Journalistic and Political Nature of Aljazeera
Info: 9196 words (37 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Dec 2019
Aljazeera news station started broadcasting in the mid 90’s, after the venture of BBC Arabic with Saudi Arabia backed network orbit failed, that was after differences over editorial censorship and policy. Since Aljazeera launched, there have been a lot of public debates and controversies, as well as academic arguments surrounding it, though neither the station’s critics nor its supporters can fully deny that Aljazeera had a massive regional and a global impact on the world.
In this study, through a significant evaluation of three media models, I will critically evaluate and examine scholarly works on the journalistic and political nature of Aljazeera. My study will fully be focused on two key points, the first is an analysis of the primary models identified by academic works on the news station Aljazeera, and the second is an assessment of whether the concept of a ‘model’, as used in social sciences, applies to all the programs that Aljazeera broadcasts.
The primary model, ‘Aljazeera: A power for Political Islam and Arabism’, considers Aljazeera as promoting Political Islam and Arabism. The second model, Aljazeera: The believer and advocator of Democratic ideals and Journalistic Professionalism,’ which sees the station as a force for freedom, democracy, change and human rights. Professionally, Aljazeera also incorporates an affirmed commitment to a form of balanced reporting and objectivity. The third model, ‘Aljazeera: Propaganda driving force,’ looks at Aljazeera as serving the interests and policies of Qatar. My evaluation of the scholarly works on these three models is organized alongside four principle lines of analysis. The first would be to assess in what way(s) and to what extent each has taken into consideration the historical development of Aljazeera. This includes the cultural, the ideological and political environment in which the network came into existence, and how all this has influenced its operations.
The second line of analysis sets out critically to evaluate the models, using empirical evidence as employed by a variety of academic works on Aljazeera. The third line of analysis connects with the three models in term of their main conceptual frameworks, outlining principal criticisms planned around Aljazeera’s news-reporting stance, whether envisioned in terms of news ‘contextual objectivity’ ‘objectivity,’ or ‘propagandistic bias’. The final line of examination connects with the methodological approaches that many scholarly works adopts, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. My methodology includes a close and critical reading of studies about Aljazeera, the three models in controversy, and a thorough comparative analysis of academic work on Aljazeera.
The thesis concludes by arguing that there is an immense overlap between the academic works examined, that Aljazeera’s main purpose and aim is to serve the policies and strategic objectives of Qatar, within the complexities of both the relationships within Qatar ruling Al-thani family, and its competing precedence with its neighboring countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is however, a great deal of dissimilarities between the studies examined in regard to whether in the process of carrying out this primary role, Aljazeera has not only distorted and changed the Arab and global media scene, but also changed its co-host Qatar. I have also concluded that there is a great deal of harmony amongst the works analyzed, that Aljazeera provides a diverse media discourse, that if considered in its entirety and within the social, political and cultural context of the Arab world, could certainly qualify as a media model. One other area of overlap among the studies examined is that Aljazeera’s output can’t be seen as a homogeneous entity, as there are huge differences between current affairs output, news and other programs.
Organization of the Thesis:
Chapter One: Introduction
- Justification for studying Aljazeera and its various models.
- Research problem.
- Aims of the study.
- Research questions.
- Plan of the study.
