Monday, December 05, 2005

Control Room

My perception of the Al Jazeera television network was that this is the network that broadcasts the Osama Bin Ladin messages and that it is the most popular news network in the Arab world. This is, of course, filtered through a very American lens. It is difficult to say what the reality of the network is without actually being a part of that world or even that network, but "Control Room" attempts to bring us that perspective. We are invited into the world of Al Jazeera where the network producer tells the viewer that it is his job, his passion to have an entirely fair news broadcast that presents different viewpoints and gives voice to those who are willing to speak. The network has criticized Arab governments and has been officially banned in several nations. It sounds so democratic.

At the same time the people at the network are talking up Al Jazeera there are clips from speeches and press conferences held by Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush saying that what Al Jazeera is doing is wrong and it isn't balanced and that the network is trying to undermine the war in Iraq (this film was shot in the early days of the US invasion) by showing the violence and aftershocks of the violence and that the network is distorting the truth. Al Jazeera counters with saying that they are only showing reality and that United States can't have it both ways, to have a war and also to be shown as entirely peaceful. This is as much of a clash of ideology as it is about the truth in Broadcasting.

The Army's press liaison asks an Al Jazeera newsman if the people at the network can be entirely unbiased and report only the truth with no shadings of interpretation. The newsman counters by asking if the Americans can do this. Of course, we know the answer is no. Fox News and CNN and all of the other channels shade the reports, especially in the early stages, with Pro-American slants. It is expected, though not truly "fair". I think that the issue the United States officials and military has with Al Jazeera is that it doesn't blindly support the United States and that it does offer differing perspectives and that it does give voice to those the US finds offensive. Perhaps even the network is Anti-American, though the film does not truly give that opinion. The perspective the film is showing us is that Al Jazeera is a truly free network and possibly the only truly fair network. But even that is spin.

"Control Room" is an excellent documentary and gives a rare look into a world Americans never see and a network that Americans only hear rumors about. Here is another side of the story, one that is worth watching, and one that is well worth learning about.

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