [it] has done more to propagate democracy in the Middle East region than anybody else, certainly more than the American Government has done,’ media specialist Hugh Miles told Inter Press Service (IPS). ‘It’s strange to me that people refer to Al Jazeera as a “terrorist network” because that couldn’t be further from the truth.’

Miles spoke to IPS at the Al Jazeera forum at Doha (31 March to 2 April). The forum highlighted the successful recent expansion of the network while also addressing difficulties that reporters face in the Middle East hot spots. Miles, author of Al Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World and an award-winning freelance journalist said former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had got it wrong on Al Jazeera.

‘Al Jazeera has been called a “terrorist network” or “the voice of (Osama) bin Laden,” but this just demonstrates deep ignorance of its history and the channel,’ Miles said.

In the face of constant American aggression against non-Western media, Abdul Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, told Jamail that, ‘ We [journalists] should stand united against the new wave of embedded journal ism because this is censorship.’

He continued: ‘Freedom of expression is said to be a part of Western values. The American Administration is destroying Western values by shooting journalists, by killing the messenger.’

One of the keynote speakers was the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, who delivered a characteristically defiant speech accusing his American journalistic colleagues of ‘collective censorship’ on matters of national security. During Hersh’s talk (audio available here) he praised the work of Jamail and challenged the journalistic profession to live up to higher standards:

As the world collapses around us, as leadership collapses, as we’re driven more by the price of oil than the price of integrity, we have a role [as journalists] to play. And to me, that’s what it’s all about. I complain bitterly … we have so many terrible shortcomings in our profession. We’re very bitchy to each other. We’re competitive. We’re very narrow.

There is a young journalist here, Dahr Jamail, whose stuff has been very prescient, and I’ve four or five times included the brave accounts of some of his work in my stories … It’s not just at the New Yorker , it’s [also] at the New York Times where I worked very happily for a decade — the first thing you [editors] cut out is any mention of anybody else. That’s such a disagreeable aspect of our profession, the competition. Rather than credit a competitor we’ll ignore the story. This is general. You all know what I’m talking about.

Hersh’s made various other statements at the forum condemning the Iraq War and expressing fear about the Bush Administration’s radical plans against Iran. He also spoke of his despair at the widening gulf between the East and West. This last point highlights one of the primary victims of the faltering ‘War on Terror.’

Thanks to Scratch

A great failing of the post-9/11 years has been the unwillingness of Western governments and their media courtiers to better understand Arab sensibilities. Perhaps the most laughable effort by the Bush Administration was the sight of former White House counsel, Karen Hughes, running America’s overseas public image program. The Washington Post ’s breathless 2005 report on the initiative read:

Former White House counselor Karen P Hughes will take over the Bush Administration’s troubled public diplomacy effort intended to burnish the US image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world, where anti-Americanism has fueled extremist groups and terrorism, a senior Administration official said yesterday.

Hughes, 48, who has been one of President Bush’s closest advisers since his tenure as Texas Governor, plans to return to Washington soon to rejoin the President’s team after a three-year absence and set up shop at the State Department, where she will work with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to reinvigorate the campaign for hearts and minds overseas.

Hughes will take over an operation that has been criticised as lacklustre by many analysts and, privately, even by some Administration officials, despite its mission of waging a war of ideas against Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist organisations. The last Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Margaret Tutwiler, left last summer after less than a year on the job. The post has remained vacant since.

The disconnectedness between American actions and words has never been so stark. The invasion of Iraq has made any American diplomacy in the Muslim world a virtual impossibility. The general population simply doesn’t believe their (predominantly US-backed) leaders when they’re told about ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ for the simple reason that they experience none of these essentials at home.

An interesting recent exception to the usual sight of Arab leaders kow-towing to Washington’s demands was Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz’s direct attack on the US role in Iraq. He called it an ‘illegitimate foreign occupation.’ And one of the major reasons Iran has become Washington’s number one enemy is because the Islamic republic refuses to become a subservient Middle Eastern power (something Noam Chomsky has explained as the ‘Iran Effect’). Iran is currently paying the price for such brazen independence.