- Research questions
- Research plan
- Definition of the concept ‘model’
- Potential difficulties and intended solutions/ameliorations
- Methods of evaluation and analysis
- Chapter Three: Literature Review
- Part one:
- Global media theory
- New outlook on the global media scene
- Part Two: The Arab media scene and Aljazeera
- The Arab media scene before Aljazeera
- Arab satellite channels and the creation of a new Arab public
- The coming of Aljazeera
- Challenging the status quo
- Chapter Four: Review of scholarly work on: ‘Aljazeera: a force for Arabism and political Islam’
- Aljazeera: anti-establishment, biased, anti-Western and anti-Israel
- Criticism of the model from an historical perspective
- Criticism from an audience studies perspective
- Criticism from a conceptual perspective
- Criticism from a methodological perspective
- Chapter Five: Review of scholarly works on: ‘Aljazeera: an advocate of democratic values and cultural dialogue and understanding’
- Aljazeera: a revolutionary, objective, libertarian and pro-democracy channel
- Criticism of the model from an historic perspective
- Criticism from an audience studies perspective
- Criticism from a conceptual perspective
- Criticism from a methodological perspective
- Chapter Six: Review of scholarly works on: ‘Aljazeera: a propaganda agent’
- Aljazeera: a tool serving the policies and strategic interests of Qatar
- Criticism of the model from an historic perspective
- Criticism from an audience studies perspective
- Criticism from a conceptual perspective
- Criticism from a methodological perspective
- Aggregate conclusions and discussion of scholarly works on the three models examined
Chapter One: Introduction
The media in the Arab world, particularly satellite news broadcasting, have dramatically changed since the first attempts by the Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) to broadcast news in a way that tried to imitate Western broadcasters such as Sky news, CNN and the BBC, during the early 1990’s (Seib,2008). Now there are hundreds of satellite television stations serving the Middle East, dedicated to news and current affairs (Al-Theidi, 2003; Sakr, 2001, 2005; Sayid, 2007; Miladi, 2013; inter alia). The beginning of Aljazeera, however, in November 1996, marked a major development in the way news and current affairs were presented to audiences across the Arab world. Numerous controversial issues and subjects, that were taboo before Aljazeera came into existence, became matters of daily discussion in Arab living rooms, coffee shops and public discussion forums (El-Nawawy and Iskandar, 2003; Al-Jaber, 2004; Zayani, 2005; Miles, 2005; Lynch, 2006; Miladi, 2013; inter alia). This led many researchers such as Lynch (2006) to argue that Aljazeera played an important role in creating an Arab public sphere. Lynch notes that Aljazeera brought a new kind of open, contentious public politics in which plethora of competing voices clamored for attention” (Lynch,2006:2). Lynch also states that this new public that Aljazeera influenced, “was highly self-aware of its own role in changing the status quo, giving it a self defined sense of mission that sometimes sat uneasily with the standards of objectivity of journalism, and challenged the status quo with a fierce drive toward internal reform and foreign policy changes” (Lynch,2006:3).
This new interest in Aljazeera led to a huge number of studies on the station, each one speculating and asking all sort of questions about this new media phenomenon. Some of these scholarly works argue that Aljazeera was and still a driving force in changing the region and in challenging the traditional north-south flow of information (El-Nawawy and Iskander, (2003); Zayani, (2005, 2007); Qusaibaty, (2006); Zayani and Sahraui, (2007); Seib, (2008); inter alia). For example, Zayani and Sahroui (2007) state that “the very existence of Aljazeera is revolutionary… Aljazeera has brought noteworthy innovations to Arab broadcasting and reporting, airing hard-hitting programs, bold and uncensored news coverage” (2007: 23). Others give the station an immense amount of credit to being one of the most important factors that led to the ‘Arab Spring’ (Dabashi, 2012; Seib, 2012; Khatib, 2012; Cherkaoui, 2010; inter alia). Doherty (2011), for instance, argues that “it was Aljazeera that first grasped the enormity of the Tunisia uprising and its implications for the region, and Aljazeera which latched onto – critics would say fuelled – subsequent rumblings in Egypt. And audiences around the world responded: the network’s global audience has rocketed” (Doherty, 2011: 1).
Mahroum (2011) sees eye to eye, affirming that Aljazeera coverage of the Arab spring was one of the main factors that led to its success in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. He stated that “Aljazeera’s coverage was instrumental in toppling Arab regimes in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia” (Mahroum, 2011:3). Which led many researchers, e.g., Sakr (2001), Nawawy and Iskander (2003), Miles (2005), Zayani (2005), Lynch (2006), Qusaibaty (2006), Loory (2006), Rushing (2007) and Painter (2008), to consider Aljazeera as an agent of human rights, democracy, change and freedom. Though on a professional level they argue that Aljazeera is an advocate of high journalistic standards that encourages contextual objectivity, and a well balanced fair reporting of the events in the world.
