Monday, May 02, 2011

Al Jazeera's War on Syria

Al Jazeera's War on Syria - by Stephen Lendman

A previous article discussed Al Jazeera's war on Gaddafi, accessed through the following link:

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2011/04/al-jazeeras-war-on-gaddafi.html

Discussing its recent programming, it explained how compromised it's become. For example on Libya, it's been largely Western/Qatari propaganda, not legitimate news, information, and analysis.

It's Syria coverage has been similar, providing its host country regime friendly reporting. Qatar is part of the Washington-led NATO anti-Gaddafi coalition. Shamelessly, Al Jazeera News channel (JNC) is on board supporting it.

Like America's media and BBC, JNC's biased reporting got one of its prominent journalists to resign in late April - its Beirut chief and host of the popular Hiwar Muftuh (open dialogue) program, Ghassan Bin Jiddo.

According to the Lebanon newspaper, As-Safir, it was to protest its recent coverage of Arab uprisings, saying:

The broadcaster "has abandoned professionalism and objectivity, turning from a media source into an operation room that incites and mobilizes. Ghassan Ben Jeddo believes JNC no longer pursues....independent and unbiased policies, and quite conversely, is in pursuit of a certain type of (policy) regarding the brewing uprisings in the region."

Professor AbuKhalil's Angry Arab News Service also expresses sharp criticism of Al Jazeera's less than credible reporting. He said Bin Jiddo resigned for the above reasons and because of the broadcaster's "recent radical shift....in alliance with the Saudi-Israeli alliance in the Middle East....Ghassan belongs to the Arab nationalist mold and is a fierce supporter of resistance to Israel."

He had great influence at JNC, nearly became director-general before Waddah Khanfar got the job, so his resignation "will bring further embarrassment to the network."

AbuKhalil also said he's heard directly from others at Al Jazeera Arabic and English that "the majority are quite irate" about network coverage, especially on Bahrain, but also on Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, making all of its reporting suspect.

In late April, a report from a supposed eye-witness, identified as dentist Mohammad Abdul Rahman, about alleged clashes between security forces and protesters in Homs, Syria, were, in fact, fabricated.

After its airing, the real Abdul Rahman called the Syrian Satellite Channel. Condemning the false use of his name to provide unsubstantiated information about Homs, he said:

"I was surprised when one of my friends called me saying that my name was aired on Al Jazeera as an eyewitness....I didn't call that channel. The broadcast statement is false and is in the framework of the huge media incitement campaign targeting Syria by this channel."

It wasn't the first time. Another man identified as Ammar Wahud, told JNC he was one of the protesters with information on Baniyas demonstrations. This time, however, it backfired when on air he said:

"There are mass protests in Baniyas but they are all in support of President Bashar Assad." He then criticized JNC's biased coverage but was stopped when the interview was abruptly ended.

In mid-October 2010, the Morocco Board News Service also condemned JNC for not covering Polisario dissident Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud's "odyssey from the Moroccan city of Smara, where he voiced his support (for) the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Saraha, to the Algerian city of Tindouf where the separatist Polisario Front arrested him and sent him to an Algerian prison."

Moroccans are mystified about JNC's lack of interest, especially after its news team earlier covered stories about anti-Moroccan activities in the region. They're also outraged about JNC's biased coverage of human rights abuses in Morocco and Algeria, as well as siding with Algeria on the Sahara dispute.

"Moroccans, like other Arab viewers are starting to see through Al Jazeera's screaming programs and theatrical discussions."

Despite its earlier credible work, it now has a "country-by-country a la carte agenda," picking and choosing between accurate and biased reporting, tainting all its work in the process.

For concerned Moroccans and others in the region, JNC's avoidance of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud jailing by Algeria's army provides proof of its "influenced and prejudiced policy." Featuring other stories instead, his disappearance got short shrift.

As a result, Moroccans are tuning out. "It will take more than shouting matches and anti-Israeli rhetoric to convince" them otherwise.

On February 21, the New Media Journal (NMJ) headlined, "Al Jazeera and Middle East's Quest for Democracy," saying:

What began as a noble experiment more recently deteriorated visibly. For example:

"During the Egyptian uprising, (JNC's) biased reporting became even more obvious....reign(ing) in its reporters," perhaps under pressure to do it. Now "its true colors are fast emerging. Bias is clearly seen (in its coverage of or lack thereof) about Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Algeria, Bahrain, and, of course, its host country Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.

"This is indeed unfortunate and (shows) when it comes to support(ing) democracy, (JNC was created) to give it lip service (but instead offers) biased reporting (of the kind) it accuses America or the American media of" doing. Unless it returns to its roots, it "will find itself in a dead end, much like some of the dictators it pretends not to support."

Too often, however, JNC replicates Western reporting. As a result, it's now part of the message presenting managed news, not unbiased reporting. That could be its undoing, at least as a source for real news, information and analysis, what too often it avoids.

Even Foreign Policy took note, now a Washington Post publication. On February 1, it headlined "The Al Jazeera Spotlight," saying:

"There are various reasons why (some of JNC's coverage) is lopsided and selective. Some of it has to do with the Qatari monarchy's own diplomatic interests. A decade ago, Al Jazeera used to annoy the Saudi regime fairly regularly....until Riyadh (complained to) the Qatari government." After it intervened, "the TV network softened the nature of its reporting toward Saudi Arabia," and also slanted its other coverage.

Its bias largely depends on where Qatar stands and to what degree other nations influence its positions. In other words, it's like BBC, supporting Britain's agenda the way its founder and first general manager, John Reith, once explained, saying:

"(You) know (you) can trust us not to be really impartial."

BBC never was nor has been to this day. In fact, most, perhaps all, Western media are deeply comprised by state and commercial interests. Increasingly it's no different on Al Jazeera.

