The Al-Jazeera television network has been called many things, usually not very complimentary. The Israeli government says it is anti-Israeli, the Syrians call it a Zionist front. Some Arabs say it is a CIA plot, while U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has accused it of "working in concert with terrorists" and "consistently lying." The upstart Qatar network's remarkable story is now finally told in journalist Hugh Miles's book Al-Jazeera. Miles, an Arabic-speaking British journalist born in Saudi Arabia, tells how Qatar's liberal young emir, Sheikh Hamad, created Al-Jazeera in 1996, a year after coming to power in a coup against his own father. Shekh Hamad stunned the Arab world by liberalizing the country, giving women the vote, introducing limited democracy, and ending press censorship. Other Arab media outlets slavishly kowtowed to their governments and were distrusted by the public, but the emir gave Al-Jazeera complete editorial freedom. Its motto was: "The opinion and the other opinion." Arabs were amazed to see TV news that finally broadcast interviews with dissidents and held their governments accountable for policies. Some Arab states retaliated by closing Al-Jazeera bureaus, disrupting potential ad revenues, and breaking off relations with Qatar.
Al-Jazeera was already enormously popular in the Arab world when 9-11 occurred. After the terrorist attack, it became notorious for airing the communiqués and videos of Osama bin Laden and filing reports critical of the U.S. from its Iraq bureau. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell described Al-Jazeera as "horrible" and "slanted." One American newspaper called on the U.S. military to shut it down. Miles tells of how a U.S. bomb flattened the network's bureau in Kabul, while U.S. soldiers and aircraft killed and injured several of its journalists during the war in Iraq--although U.S. officials deny targeting the network. As Al-Jazeera gears up to open an English-language channel, Miles writes, its story will only get more interesting. No doubt! --Alex Roslin
From Publishers Weekly
After monitoring the Arab news station Al-Jazeera for the Australian news service Sky News during the American invasion of Iraq, journalist Miles decided to delve deeper into its workings. The result is a detailed, absorbing look at the organization, the world it covers and the international media. Since its inception in 1996, Al-Jazeera has been broadcast from Qatar, the tiny yet incredibly wealthy emirate situated on the Saudi Arabian coast and across the Gulf from Iran, "like a mouse sharing a cage with two rattlesnakes." In describing Al-Jazeera's rise, Miles illuminates the shaky balance the channel has attempted to strike between Arab thought and Western influences, and shows how it has become embroiled in internal conflicts and global scrutiny about what's appropriate for a news broadcast (e.g., American media outlets fumed over its initial airing of bin Laden's videotapes, but then followed suit). Miles contrasts these struggles with those of other influential TV news outlets, showing how Al-Jazeera is similar to CNN and the BBC (with its news scrolls, dramatic music and global coverage), yet still unique.
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