Would we be announcing something new if we said that the Arab media, in general, takes certain things into consideration that have nothing to do with its professional role with regards to its coverage of the revolutions and protests that erupted in our region, and continue to rage in a number of countries?
Of course not!
Nevertheless, we find people making this announcing every day, as if it were a new discovery. This is not made from a position of neutrality or as part of a call for the media to take a comprehensive and serious approach in response to what is happening, but rather from the position of the aggrieved party which has been hit by the reality of the situation after being informed otherwise.
Last week two incidents occurred that confirmed what we had previously realized about the Arab media. Both situations revealed the extent of the dilemma and confusing facing Arab satellite television channels with regards to reporting what is happening.
A recording of a live interview between an Al Jazeera television presenter and Palestinian writer Dr. Azmi Bishara displayed the latter’s reluctance to talk about the situation in Jordan in the same manner that he had addressed the protests in Syria. This recording also exposed the television presenter’s [political] bias, and accordingly the bias of the satellite channel’s administration.
This lapse was enough to transform the manner in which the Syrian media portrayed Dr. Azmi Bishara, to the point that he was described as an “Israeli” whereas previously he had been lauded as a “prominent intellectual.” Whilst Al Jazeera was described as being a “conspirator”, with state media speculating on whether its offices in Damascus would later be the scene of protests.
Another leak happened with regards al-Manar TV channel whose presenter was put in an awkward position when his Egyptian guest insisted on not limiting his comments to the situation in Cairo, rather he spoke in a general manner about the revolutions and uprisings taking place in our region, implicitly criticizing the Syrian regime and the manner in which it is dealing with the protests and demonstrators. These comments visibly shocked the television presenter, and undoubtedly embarrassed al-Manar TV’s management.
The two aforementioned incidents were quickly met with a shower of comments, particularly on the internet, regarding the mistakes of the media, and the problem of the media’s[political] bias.
Actually, this bias was strongly confirmed by the Arab revolutions and protests that have taken place in a number of countries [and the manner in which the media covered these]. It was no surprise that a television channel like BBC Arabic emerged as a dominant force by demonstrating a capability of covering events in every country without being affected by government agendas.
BBC Arabic’s proficiency was not derived from its professional dynamism, but rather from the great confusion in the coverage of other Arab satellite television channels. It seems that revolutions, in some fashion, represent as big and severe a test for media outlets as they do for regimes.
Al Jazeera switching its position, in just a matter of days, from one of being sympathetic to the Damascus regime to a posture of siding with the protests demonstrating against it, this has produced a paradox which has had an impact on both sides of the equation, that is, Syria and al-Jazeera.
The shrapnel from this change of position has struck Syria’s official discourse by unmasking its insubstantiality as it shifted from praising Azmi Bishara to denouncing him as a “former intellectual”, a newly-coined term never used before by any media outlet.
As for the aftershocks felt by Al Jazeera, these have been of the same kind. The act of switching overnight from a position of describing the Syrian regime as being a regime of “resistance” to a position of labelling it as “repressive” will undoubtedly raise many question marks with regards to the ease with which it changed its position.