Sunday, September 04, 2005

Shooting the messenger

The Daily Express has flipped its lid with an insane call to ban the Al Jazeera TV channel, which is available in the UK on Sky Digital.

While there is almost certainly an argument to restrict individuals who preach hatred and violence, what’s the argument for banning the independent media simply because they give equal coverage to all sides?

Al Jazeera’s independent stance seems to have gotten it into trouble in the Middle East as frequently as in the West.

The BBC has two insightful articles on Al Jazeera, which provide a little background and perspective.

- Al-Jazeera's cash crisis
- Arab media go to war

In the first article, Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout believes freedom of commercial speech will win out. He points out that much depends on the spread of liberal values and free speech in the region.

It all depends upon the ruling circle changing their attitude towards phenomenon like Al-Jazeera," Mr Ballout said.

"They have to start realising that people have different points of view and perhaps they should be allowed to express them.

"People who express dissent don't have to be enemies."

The Boston Phoenix newspaper agrees.

So while there is fear in the West that Al Jazeera’s characteristic frankness is a danger, it is a feeling shared by powers in the Middle East too. That should be a cause for comfort, not concern, shouldn’t it?

However, the chief reason the Daily Express has got itself in a knot is because of Al Jazeera’s decision to broadcast a video statement by Osama Bin Laden. The Telegraph takes up the story.

This, of course, follows the broadcast of a statement by one of the London suicide bombers. When I heard of the video’s existence, admittedly the first thing I did was pop along to Al Jazeera’s website to see if I could watch it. I couldn’t find it, but I later found the video on the BBC – presumably courtesy of Al Jazeera.

Which kinda proves my point. We want access to information. We want to know what people are saying and thinking – even Osama Bin Laden and his minions. The BBC recognises that as much as Al Jazeera. How we process information is up to us. We shouldn’t be shooting messengers.


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