by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 8, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1433)
Muslims need to develop greater sophistication in determining the validity of alternate media, especially outlets like Al Jazeera.
Many media outlets project themselves as the so-called alternate critical sources of news in the world today. In reality, most are not really critical and certainly cannot be considered as alternate.
Media outlets directly linked with or dependent on the US-imposed imperialist global order are no longer trusted as sources of news. Even within the US, people are losing trust in media outlets that market Washington’s official policies. A survey published by Gallup in September 2011 found 55% of Americans do not trust the fairness and accuracy of the US media. This necessitates the creation of alternate sources to fill the trust and fairness deficit that has emerged globally. It is, therefore, necessary to examine the agenda and concepts behind the so-called critical and alternate media outlets today.
Unsophisticated media literacy skills of a large number of people makes them think that if a certain media outlet criticizes the establishment occasionally, it must be honest, fair and credible. This assumption is flawed. Simple criticism does not mean that a certain media outlet offers a genuine alternative.
Let us take al-Jazeera as an example. While most Muslims and others assume that al-Jazeera is truly an alternative source of news, a closer look at its track record reveals that in many instances it is as wedded to promoting the establishment’s views as the others. True, al-Jazeera has produced some critical and alternate journalistic works; it is also true that in many aspects, before it fired most of its Islamic editorial staff during the 2003 Iraq war, al-Jazeera revolutionized journalism in the Muslim East. However, when it comes to strategic issues, al-Jazeera is no different than its mainstream peers that propagate the US designed secular and materialistic perspective on global issues.
When security forces of the popularly elected government of Hamas prevented the US-backed militias of Mohamed Dahlan from overthrowing the Palestinian government in Gaza, al-Jazeera, like all other news sources, presented events in Gaza as a “coup d’ état” by Hamas. During the 2009 US-instigated riots in Tehran, al-Jazeera’s perspective and rhetoric was no different than the BBC or CNN. The Islamic government in Iran was demonized and all vandalism and violence in Iran was legitimized through the narrative of “fraudulent elections.”
Finally, the 2010–2011 uprisings in the Muslim East totally exposed al-Jazeera as a channel financed and managed by the un-elected Qatari tribal regime for the strategic interests of its paymasters. Al-Jazeera’s constant focus on and exaggeration of events in Syria and its skimpy coverage of uprisings in Bahrain and the Saudi-ruled Arabian Peninsula have exposed its true nature. Coverage of Islamic awakenings further revealed al-Jazeera to be no different than CNN, which is customized for Middle Eastern audiences by forces imposing the current oppressive global order. Al-Jazeera represents a tailored concept and methodology of Western secularism and hedonism.
Many people living in countries with Western-backed authoritarian regimes that read, listen and watch Western media or its affiliates naively assume that there is genuine freedom of speech and opinion in the West. Yes, it is true that to a certain degree media in the US and many other Western countries appear freer than media outlets in Morocco or Bahrain, but it has less to do with actual freedom, and more to do with the sophistication of the oppressive systems of governance in the West. Tactical criticism in Saudi-occupied Arabian Peninsula is not allowed because the Saudi regime is too weak, discredited and despised; it is, therefore, much more vulnerable even to basic forms of criticism. The US government is not as weak and it has some support, especially among the ignorant masses. Therefore, tactical criticism does not harm US strategic interests internally or externally. However, as the US power started to decline sharply since 2001, even Washington and its allies resorted to crude tactics of media censorship. The expulsion of Octavia Nasr from CNN in 2010 and the recent closure of PressTV in the UK are clear examples of these oppressive tactics now being replicated by Western imperialist regimes.
The general concept of the apparent media freedom today is that criticism is allowed as long as it is tactical and does not offer an alternative to the imposed global order. Currently almost all media outlets criticize the economic policies of the IMF, the World Bank and the US government. It is fine to criticize the current global financial system as long as one does not present an alternative financial system such as the Islamic model or talk about alternate institutions to the current global financial set up.
Criticism of Western democracy is tolerated as long as no alternative is prescribed. It is fine to criticize the illegitimate US-installed autocratic regimes worldwide as long as no alternative model beyond the secular/materialist framework drawn up by the US is offered. Criticism of Mahmoud Abbas is absolutely in order but Hamas must not be presented as a viable alternative. Criticizing secular dogma is acceptable but an Islamic system of governance must not be presented as an alternative.
Wearing Che Guevara t-shirts is mainstream fashion today because his views are no longer considered a strategic threat even though Che Guevara fought and probably killed US security personnel. Try wearing a t-shirt with an image of Hassan Nasrallah or Khalid Meshaal and walk in the streets of North America or Western Europe and see what happens. Unlike Che’s ideology, their Islamic vision offers a concrete socio-political solution to hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide who aspire to establish an Islamic system of governance in their societies.
Media outlets must be examined based not on their criticism of certain policies but how deep and rational their criticism is and whether its agenda offers an alternative to the system or policies it criticizes. The unfortunate reality is that in many parts of the world Western corporate concepts of journalism frame the nature of discourse. The public is made to believe that media must be “neutral.” Neutral media is not only nonexistent, but also impossible. Every media organization has editorial policies that are based on the ideas of people, states, and societies that run them. The media in Europe and US are secular and propagate post-Renaissance values and dogmas.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with this as long as these media outlets openly proclaim that they follow a certain agenda and the information they feed to people is derived from an ideology they see as the best form of governance for humanity. They should also make a reasonable attempt to present the opposite side to their ideas. People everywhere must improve their media literacy skills in order to tell apart authentic alternative news sources from fake ones.