These new realities make Al Jazeera one of the most important media developments over the last decade. Its new English service continues this tradition. In Australia, the difficulty of watching the service, like in the US, suggests cable networks that are reluctant to promote a channel that has been shamelessly tarred with the brush of being ‘terrorists’ favourite network.’ In fact, the opposite is true.

When the New York Sun excitedly editorialises to encourage US Vice President Dick ‘Torturer-in-Chief’ Cheney to consider running for President in 2008, the moral bankruptcy of much conservative Western media is clear. Al Jazeera is not alternative media, it’s simply an essential anecdote to the dubious tendency of ‘our’ journalists to rely unquestioningly on ‘official’ sources.

About the author

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian, The Guardian, Sydney’s Sun-Herald, The Bulletin, The Washington Post, The Big Issue, Crikey, Znet, Counterpunch and others. Melbourne University Publishing has released his book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question (2006). His website is http://www.antonyloewenstein.com/

Source: New Matilda

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Lawrence Lessig – Keynote Address @ Al Jazeera’s 3rd Annual Media Forum April 12, 2007

Posted by Muhammad in ajforum07, Al Jazeera, Media Forum.
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Lawrence Lessig started out by covering the advertising currently aired regarding the current US Presidential Race where the democrats were using Apple’s famous 1984 ad to make a point.
He then went on to talk about “Democratising media” and how what’s currently happening in the world is an emergence of Broadcast democracy, Blog democracy and a Bottom Up democracy. Using media to say things differently, making us remember our ideals.

Creating a Read-Write(RW) culture, where people participate in the creation and re-creation of their culture instead of a Read Only(RO) culture, where culture was consumed but the consumer did not create… and hence, creativity was displaced.

The 20th century was the gateway to the RO culture and the RO democracy which gave the “Image of the quiet” masses listening to the message of the Big Brother. In the 21st Century moving from RO to RW and Blogs are on the leading edge of what we should look at as RW culture.

There are, however, three threats to this form of speech (1) Is it any good? (2) Does it help? (3) Is it “Truth” that it speaks to power? Truth and Fairness are not becoming a part of the new culture of media – Internet. Truth, fairness and accuracy are lost in this democratised media.

IP Wars, Copyright wars – corporations fighting against new forms of media and technology to stop piracy. The “Terrorists” in this war are basically the children who use this new technology. “Piracy” is the term used when they want to stop the use of shows without the consent of the creator. The effect of stopping this media is a form of censorship.

The technology can’t scan and see if the content is used fairly… therefore “fair use” gets thrown out the window as well. An example… Greenwald was making a movie in 2004 called “The Whole Truth about the Iraq War” where he required the use of a one minute clip about the Presidents reasons to go to war. ( About one minute in total) and NBC said no because it was “Not very flattering to the president”.

Networks want to keep control over their content. Slow changes in the structure of the internet pushed by government and commerce. Most innovative inventions and creations are done by kids and non-Americans! (Google, Hotmail, etc.)

We need to reject both extremes – between perfect control and anarchy. The ultimate test of the ideal “freedom of speech” is that your perspective is allowed in my country (America). You (addressing Al Jazeera) need to be better at embracing these ideals than we are. Provide some free content for commercial and non-commercial use – spread the culture. Right now we have RW culture, RW politics, RW democracy. These aspects can be lost again… and we should fear this reversion because RW culture is not in the interest of those in power.

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Al-Jazeera – The New Media Era April 11, 2007

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Al Jazeera had a stand at their 3rd Annual Media forum which they called Al Jazeera New Era. They even gave away those cool coffee mug flasks with the logo on it… anyway… the point of it was to show the vast advances and possibilities available for Citizen Journalism.

They were interviewing the speakers at the conference via a Nokia N91 cell phone and a minute later the video interview was already up on Youtube. The same was done using Flickr. Another cool bit of technology they had going was video on Cellphones, in which the interview was conducted and as soon as it was completed an MMS was sent out to whoever had the pre-setup phones available and all you had to do was click the link in the MMS, and the interview started playing direct on the mobile phone.

I was blown away. Even Lawrence Lessig was blown away, wanting to know more about the technology and how it will be implemented.

