January 31, 2005

Arab Press Watch

Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq this morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision: should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?

After close to two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a bloodbath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story this morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the vote, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls...

...Perhaps the most ambitious effort came from Al Arabiya, which had eight satellite trucks broadcasting from across Iraq, as well as numerous video phone links from Mosul, Baquba, Ramadi and elsewhere, and live feeds from neighboring countries. To give particular emphasis to elections coverage, Al Arabiya also built a special studio for the event. Al Arabiya executives did not disclose the total outlay for the effort, but said it was significant.

"We think this is a very important event, not just in Iraq but in the Arab world," Mr. Hage said. "It's the first real democratic event in the whole region and it deserved the attention." Giving the event such special attention, Mr. Hage said, would help build Al Arabiya's brand as a critical news source, if not expand its viewership.

-- Hassan Fattah in the NYT

Of course, if you're Juan Cole, Bahrain '02, say, was more of a democratic event than today's historic elections. And, if you're Atrios, it's the Hercules. It's good to see Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera's coverage is more judicious.

Posted by Gregory at January 31, 2005 01:31 AM | TrackBack (93)

the only good thing that can be said about The New York Times coverage of the election is that the paper actually posted this article by Hassan Fattah. The online headline for the piece states very clearly what the rest of the Times coverage did NOT do: The Arab Media Decides to Focus on the Voting, Not the Violence.

Posted by: jim jordan at January 31, 2005 03:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The online headline for the piece states very clearly what the rest of the Times coverage did NOT do"

Interesting. The rest of the coverage was about other subjects ... Mosul, Basra, Baghdad, the British plane. That's probably why.

Posted by: praktike at January 31, 2005 03:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A big plus from the Arab media's point of view had to be the large number of Arabic speakers who wanted to talk about the elections.

I make allowances for some Arab media having political agendas of their own, but a key problem for the United States since the war started has been the tiny number of Arabic speakers who can speak on behalf of American policy, or at least against its enemies. For this story, Arab media would have had all the interviews it could handle with Iraqis enthusiastic about the elections and opposed to the message of the insurgency.

Posted by: Zathras at January 31, 2005 04:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not Al Jazeera. They had a non-stop string of reports of violence, interspersed with analysis that the election was illegitimate and no one was showing up [nice call on that one].

Both the english and arabic Jazeera websites had a list of every attack that occured on election day in detail. And the english website had a timeline of mistakes and disasters that occured from the removal of Saddam to date.

Compound that with the NY Times article that said that Al Jazeera's only problem was that it was "sometimes wrong" and that it aired pictures over and over that "also appeared on CNN", and it was a thoroughly horrible performance for the day.

Far be it for the NY Times to report that Al Jazeera uses stock footage of dead and injured women and children, and airs them during reports of an attack regardless of the incidents are related.

I also forwarded the NY Times editors two articles from Al Jazeera, one consisted of 2 men making up things about the conduct of American soldiers when raiding a mosque. One said that the soldiers urinated on the Koran, and drank alcohol inside the mosque. The other said a pretty common line, that the soldiers ripped up the Koran inside the mosque. That is almost like a sports athlete saying "i gave 110%" to the arab media.

Just once, I would like a sting operation on the stringers used by the arab networks. There have been rumors that they have paid Iraqis to incite violence in their reports. There was a report from Fallujah by a hostage that escaped, that an Al Jazeera cameraman filmed the hostage and the terrorist demands. Healing Iraq posted about Islamists that were trucked in to chant hate behind a news report after a bombnig on his block.

Two other instances pissed me off. One was when an Al Jazeera news anchor took pride when a hostage being interviewed mentioned his kidnappers watched Al Jazeera for their news. Another on air highlight, was when an Al Jazeera anchor said that in his newsroom, they referred to those who worked for the interim Iraqi government as "collaborators".

A final lowlight was a special feature that ran a few months ago that explained in explicit detail justifications for killing civilians in the course of jihad or "resistance". Truck drivers, politicians, professionals, medical staff, all were fair game according to the wild connections made by the Al Jazeera reporter.

Pretty disgusting stuff. Too bad they were just named one of the 5 top brands worldwide.

Maybe one of these days some of the vaunted reporting prowess from the New York Times or the Washington Post will actually be leveled at investigating Al Jazeera.

Not going to happen.

Posted by: Anon at January 31, 2005 06:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

'should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves? '

Incredible that the Arab media would have the same dilemma as the US Democratic party.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at January 31, 2005 12:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"We think this is a very important event, not just in Iraq but in the Arab world," Mr. Hage said. "It's the first real democratic event in the whole region and it deserved the attention."


Not in the whole REGION. I think there's a little non-Arab country rather close that regularly has these little things called elections.

Oh, sorry, that's right, they aren't LEGITIMATE since that country isn't supposed to exist. My bad.

I don't mean to diminish the importance of the Iraqi elections one iota. I just couldn't help but notice how casually the democracy in Israel is ignored.

Posted by: Dan S at February 1, 2005 08:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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