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10 19 2017

Jeepneys have to go, they are old and tired, but not at the expense of the poor and for the benefit of capitalists. (Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City/May 2017) 

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224/ Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World

Truth is sometimes unpleasant and gruesome, and I feel distressed when people ask me to dress it up. – Jihad Ballout, Al-Jazeera Spokesman

Hugh Miles wrote “Al-Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World” in 2006. More than ten years ago. Yet the persecution that Al-Jazeera faces today remains just as ridiculous but nonetheless perturbing.

Sometime in July this year, Qatar experienced a diplomatic freeze by its key allies and neighbors, i.e., Arab countries. Kibitzers call it unprecedented but, the stories of Qatar and Al-Jazeera being tightly interwoven, it’s a long time coming.

Miles recounts how Al-Jazeera encountered, during its startup years, antagonism from other media organizations, governments, and even its allies. It was perceived as an extension of the Qatari government being funded and chaired by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. It was accused of being a mouthpiece for Al Qaeda. It was upbraided for being a spy for Mossad and Hussein.

All this antipathy because Al-Jazeera was breaking borders for Arabs in terms of free speech. Unfortunately, as Miles correctly observed, “Free speech is not an unalloyed advance. It may seem paradoxical that when Arabs finally have a chance to express themselves freely they express illiberal views, but people are often more conservative than their governments.”

Too, Al-Jazeera was doing a brilliant job being at the frontlines just when a meteor-sized piece of news is exploding, sometimes even before it explodes. Media networks, like CNN and BBC, were of course green-eyed. But it’s how the Arab media behaved around and toward Al-Jazeera that baffles me. It was a lethal mix of envy and denial.

The besmirching of Al-Jazeera at this depressing time by the rest of the Arab media was an understandable reaction to the crisis. When the news is too ghastly to bear, shoot the messenger.

Might be that the Arab was just getting accustomed to an open culture of opposing views and bickering neighbors? Or to the quick-and-powerful-result of camera? “The PA [Palestinian Authority] has also come to understand that sometimes a camera can solve a problem sooner than a gun.”

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