At Washington, DC's Middle East Institute June 2, veteran journalists Claude Salhani and Hisham Melhem analyzed the media's coverage of the Iraq war in America and the Arab world.
Salhani, foreign editor at United Press International and author of Black September to Desert Storm, opened his talk by noting there is now a "proliferation of Arab satellite stations in the Middle East"-many of which are accused of "over-coverage" of events in the Arab world. However, he continued, the news is occurring "in their own backyards," likening the coverage of Al-Jazeera and similar Arab satellite stations of regional events to the American media's "non-stop coverage" of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In addition to Al-Jazeera, Salhani said, there are 120 stations all over the Middle East, including Al-Arabiya, LBC, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi. The key question everyone is asking now, he explained, is whether these media outlets are spreading propaganda or covering news.
"For all their shortcomings, these stations have pushed ajar the door of dialogue and freedom of the press in the Middle East," Salhani said, "and they've introduced competition between medias."
Furthermore, he added, they have "taken away the monopoly of state-run television stations." Emphasizing the virtual irrelevance of state-run television since the advent of outlets like Al-Jazeera, Salhani described how the Syrian government's station aired a cultural documentary when Saddam's statue was toppled, rather than covering the breaking news.
Ironically, he pointed out, the U.S. State Department-funded satellite television channel Alhurrah similarly broadcast a cooking show when its Arab competitors covered Israel's assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. When violence erupted in Fallujah recently, Salhani added, Alhurrah once again neglected to cover the hostilities, instead choosing to show a documentary on monkeys.
Addressing the claim made by many, especially within the U.S. government, that AlJazeera is dangerous because it allegedly incites violence, Salhani agreed that it indeed is "dangerous"-but not for the reasons American officials offer. Rather, he argued, the channel is a threat to "leaders of the Arab world who've lost their domination of the media."
In fact, Salhani stated, Al-Jazeera regularly offers more airtime to American officials than does any U.S. network, and its correspondents in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem offer similar platforms to Israeli politicians. …