On the other hand, researchers, such as Ajami (2001), Chafets (2001, 2002), Zakaria (2004), Hudson (2006), Khashoggi (2002) and Rinnawi (2006), and Cherribi (2006), see Aljazeera as a standing for values of political Islam, Arabism that places these centre stage in the Arab world. They regard Aljazeera’s claims of professionalism as superficial and unrealistic and argue that Aljazeera’s advances these ideas by encouraging anti-Israeli, anti-American, Anti-Western, and by seemingly appearing to be anti establishment in the Arab world. Aljazeera, while cultivating these sentiments, pushes audiences towards adopting the ideology of Arabism, which includes the values of political Islam. Contrary to this point of view, Hanson (2013), Dorsey (2013), Al-Sadi (2012), Anzawa (2011), Abu-Rab (2010), Azran (2010), Al-Tamimi (2012), Fandy (2007) and Kenana (2006), are amid those who regard Aljazeera as a propaganda agent that is serving the interests of Qatar. For those researchers, Aljazeera may seem like it is anti-Israel or anti-Western and pro-Arabism or pro-Islam, but this is regarded as a deviation from its real motive, which is to serve the interests of Qatar.
Therefore, three clusters of ideas emerge here, when, taken together, could comprise a model that may offer some explanation of Aljazeera’s nature, practices and journalistic performance (Al-Sadi, 2012; Azran, 2010; Anzawa, 2011; Fandy, 2007; Cherribi, 2006; inter alia). What these previous studies have failed to bring, however, is a broad analysis of these models in a wider context, that is taking into account empirical, historical methodlogical or conceptual analyses. Moreover, most of these studies relied heavily on the collection of interviews, statements, declarations, remarks and personal experience, during encounters with Aljazeera or visits with its employees, without any attempt at constructing a coherent and systematic argument based on strong academic strictness. For example, Al-Sadi (2012) was interested only in examining the argument that Aljazeera channel is compliant to Qatar’s interests within a limited scope, without providing any clear and detailed outline of each of the three models, in a conceptual context or historic or in any other relevant context.
Other researchers, such as Miles (2005), Zayani (2005), Lynch (2006), and Powers and El-Nawawy (2009), used accessible open source materials as well as the many interviews they conducted with Aljazeera present employees or former employees, which helped in providing their own analysis that lacked a clear methodological framework and a strong systematic analysis. My research, on the other hand, will attempt to examine each of the models in a detailed, measured way that outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each within conceptual, historic, empirical and methodological contexts. This will all be done through a comprehensive analysis of the utmost relevant academic studies that were done on Aljazeera and which specifically dealt with the arguments mentioned in the three models in my study.
Al-Sadi (2012), Seib (2008), Sakr (2005), and Entman (2003), were most likely the first scholars to apply and refer the concept of model to Aljazeera’s journalistic practices and nature. Despite the fact that Al-sadi (2012) referred to Aljazeera’s practices within the context of a paradigm approach (referring to a model), Saker (2001,2005,), used the word in a much wider sense. Though he did not provide any specific grounds, conceptual justifications, or methodological for the use of the term ‘model’.
The concept of the model, nonetheless, had deep-rooted uses in natural sciences before finding its way into social sciences.
Therefore I will analyze the concept as how it is applied in various academic works done on Aljazeera, and examine in the next sections the extent to which it does or doesn’t represent the station’s programs and output.
Justification for the study
Investigating Aljazeera’s professional performance and nature, within the framework of the three models identified through the analysis and examination of scholarly works on Aljazeera station is a very significant endeavor. I will argue that such analysis can provide an important contribution to the scholarly understanding of Aljazeera. Moreover through the analysis and examination of these academic studies; I will attempt to answer some of the questions the every scholar, journalist and researcher would want answered; such as the style of Aljazeera’s journalistic performance, Aljazeera’s nature, and its reputed influence in the Arab world and beyond.
My research, however, will also attempt to find out the nature of the relationship between Aljazeera’s host country ‘Qatar’, and the network itself, as presented in many previous academic studies. This is also very significant, for the reason that Aljazeera is not only an Arab media phenomenon, but a key global player, not only broadcasting in Arabic as it has set to when it started in the mid 90’s, but also broadcasting English-speaking channels. Aljazeera has also local Arab channels, such as Aljazeera Egypt, Aljazeera Turkish and Aljazeera Balkans. My study also presumes Aljazeera’s importance for the reason that it is centre stage in a region that is going through foremost changes, where the media is playing a key role in these changes, especially Aljazeera (Abul-Nasr, 2013; Abdul-Jalil, 2012; Douga, 2011; Hijjawi, 2011; Cherkaoui, 2010; inter alia).
