'US media see Al-Jazeera as biased'

Ben-Gurion University research finds reports over "Zionist genocide on Palestinians" are the norm.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
December 31, 2008 23:43
3 minute read.
'US media see Al-Jazeera as biased'

jazeera. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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"As hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe are protesting the US-armed and funded Israeli acts of war and Zionist genocide against the Palestinian population of Gaza, the slaughter continues with more bombings, siege and a blockade, plus a threatened ground war." So reads a description of the Gaza fighting on the home page of indymedia.org, the Web site of the Independent Media Center, which describes itself as "a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth." It is accompanied by a picture of burned and bleeding children, among the relatively few civilian casualties of the Israeli assault on Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. The photo is supplied by a Palestinian in Cyprus, and much of the information provided on Gaza comes from an Arab source as well. According to a study by Dr. Tal Samuel-Azran, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University's Communications Department, this type of cooperation has become the norm. "Alternative" media in the West, particularly in the United States, have become a hub for the Arab or Muslim perspective on the region's conflicts, a perspective that is not shared or regularly represented by the mainstream media. Samuel-Azran's study tracked some 1,600 broadcasts on major American networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, and the use these agencies made of the footage being shown in the largest Arab network, Al-Jazeera. His findings: Al-Jazeera has not been able to "inject" its perspective - including its more liberal use of bloody images and video footage - into American news broadcasts because it is perceived as too one-sided. "The advantage of the large networks is scale. They have the resources to create an international perspective, to awaken international audiences," said Samuel-Azran. Al-Jazeera is an Arab network on the scale of the American ones, he notes. "If you search for the word 'Israel' on YouTube - not 'Israel Gaza' or 'Israel Hamas,' just plain 'Israel' - you'll see Al-Jazeera at the top." On Saturday, at the start of fighting it was at slots #1 and 5, and remained among the top 10 videos on Israel by Wednesday. That on-line popularity is indicative of the channel's reach, says Samuel-Azran. Until recently, Western media deemed Al-Jazeera's most gruesome content too bloody and one-sided for broadcasting, Samuel-Azran's research found. For example, Samuel-Azran tracked three Al-Jazeera news broadcasts about American troops shaming Iraqi and Afghan civilians. "These three reports appeared zero times in the mainstream Western networks, but 700 times on major alternative outlets, including some such as [American liberal blog] DailyKos that have millions of readers," he said. Similarly, Al-Jazeera video footage of a bombing in Afghanistan in 2001 in which 130 civilians were killed was not broadcast on the mainstream networks, though similar footage had a significant media presence in the United States 10 years earlier, during the First Gulf War, when it came from CNN. "Al-Jazeera says its broadcasts are objective and contextualized, and that this is how the Arab world sees the war," said Samuel-Azran. "They say the difference between their broadcasting and the West's comes from a different cultural perspective. "But the American networks feel that Al-Jazeera is more like Fox, pushing a specific perspective," he explains. But what may be true for the mainstream networks is not so in the alternative media. "There is a kind of connection or coalition developing between alternative media in the West and the large Arab networks," Samuel-Azran found. "It's born of necessity. "Indymedia, for example, has the Western audience with a hunger for information, but can't reach the places where events are happening or broadcast them in a professional way," he explained. "Al-Jazeera, on the other hand, has the reach and the resources, but can't get a Western audience for its product through most of the mainstream media. "Al Jazeera hasn't planned this influence," he said. Rather, "it's created by a hunger in some parts of the West for this information, particularly in countries such as Australia and Britain where Al-Jazeera is seen in a better light than in the US." Even in the US, sites like DailyKos and the US government-funded Govteen.org function as part of this connection. On general forums at the Govteen.org site, Samuel-Azran located photos from Al-Jazeera uploaded by teenagers as part of discussions about the region. "Once Al-Jazeera photos were shown there, other members of the forums started to ask why they didn't see these pictures on CNN," he says.

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