Al-Jazeera, Advocacy and Media Value Determinism Re-Conceptualizing the Network's Coverage of the Arab Spring of Revolutions

By Galander, Mahmoud M. | Global Media Journal, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Al-Jazeera, Advocacy and Media Value Determinism Re-Conceptualizing the Network's Coverage of the Arab Spring of Revolutions


Galander, Mahmoud M., Global Media Journal


Key words;

Advocacy, Media Value Determinism, religio-cultural values, Islamic values, humanizing the revolution, faith-based image.

Abstract:

This article uses a new theoretical perspective developed by an Arab scholar to investigate the news coverage of the Arab spring in Al-Jazeera (Arabic), in search of a style of coverage that may be qualified as socioreligiously based brand of advocacy journalism. Two news genres, news cast and news report are analyzed to demonstrate that the coverage does not fit "objective" news reporting as defined in journalism literature, but much resembles advocacy style. Rationale for the channel's adoption of the style is discussed within the theory of "media value determinism," (MVD).

Introduction

Few non-western news channels have stirred controversy as Al-Jazeera has since its inception in 1994. The extensive coverage of the Afghan war and the famous airing of the Bin Laden tapes in 2001, compounded by the incessant coverage of the "Spring of Arab revolutions", have focused global attention on the channel, and brought to it both foes and friends. Of particular significance was its unconventional coverage of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, which some construed more as involvement than objective news coverage and thus, criticized as subjective and unprofessional (Gornall, 2011). Others praised the coverage as reflecting a well-merited role of the advocate of liberal political values. (Talk with the Chief, 2011)

The purpose of this article is to analyze the channel's coverage of the spring of Arab revolutions to identify the genres that may provide socioreligiously explainable advocacy type of journalistic reporting.

Al-Jazeera: a new Brand of Middle East Journalism

In an article about Al-Jazeera English debut, the New York Times drew the following comparison between the new channel and Al-Jazeera Arabic (Fattah, November 13, 2006):

"In effect, Al-Jazeera International intends to become for the developing world what Al-Jazeera became to the Arab world: a champion of forgotten causes, a news organization willing to take the contrarian view and to risk being controversial"

Though these may not have been the raison d'être for the establishment of Al-Jazeera, and Al-Jazeera English for that matter, observations of Al- Jazeera Network during the spring of Arab revolutions, show a style of reporting that begs the question: Is this form of "reporting the forgotten" a reflection of a type of journalism responsive to the needs of political change in the region? Or is it, in the words of NYT, "contrarian" and "controversial"?

When compared to western news channels, Al-Jazeera is, irrefutably, different. Unlike most western news media, it is owned by the state, not commercial; it subscribes to a libertarian editorial policy, yet avoids local affairs under the excuse that it is not a local news station (Galander, 2004) ; it enjoys wide popularity among the Arab masses, but is abhorred - to say the least- by Arab kings, emirs and presidents. Internationally, while its freewheeling coverage has generated research and academic debate, its reporting of the two recent wars of the region (Afghanistan and Iraq) has infuriated even liberal governments to the point of threat of violent action1.

Culture, Religion and Values of Journalism: A Theoretical Perspective

The controversy over al-Jazeera's genre of journalism may be linked to the political theory of media, which underlines ideology of society as the basic determinant of media control2. Such perspective emphasizes the existence of a direct relationship between economic and political freedoms, and press freedom (Merrill & Lowenstein, 1979). More recent contributions, like William Rugh'study of the Arab Press, have continued the strong politics-media relationship perspective. In his study, Rugh underlined the highly politicized nature of the media and concluded that freedom of the press in the Arab World was contingent upon the type of the political and social structure of society (Rugh, 2004). …

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