This research aims to answer two main questions:
- What are the key contending models of Aljazeera, and what are the accompanying strengths and weaknesses of each of these models, as outlined in various academic studies?
- To what degree does the perception of the ‘model’, as examined in various academic studies, represent Aljazeera’s programs?
To answer these two main questions, there are other sub-questions which form integral parts of the analysis:
- What does each model say about Aljazeera, as studied in various academic works?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each model?
- How important are scholarly works examined on Aljazeera, in relation to their contribution to understanding the station/network?
- Does Aljazeera, within the context of the three models identified, provide a unique model that is an alternative to existing perspectives, or is it just a different media discourse?
- How and when did the concept of a ‘model’ come to be utilised regarding Aljazeera?
- Does each model identified stand separately, or is there overlap between the identified models for Aljazeera, as examined by academic works?
- Does the concept ‘model’ fully or partially represent Aljazeera’s output?
- Is Aljazeera anti-American, anti-West, anti-establishment, while at the same time propagating an Islamist, pan-Arabism agenda, as examined by various scholarly works?
- Is Aljazeera a force for freedom, democracy, human rights and a contextually objective press? If so, doesn’t that contradict the stations claim to advance human rights, being a political campaigner and aiming to live by the values of objectivity in the media?
- What is the nature of the relationship between Aljazeera and its founders, the Qatari royal family?
- How does Aljazeera, as a media phenomenon, sit within the various works about global media theory?
My thesis will be divided into seven main chapters, Chapter one will include a brief introduction with a summarized outline of the aims of the research, the research problem and questions to be addressed, as well as the justification of the study and an argument about the importance of tackling the subject of Aljazeera through the examination of a mixture of various academic studies. Chapter two will investigate the multiple methodological approaches that I intend to pursue in order to achieve the goals of my research, attempting to scrutinize the concept of the model as it has developed in both applied sciences and social sciences. I will also place special importance on a cross-comparative approach that tries to explore, compare and evaluate various academic studies, and how they deal with the three models that I will be presenting on Aljazeera.
Moreover, I will outline lines of criticism of a few approaches and studies. Chapter three reviews the variety of literatures on Aljazeera and different theoretical frameworks for understanding media, with a specific focus on the global media theory, and I will also discuss the idea of Aljazeera media practices, and whether Aljazeera’s performance could undeniably be regarded as a unique media model. Furthermore, I will also explore in this chapter, the rise of Aljazeera onto the Arab media scene, its financing, its alleged political siding, its economic and social influence on Arab media in general and its structure. In chapters four, five and six I plan to critically evaluate and examine each of the three media models that I noted above which may apply to Aljazeera. Chapter seven will examine the conclusion I drew, discussion and final remarks about my thesis.
Chapter two: Methodology
Carrying out a research that attempts critically to examine various academic studies on Aljazeera is not an easy task to undertake, due to the enormous amount of research material published on Aljazeera all over the world. I have gotten a hold of a primary list from Aljazeera Studies Centre, which hires a number of people to conduct and carry out surveys for various institutions, establishments, and bodies across the world to gather all studies, theses, articles and any other written materials either published or unpublished on Aljazeera. It is worth pointing out that this list does not map out all the research that has been written about Aljazeera.
Moreover, what the list presents is a short description of these works, some of which are still under process, which obligated me to consult with the original source, or to get in touch with the scholar, where possible. In my research, I intend to go further than that, and to gather as much written material as possible, whether published work or unpublished work. There is, however a certain extent to the research I can gather. My thesis thus does not claim to have surveyed and read the entire array of publications written on Aljazeera, because of the vast resources that such a task would require, as well as the time needed to accomplish such an attempt. Having said that, I collected and sampled what I consider to be the most important useful works, books, theses, articles, to fulfill the main goals of this research, and to help guide any future research on Aljazeera. In hopes, that my research will provide a contribution in the future, for the endeavors of other scholars and researchers, and clarifies some of the questions that I outlined in the previous chapter.
