28 January, 2009

Al Arabiya vs Al Jazeera

To communicate and reach out to the Arab and Muslim world - it is no surprise that President Obama chose Al Arabiya News channel as the first Arab media to have an interview with, instead of Al Jazeera; his advisers must have told him that the former is gentle and lenient with its news on America, while Al Jazeera has been too critical of it - at one time nearly getting Mr. Bush to bomb their station down. Al Arabiya had to be the one to be rewarded with the exclusive interview.

Like most people here, I missed the interview and only came to know about it and listen to some of its excerpts from the other news channels. Like most people here, I find Al Arabiya news rather subjective and conventional. They rarely bring dramatic 'breaking news' or 'reveal' the hidden; while Al Jazeera - or Al Jazira - has always been fearless, at times - reckless, and has never backed from presenting dissenting or controversial news or views; Al Jazeera has always been innovative and has always lead. So, I, like the millions of other Muslims and Arabs in other places I have been to - watch Al Jazeera most. Mr. Obama would have reached a much larger audience through Al Jazeera; but, well - I can't blame the Americans for having chosen Al Arabiya.

It's surprising that the Al Jazeera English channel has turned out to be a very tamed version of its Arabic sister channel; it hasn't been as innovative and fearless as the Arabic one. Or, may be for some reason, it has been put on a leash. Just as Al Arabiya is a tool of the Saudi rulers, Al Jazeera is a tool of the Qatari emirs. Both are controlled by their respective owners and both serve their owners first. Al Arabiya would never present any thing critical of Saudi Arabia, especially its rulers; and while Al Jazeera never backs from attacking other Arab and Middle Eastern leaders, I have never heard it ever criticizing in any way - Qatar. Still, whatever might be said about Al Jazeera: it's the only Arabic channel that most of us know of here, that has through the years presented and reflected the views and mood of the "Arab street".

Both channels can not be compared to International ones like the BBC or CNN or Farnce24; all these three, like most mainstream western media - are tools, too, for their respective western countries. And isn't China's CCTV a tool for China? Still, neither Al Jazeera nor Al Arabiya can dare to go hard on any issues in their respective home countries and report objectively or negatively on those issues. While Western news media have played essential, effective and trans-formative roles in their countries, the two main Arabic channels have never done that for their domestic countries. Western news media would investigate and research hard and deep on any wrong or odd doings of their leaders or of those in authority; Al Arabiya can in no way be able to do that in/for Saudi Arabia; neither can Al Jaeera do so in/for Qatar.