From an award-winning young journalist, a revealing account of the rise of the network the Bush administration, Fox News, and London tabloids love to hate.
And why not? The virulently right-wing, pro-American Fox News, writes English media critic and business consultant Miles, isn’t aired in the UK because it violates that nation’s strictures on “due impartiality,” whereas Al-Jazeera is by comparison a model of restraint and balance. And if American viewers find Al-Jazeera biased, it is largely because “the popular American media has not reported particularly comprehensively about foreign affairs for years,” such that the messenger who brings the news that the Arab street is full of hatred for America will be the one to be shot. Miles describes the birth of Al-Jazeera only a decade ago as the voice of a newly democratic—and newly fabulously very, very rich—Qatar; the network’s name means “the peninsula,” as Qatar is. Soon after, the reformist emir abolished the Ministry of Information, and Al-Jazeera was suddenly free to report as it saw fit. Which it has done with careful balance (its slogan is “The opinion and the other opinion”). Which is precisely what has outraged the Bush administration and its handful of allies, Miles notes: By giving Osama bin Laden a voice, Al-Jazeera put itself on the side of the enemy, though, Miles adds, the network’s Washington bureau chief observed that bin Laden’s sending videotapes to Qatar was much the same as the Unabomber’s sending faxes to the New York Times. But Al-Jazeera is used to such controversies, Miles comments: in recent years, the Palestinian Authority has denounced Al-Jazeera as a Zionist tool after the network exposed its corrupt leadership, even as Israel denounced Al-Jazeera for being a PLO front and American soldiers busied themselves shooting at Al-Jazeera correspondents in Iraq for their crime of having aired images of atrocities and burning cities.
“Al-Jazeera,” Miles concludes, “is probably less biased than any of the mainstream American news networks.” All to his credit, he makes a strong case.