Comparative media studies in the Arab world:
Despite the fact that there have been a vast number of studies in the West that have attempted to compare various media (Hallin and Mancini, 2004; Aalberg, Aelsta and Curran, 2010; Baek, 2009; Curran, et al., 2012; inter alia), in the Arab world few comparative studies about media have emerged in the past few decades. Amid these studies, Abdul-all (1994) studied journalistic performance across a number of Arab countries, and was fully devoted to the legal frameworks in each of the countries he studied, namely Jordan, Sudan and Egypt. This research focused mainly on comparing media governing regimes. The study also failed to carry out any empirical or evidence based examination. Its main focus was on comparing these governing frameworks, even though it drew conclusions concerning journalistic practices without any supportive evidence to substantiate these claims. It heavily relied on some personal interviews that were conducted with journalists and other media practitioners. It also lacked methodological design and strictness.
Hamzah (2002) compared the ideas of privacy and freedom of the press in multiple Arab states, particularly looking at those that adopted a secular legal system, in contrast to those that adopted Islamic law. This investigation proved useful, though here again there was a lack of proper methodological design and strictness. Izaat, et al. (2006) investigated the concept of media freedom in Egypt and the Arab world, contrasting modes of ownership, journalistic practices, and legal frameworks. This study offers a clear mode of analysis, and a portrayal of different legal, journalistic practices, and ownership, with an exceptional attention given to Egypt, as it is the largest Arab country, but is short of any comparative aspects with regards to other Arab countries. Like the previous studies it lacked pragmatic evidence for some of the conclusions in it. The study’s approach to Egypt’s case could be explained as wide and, overall, useful. Al-Cheick (2012) compared multiple models regarding freedom of expression, in a few Arab countries that adopted certain Islamic legal values, with Western and authoritarian models. This study required focus on historical analysis, as well as any pragmatic evidence to support its conclusions. A common shared theme among the studies mentioned above is the shortfall of any pragmatic evidence to support their conclusions, as well as a loose methodological grounding and lack of academic strictness.
In my thesis, however, I plan to examine academic work on Aljazeera’s nature and journalistic performance, through the analysis of the three models that are applied to the network. My line of analysis will clarify the nature of these models, and whether they meet the criteria as models in their own right, or are just a diverse media discourse about Aljazeera. I intend qualitatively to interpret, guided by Cushion (2012), the whole direction of Aljazeera’s journalism, as investigated by a selected number of academic works, and therefore recognize the nature of Aljazeera by drawing on related sources concerning it. In my assessment of relevant academic works, I will comprehensively review the pragmatic data based on analyzing the key conclusions that these academic works reached, while paying great attention to certain works, as I will outline later in my sampling strategies.
Origins and definition of the concept ‘model’:
As a concept, the ‘model’ has its origins in mathematics and applied sciences. Giere (2004) states:
‘What is special about models is that they are designed so that elements of the model can be identified with features of the real world this is what makes it possible to use models to represent aspects of the world’
(Giere, 2004: 747)
Giere argues that such an illustration of the real world through the idea of a model is done “by exploiting similarities between a model and that aspect of the world it is being used to represent” (Giere, 2004: 743). The model representing the solar system would be an example of this, which is a fairly accurate representation of the actual solar system, but is not itself the solar system. An additional example would be the model that represents weather pattern changes over a certain period of time, for a better estimate and representation of actual weather changes. The table that represents elements (Ibid:747-748) is another example.
Giere argues that:
‘Models are constructed according to explicitly formulated principles. Physics is especially rich in such principles: Newton’s principles of mechanics, Maxwell’s principles of electrodynamics, the principles of thermodynamics, the principles of relativity, and the principles of quantum mechanics. But evolutionary biology also has its principle of natural selection and economics boasts various equilibrium principles’.
In accordance with this, the model structure process is achieved as follows:
The Real world hypotheses and generalization model principle and certain conditions
Scientists arrive at this principle of the model representing aspects of the real world:
‘ …by exploiting similarities between a model and that aspect of the world it is being used to represent. Note that I am not saying that the model itself represents an aspect of the world because it is similar to that aspect. There is no such representational relationship anything is similar to anything else in countless respects, but not anything represents anything else. It is not the model that is doing the representing; it is the scientist using the model who is doing the representing. One way scientists do this is by picking out some specific features of the model that are then claimed to be similar to features of the designated real system to some (perhaps fairly loosely indicated) degree of fit. It is the existence of the specified similarities that makes possible the use of the model to represent the real system in this way’.
