Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 70

Al Jazeera’s Greater Influence U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Andrew J. Good Al Jazeera’s greatest strength may be its ability to provide uncensored global news to its Arab audiences and an Arab perspective to other viewers. For these reasons, Al Jazeera has attracted loyal and diverse audiences all around the world. Its influence on its viewers’ global perspectives is unmatched. Al Jazeera’s viewers are loyal because it adheres (for the most part) to its foundational principles, such as reporting both sides of every story. Adopting the motto “the opinion and the other opinion,” and creating programs “intended to stimulate debate and controversy,” it has challenged the status quo of Middle Eastern media and the absolute power of authoritarian governments.26 The network strives for objectivity and balance by providing a variety of programming marked by diverse viewpoints and opinions. Unlike other media outlets within the Middle East, Al Jazeera has sought to open dialogue on some of the most controversial topics in the Arab world, such as government corruption, illicit sex, and other taboo topics. Even in topics previously covered from only one perspective by Arab media, such as the PalestinianIsraeli conflict, Al Jazeera has offered both sides the opportunity to present their viewpoints and perspectives. Another principle that has dramatically bolstered Al Jazeera’s audience loyalty is its effort to serve as “the voice of the voiceless.” Its reporting highlights many of the ills of the global society and the lives of those who suffer, especially those who perceive themselves as disenfranchised. News coverage is not limited to official statements from those in power. Reports try to bring out the human interest perspective of every story, including civilian casualties from war, starving families in refugee camps, and widowed spouses of police officers. Al Jazeera’s wide popularity and tremendous influence extend beyond the Arab world to the worldwide Muslim community, a community that the DOD and U.S. Government have struggled to communicate with. In fact, recent findings by the Pew Research Center suggest Muslim countries’ opinions of U.S. policies have decreased by 19 percent from the time of a similar study in 2009.27 By contrast, Al Jazeera enjoys relative popularity and trust within these same countries. According to author and Middle Eastern affairs expert Dr. Glenn Robinson, “the data I have seen shows that not only is Al Jazeera by far the most watched source of regional and international news among all Arabs (at about 50 percent), Al Jazeera is also the most trusted source of news in the Arab and Muslim worlds.”28 Recommendations for Fostering a Culture of Engagement with Al Jazeera In the spirit of Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better,” I believe the most important first step the DOD can take to foster a culture of engagement with Al Jazeera is to understand and learn to appreciate, the organization. The simplest way to accomplish this is through face-to-face meetings with the senior leadership of Al Jazeera in Doha and its leaders in Washington, D.C. Although scheduling and travel could pose challenges, a first step such as this would demonstrate a willingness to move toward a better relationship. Although the DOD media relations team should spearhead this effort, DOD senior leaders should be active participants, especially in visiting the headquarters in Doha. Ben Foley, left, cameraman, and Bernard Smith, correspondent, both with Al Jazeera EnAt either location, all initial converglish News Channel, ready their equipment for a broadcast from Forward Operating Base Kishtiwaln, Helmand province, Afghanistan, 20 May 2012. sations should be informal and off 68 July-August 2014  MILITARY REVIEW