The main aim of this was to highlight the possibility and also take advantage of it. Delivering Al-Jazeera’s already popular content to as many platforms as possible. This innovative way of spreading news and information is excellent for overstepping the boundaries put up by those who only aim to commercially benefit from content. It will allow Al-Jazeera to step over continental boundaries and broadcast itself to whoever wants to know, wants to listen, wants to see the opinion and the other opinion.

Links
www.aljazeeranewera.com
aljazeeraforum.wordpress.com
Video’s
Flickr Photo’s

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Mainstream Journalism and the Role of the Journalist. April 10, 2007

Posted by Muhammad in ajforum07, Al Jazeera, Media Forum.
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Q&A Session on Parachute Journalism vs. Journalism of Depth at Al Jazeera’s 3rd Annual Media Forum

Things highlighted during the Q&A session with the panel was that is isn’t possible to do in-depth journalism on critical issues, especially if you’re part of a mainstream news organisation.  The hope lies in independant media such as Democracy Now and Indy Media for this to succeed.  Blogs are also an essential tool in conducting in-depth journalism.

It was agree that the role of reporter has nothing to do with the Western vs. Arab Media debate.  Everyone makes mistakes, but in the end it depends on the reporter having a real sense of being fair and balanced.

Should reporters report what is actually happening or try and tailor the reporting to give the audience what they want?  This was seen as a big issue and the example of the Darfur conflict was given where reporters would go in-depth into stories which serve the official account of what was going on and did not delve into issues which were equally important but did not serve the official account.

Is there such a thing as objective Journalism?  The unanimous answer was “no”.  With Investigative journalism you end up reporting  situations according to your point of view and your own values.  To counter this, journalists need to put their allegiance to something greater than their own valuesin order to report the truth of situations without tainting it.  In the current context, humanitarian aspects of rights and freedom need to be communicated to different audiences according to their understanding of the world.

The idea of journalistic neutrality is paper thin if you look at the current situation with so many journalists being attacked, kidnapped or killed.  Those who control the wars will undoubtedly try and control the media.  They need to win the hearts and minds of the people first, and so achieving this ideal of journalistic neutrality will get harder and harder.

David Marash pointed out that sometimes there is a lack of time (on TV) and space (In Print) in order to really report in-depth into various stories.  Other panelists disagreed with him pointing out that if you look at US television, you can watch for an hour and see only rubbish whereas you can watch a journalistic program for a minute and get to the truth.  Pictures can also speak a thousand words.  There is no easy answer for this though since news organistations are in the business of news and what is being alluded to is the balance between Quality and Quantity.  Jounalists have a responsibility to deliver this quality. and must ensure to maintain a balance.

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Al Jazeera Forum: Parachute Journalism vs. Journalism of Depth April 5, 2007

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Rageh Omaar, presenter of the Alj-Jazeera English program “Witness”, moderated this particular paneland the panelsists included Martine Bell (A BBC reporter), Dahr Jamail(independent reporter from within Iraq), Samir Aita (editor of Arabic verison of Le Monde Diplomatique) and Abdul Wahab Al-Badrahan (Editor-elect of the Al-Jazeera Newspaper.

Rageh had begun to put the discussion into context by mentioning that the people in this region don’t only read nad watch the news, they live here.  Hence, we must not only provide the news of the region but also respect the context and give an understanding of the region and the societies we report from.

Martin Bell considers himself an “unrepentant parachutist” and said that most journlists find themselves reporting in countries different from their own. And with this experience, learn quickly to sympathise with the people in that region and distrusting the government and politicians.  He also called for an end to the inauthenticity of journalism where we see certain journalists reporting “from the rooftops and not from among the people”. 

Being a reporter for the BBC for decades, he did mention that today’s times are far more dangerous for reporters and journalists than they were in the 1940’s.  Security is not guaranteed, Rules of engagement in war are not respected and do not provide any real protection for journalists; Al-Jazeera knows this better than other news organisations (referring to the amount of journalists for Al-Jazeera Killed, captured and jailed since it’s inception).  Journalists have two allegiances only, one to their audience and the other to the Truth.

