Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Control Room

I just finished watching Control Room, a documentary about Al Jazeera's coverage of the Iraq War. I was expecting to see a movie that would show me how the Arab satellite network is a mouthpiece for violent and extremist Islam. What I actually saw in the movie was quite different.

In no way does Al Jazeera come off as malicious in the documentary. Although they obviously are coming from a very different perspective, they do try to remain objective. The network tries to cover aspects of the Iraq War that matter to Muslims, which means in part showing civilian casualties and American POWs. The former is much easier to justify than the latter. You can see through the documentary that their coverage questions whether the war really is improving Iraqi lives. What also rings true is the horrors of war in a very up close and personal way. American media doesn't cover war like that anymore because it turns the country off of war.

When I reflect on the movie, I realize that all media outlets try to remain objective. The nature of journalism though makes it impossible. Each outlet must decide what to cover and how to portray it. In the end, your own biases effect your coverage. American outlets didn't show as much civilian death on the news, while Al Jezeera focused almost entirely on that. Both are appealing to their audience by showing what is important to them. The lesson seems to be that the best way for a viewer to get as much informaiton as possible is to watch the news from different perspectives. In fact, a press liason for the US military, who is featured often in the movie, realizes this on camera when he says he can identify what is being left out of news stories when he watches Fox or Al Jazeera.

What I am most disappointed in is the misunderstanding that still persists about the Arab satellite network. Al Jazeera is not a mouthpiece of any government or ideology. Although they are definitely biased in favor of their Muslim audience, they are independent. This is something that needs to be acknowledged a little more in Western media. Since Al Jazeera is launching an English-language network, maybe they can help their own cause here in America.