Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Why Al-Jazeera beats US ‘journalism’

It is hardly startling that Al-Jazeera would outperform American media in reporting from Cairo and other locations in the Middle East. There are two reasons for this, one of which is obvious and indisputable, the other controversial until one studies the question of US journalism in some depth.

Al-Jazeera reporter Sherine Tadros

Al-Jazeera reporter Sherine Tadros on location in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
[ Image Source ]

As a right-wing commenter observed, the Middle East is in Al-Jazeera’s “backyard.” Of course the network will tend to make a strong showing in reporting events from there, as exemplified by Sherine Tadros (above), who, with an AJ colleague, is one of two English-language reporters who actually covered Operation Cast Lead from the scene. However, that AJ should also outperform US networks in reporting from other regions of the world — including, as some have argued, the United States itself — is telling and should raise questions in viewers’ minds.

Apologists for the US media will tell you that it’s all about providing news that viewers want to see, and that Americans want news about their own country; thus, if media don't report international events in depth, it’s the fault of their insular audience. But this may represent a hysteron-proteron fallacy: It can also be argued that US media have never specialized in international news, and in consequence their audience has not been exposed to enough of it to develop a taste for it. Meanwhile, by such logic US media perpetuate and intensify the isolation of the American populace.

This lends itself well, however, to the real mission of the mainstream media, which is not to inform public discourse, but to mold it.

“Five companies,” according to a sobering article on the state of U.S. journalism that I strongly recommend reading, “now own the broadcast networks; 90 percent of the top 50 cable networks produce three-quarters of all prime-time programming, and control 70 percent of the prime-time television market share. The same companies that own the nation’s most popular newspapers and networks also own over 85 percent of the top 20 Internet news sites.”

With news producers so few and so large, fewer perspectives are on display, ties to local communities that once sustained meaningful reporting have melted, and the owning corporations’ profit motive has become the principal criterion for decisions once left to editors. Meanwhile, close links among the executives controlling media corporations, and between them and senior government officials (particularly those ideologically aligned with them), assure that the news contains no investigations potentially embarrassing to those parties. Further, the age-old fear of offending major advertisers now inhibits coverage more than ever; presumably, media executives don’t want to explain to their golfing partners why their news organizations are conducting an expose that threatens the latter’s profits.

What all of this adds up to: The opinions, perspectives, needs and desires of the ruling elite are now represented almost exclusively, at the expense of everyone outside that elite, who can expect indifference or hostility. Dissent has not been censored out of our media by the government; it has been crushed out by the power of big business.

So, next time you watch a US news channel “reporting” on developments in Egypt, you need no longer wonder why it does so by interviewing grim-faced US officials kvetching about the (irrelevant and mostly illusory) danger to US interests.

Originally published as a review of a businessinsider.com article on the relative reporting performance of US media and Al-Jazeera.

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