Lack of journalistic independence was tagged as a big problem in the Middle East and the panel did flag this as an obstacle to delivering the Truth and mentioned that for journalists reporting from this region, it would be a very big step, if they make a sustained effort to maintain neutrality.

Samir Aita highlighted two issues facing journalists: (1) Capturing the reality by making sure the geopolitical, sociological, socio-economic ,etc. aspects of the story they are reporting are covered adequately and fairly. (2) Reporting the reality, making sure to maintain objectivity and express it clearly and truthfully.  He also said that apart from investigative journalists you also need researchers who “understand the realities and the goings-on on the ground.”

Abdul Wahab Al Badrahan said that parachute journalism is a product of regimes and governments and we see this with the US’s increased involvement in the Middle East.  The United States is following the lead of Arab Governments and producing misleading information on the war and leaving out certain truths and facts, an exmaple is that of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay where we report on these places but do not realy know what is going on there.  He highlighted the importance of Bloggers here, as they portray the reality of the situations from the ground.

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Western Media Coverage on the Middle East: Seymour Hersh April 5, 2007

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Disclaimer: Please note the below are not the exact words, but are paraphrased and the main points the speaker wanted to make are made clear.

Q: In terms of how the Western Media covers the Middle-East, is it honest?

A: No! Ofcourse it isn’t.

Q: How do we get rid of this huge discrepancy between Western and Eastern Media?

A: It won’t happen any time soon, you are always going to have the racism, misguided information, sexism and xenophobia present in the media and the government isn’t going to budge.  It’s the way the world is, this is our reality.  We can’t expect a miracle to happen and the West and East will suddenly understand each other, you’re talking about a Havana which won’t come in our lifetime.

Although we are seeing some progress, for the first time Americans are coming to terms with waht’s happening in the Middle East and Iraq and we can see the results in the polls.  Another move toward progress will be to see al Jazeera inthe United States, this will come eventually, it will take time, but it will break through.

Q: From reading your reports, most of the sources you cite are American sources, does this not taint the stories you report on the Middle East?

A: I do deal with people in the countries on which I report, but most of the time it is hard to get their names or find out who they are.  Abu Ghraib, for example, is only the tip of a very big problem in Iraq.  What I report on the situation is from sources in the Middle East and even though I get published in the States, my work gets read more in the Middle East than it does in the United States.  People in the Middle East trust me with information because they know I can take it and make it better.  But, you’re right, un-named officials are a harder sell then sources that are willing to come on record and another aspect is the fact htat I am inclined to use American sources because that is where I am based.

Q (by Ethan Zuckerman from Global Voices): In light of the current situation of bloggers in Egypt and the arrest of Karim Suleman, will we see Journalists becoming advocates of the rights of citizen journalists and independant media on the net?

A: Once again, it’s the point of journalists being bitchy to each other.  If you assume a journalist will recognise another journalist who does exactly what he does, but better.  Egyptian bloggers are doing a good job of questioning their government.  Blogging is messy, but it will take tiem to get recognition.  It’s new and it’s good at heart.

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Opinion on Current situation in Iran: Seymour Hersh April 2, 2007

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Seymour Hersh’s opinion in Iraq was elicited from a question by Danny Schechter.

  • The Iranians are tremendous negotiatiors and know what they are doing, with the situation with the British prisoners now, the situation is very well considered. While the American government is going on about sanctions and the UN and Ahmedinedjad being in trouble, Iran is saying “Come on, We’re Ready…” They’re calling our bluff.
  • On top of this, even American media have reported that there exists no real evidence of a bomb in Iran. Tony Blair is even backing off to avoid the risk of following blindly the way he had done with the non-existent WMD’s in Iraq.
  • Technically, it is also a hard sell to just go and “Bomb Iran”. The US hasn’t been in the Iranian straits for ages due to the low maneuverability of the aircraft in that area. Ordinary people just don’t understand what goes into planning and implementing a military campaign.

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Key Note Address at Al-Jazeera’s Third Annual Media Forum : Seymour Hersh April 2, 2007

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Please note that the below is a summary of the points which Seymour Hersh made during his key note address. I have elaborated in certain points and they are not his exact words.