Now living in London and Dubai, Ghanem Nuselbeh is a Palestinian closely following Middle East events. Interviewed by Just Journalism on April 12, he expressed views about JNC's reporting, saying:

As a Palestinian, he "had very high hopes for Al Jazeera, as the region's first relatively impartial news channel....To put things in context, we must remember that (it's) sponsored by the Qatari government and to a large extent, is an instrument of Qatari public diplomacy."

"Qatar is one of the West's leading regional allies, and home to (US CENTCOM bases)....Al Jazeera has in many instances been cutting-edge, and even revolutionary. For example, it was the first Arabic channel to use the word 'Israel' as a noun, rather than adjective, and to put this on the map. (JNC) also provided a platform for public debates about topics that have hitherto been considered taboo in the Arab World."

But its "lack of coverage of Bahrain" and other regional countries "has undoubtedly damaged (its) image (on) the Arab street and I think this will take a long time to mend....I have also noticed significant variation between how (its) Arabic and English language channels report things."

Angry Arab News Service Comments on Al Jazeera's Syria Coverage

April 29: JNC's "coverage has become so comically lousy that they in fact really help (Syria's) propaganda (by) making it easy to discredit its coverage (and the fact that its coverage seems to be coordinated with....Al-Arabiyyah....the lousy news station of)" Saudi King Fahd.

April 28: "The main complaint about (JNC's) coverage is not that it covers Arab upheavals but that its coverage is selective. "Any person can call and claim to be a 'witness in Syria' (and get) put on the air and allowed to say anything," without checking its accuracy.

April 25: "You see the evidence of the Saudi-Qatari counter-revolution plot in the coverage of" Al Jazeera and (Saudi-controlled) Al-Arabiyyah. "They used to cover everything differently. Lately, the coverage is exactly the same: they devote the same amount of time to the same issues and they even use similar propaganda pieces."

April 23: "What Al Jazeera does not cover - dictatorships of the GCC."

April 14: Despite good Qatari - Syrian relations, JNC "never covered Syria uncritically....But lately, there is a shift: the coverage of the Syrian regime became more negative and government propagandists are visibly mocked and ridiculed (which is fine if it employed the same tactics with Saudi and NATO propagandists), and lately the channel relies on sensational Saudi propaganda sheets for coverage."

For example, it "cited the more sensational and unreliable propaganda Saudi outlet, Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat (mouthpiec of Prince Salman and his sons), in its reference to a 'secret Syrian intelligence' document. (It's) so clearly made up....The paper admits it lifted it from Facebook pages, and (its written instructions urge) goons of the regime to kill a certain number and to even shoot at soldiers. With Saudi media, I cite the Babylonian Talmud: they lie when they tell the truth." Too often, Al Jazeera replicates it.

Current Al Jazeera Reporting on Syria

On May 1, JNC headlined, "Death toll rises as Syria crackdown continues," saying:

"Syrian forces have continued their military crackdown in the flashpoint city of Deraa....shooting dead the son of (an) imam, witnesses say."

Another unidentified witness said, "We are totally besieged. It is a tragedy." Still another said, "The bullets are flying straight over my head as we are talking. It's so close."

JNC admitted it "could not independently corroborate the witness accounts." Why then were unverified comments aired, besides offering no other views.

On May 1, JNC headlined, "Syrian protesters stay defiant amid crackdown," saying:

"Anti-government protesters in Syria are planning further demonstrations....undaunted by a violent security crackdown unleashed on them."

Again quoting an unidentified "source," it said "(H)undreds of people have been arrested....in Deraa. (It's) been blockaded since Monday, when the army went in backed by snipers and tanks....But no matter how panicked, or concerned they are, (protesters) say their morale is still high."

On April 30, JNC headlined, "Blood continues to be shed in Syria," saying:

"Amateur videos....show deadly crackdown continu(es) in major towns," providing no information about who supplied them, as well as no other views.

On April 28, JNC headlined, "Syrian soldiers 'switching allegiances,' " saying:

Unverified "(a)mateur footage is said to show that some troops have been shot at from within their own ranks for refusing to fire upon protesters in the city of Deraa."

JNC admits it "cannot independently verify the footage," but reports nothing about instances of armed instigators firing on and killing security forces. Doing so anywhere, of course, generates a robust response, even in democracies.

A Final Comment

Media coverage aside, the forty-year Hafez and Bashar al-Assad dictatorship has been repressively harsh. As a result, like elsewhere in the region, protesters genuinely want democratic reforms and social grievances addressed. However, violence isn't how to achieve them, nor does international law permit nations to interfere lawlessly in the internal affairs of others, especially by inciting it for regime change.

Leaked WikiLeaks cables show Washington secretly financed Syrian opposition groups. Richard Perle's 1996 document, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security the Realm," recommended rolling back its regime. Washington's National Endowment for Democracy admits being active in the country. It operates to destabilize and oust regimes, not democratically reform them.

A March 30 Haaretz article reported a US-Saudi scheme to oust Assad, and on December 19, 2006, Time magazine writer Adam Zagorin headlined, "Syria in Bush's Cross Hairs," saying:

"The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad."

Citing a "classified, two-page document," Zagorin said Washington was "supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists in Europe." Moreover, US officials were funding and maintaining "extensive contacts with a range of anti-Assad groups in Washington, Europe and inside Syria."

At the time, according to an unnamed US official:

"You are forced to wonder whether we are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government."

Efforts then were being coordinated with the National Salvation Front (NSF), connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn't for democratic reforms. Though unstated, it was for regime change.

It now appears to be playing out violently on Syrian streets, and getting horrid media coverage explaining it, including by Al Jazeera, airing the same type propaganda as Western media.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/.