  • The Iraqi air bombing raid mentioned by Wadah is a very important point, the United States Military did not provide any statistics regarding tonnage or how many bombs were dropped ,etc. We don’t even know the rules of engagement. If a trooper who was getting rifle fire from a building was able to call in an airstrike to bomb the entire building without checking or warning anyone inside, we just don’t know. This secrecy and holding back of important information, however, is not only an American problem.
  • George Bush and Dick Cheney have been making diplomatic mistakes all over the world. In one sentence, my belief is that after 9/11 Al-Qaeda had taken over the White House, not literally but that’s what happened.
  • We do not expect the same behaviour from our government the way we expect our families to behave. We must hold our leadership to the highest possible standards of behaviour. Journalism needs to act like the “parent” because the governments are not. Our job is to hold government accountable. In the Iraq War, American media did not do this too well and basically became the mouthpiece of the government.
  • Journalism is a profession in which the journalists should believe “we think we can make a difference”, especially the good ones; And Al-Jazeera is doing a very good job of this, no matter what America and American Journalism thinks.
  • The one thing that’s bad about journalism is the competition we have and the “bitchiness”. When working for the New York Times, the first thing we do is remove mention of any other news organisations, so that we don’t credit the competition.

We are in a struggle for Truth vs. Propaganda, I am anti-government because I believe our governments’ have failed us.

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Introduction to the Third Annual Al Jazeera Forum April 1, 2007

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A sunny day in Doha and Al-Jazeera’s 3rd Annual Forum begins at the Sheraton Hotel in Doha. The forum began with Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani, the chairman of Al-Jazeera, stating that he hopes that the conference will be able to enrich the dialogue among journalists regarding their role in global media. He said a serious analysis needs to be conducted into the role of media and journalism, especially in the present time where journalists are experiencing very difficult times. The many Al-Jazeera bureaux being closed worldwide, with the latest being the bureau in Somalia was given as an example.

Wadah Khanfar, Al-Jazeera’s General Manager then introduced the theme of the conference with his address speaking of the ethics of journalism and in particular the partiality of journalists. Many journalists are today getting killed and jailed for no other reason than pursuing the purpose of their position: to seek the truth. In a post-9/11 world, authority has asserted its position of power to always present its own account of events and hence, control the media. It is the job of journalists to fight this type of media hegemony, to maintain objectivity and show both sides of the stories they cover.

Another issue is that of journalists leaking, and pushing, information which subscribes to political agendas of any particular group. Hence the need for Al-Jazeera to check and double check the information they receive to make sure that they aren’t used as conduits for any particular government. By nature and by definition, journalists need to stand up against authority and any form of oppression, hence, those news organisations who publicly apologised for their coverage of the Iraq war need to be applauded.

Journalists also need to be more aware of the societies from which they report, we sometimes only have a shallow understanding and need to go deeper and really understand the lives of the people in the areas we cover. Journalists, when conducting in-depth journalism, need to take into account two perspectives when reporting: respecting the history of the place they are in and trying to forecast the future of the region by analysing the events which have taken place.

TV journalism, where the fast pace of journalists chasing stories, submitting photographs and video footage, it is here that the type of thinking where objectivity needs to prevail and showing the different sides of the story is paramount. A good example of this is the recent Iraq war where every news agency was broadcasting footage of fighter jets taking off, cameras showing the viewpoints of fighter jet pilots and finally, the bomb as it drops on its target. However, when the other side was shown, the houses and families destroyed by the bombs… it was described as too graphic and not to be shown. And so, the purporting of the idea that only one side of the truth should be broadcasted.

Hence, the editorial policy of news organizations must not substantiate journalism which succumbs to pre-conceived notions, all sides must be shown. We need to get rid of the superficial media, and present journalism which is not afraid to show what is real.

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Annual Al Jazeera Forum blog March 27, 2007

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The 3rd Al Jazeera Forum 2007 will be underway in about a week 1-2 April 2007. There’s an official website for the forum with all the schedules and speaker biographies.

Session recordings and interviews will be posted on YouTube and photos will be posted on Flickr.

If you happen to be there share with us your images, vlogs and blog posts using this tag: ajforum07. You can also join our Flickr Group and post your photos there.

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