Therefore, for instance, the model of a tower is a representation of some of the features of the building, but not all of them… In other words models are constructed “in order to explain and appreciate the world, and sometimes we call our simplifications theories, paradigms, and hypothesis” (Ibid: 4).
In social sciences “a model is a simplified picture of a part of the real world, it has some of the characteristics of the real world, but not the entire world” (Lave and March, 1993: 3). Little (1998) illustrates that the concept, ‘model’, emerges and is used in social sciences when there is no mathematics anywhere. The model, he argues, in this instance bears the meaning of theory or:
‘a system of related concepts to describe an idea or phenomenon. Quite frequently, use model in this way too, particularly with people who are not mathematical model-builders. The word helps convey the tentative and incomplete nature of the theory’
(Little, 1998: 2)
Lave and March (1993) state that there are four key stages in model-building: examination of some facts and observing them as if they were the end product of some process, entirely contemplating about the probable process that may have shaped these results, presuming other results (consequences, implications, predictions) from the model that was assembled, and finally questioning the validity of the outcome, the model, and moving on to produce a new model if necessary (Lave and March, 1993: 19).
An illustration of a model could be the connection between poverty/ deprivation and low health outcomes, if I observe families that live in dreadfully poor areas in a very bad hygienic environment, with an unhealthy food intake, and look at their overall health and speculate that as a result of their unhealthy living conditions, they are more prone to certain illnesses than families that live in wealthier conditions. In a parallel fashion, researchers have also tried to build paradigms/theoretical frameworks/ models about a number of social interactions and relationships.
After WWII and the evolution of television, for example, many researchers feared that long periods of exposure to violence on television, particularly amongst children, tends to effect child behavior in terms of violence and aggressiveness. Therefore a model is built about a cause/effect relationship between children exposure to violence of television, and the impact that it might have on their general behavior (Abdelmoula, 2012; Cherkaoui, 2010; Lewis, 1991; inter alia). Assumption is vital to the construction of models, and “models are created by speculating about processes that could have produced the observed facts. Models are evaluated in terms of their ability to predict correctly other new facts” (Lave and March, 1993: 19).
Little (1998) states that problem solving is the heart of models and model building. He puts in plain words that the model-building procedure goes through three key stages. The first procedure is to write down how I want the model to look like, and if it should produce computer output, in which case I may write down a list of output variables, or even a speculation about the form that I would like the results to take. In the second stage, I would look at the outputs and write down the inputs that I think would be required; values for parameters, relationships, data, etc. Little (1998) mentions that writing down the inputs entails that I have some kind of rough ideas about key phenomena, and cause and effect relationships. He speculates:
‘where do these come from? From past experience or general knowledge about the subject, often gathered by interviewing people who know about the problem and by reading background materials’.
(Little, 1998: 9).
The final stage, he declares, is to work on the model- what theories are required to switch inputs into outputs, what functional relationships are needed (Little,1998:8-9). Lave and March (1998) formulated three rules for constructing good models. The first is that a good model is an announcement about some process that is taking place. For example, consider your professor coming into class and forgetting to bring the syllabus on the first day of school. A good model asks why the professor forgot students’ syllabuses. This would be an attempt to uncover the process behind the professor’s action.
Building a model by supposing that professors always forget students’ syllabuses, because during the beginning of the semester they have much work and are bound to forget. The model then would try to develop implications or predictions of the process. For instance, in the above example about the forgetful professor, we might think of a way for helping the professor forget less often, maybe by getting one of the students to send a reminder to the professor before the beginning of the semester. Finally, to simplify the model, we could work out a system of reminding professors in advance of what they should bring to class before lectures, and it becoming standard policy. In this case we moved from a specific case study to solving a wider problem, while reveling at the same time the original process involved (Lave and March,1998:41-43).
Aljazeera: a distinct media model or just a different discourse?
Al-Sadi (2012), Seib (2008), Lynch (2006), Zayani (2005), Miles (2005), and Sakr (2001, 2005) were most likely the first researchers who used the idea of a ‘model’ regarding Aljazeera, arguing that Aljazeera’s journalistic practices fully qualify as a distinct media model, that is followed and copied by other stations in the Arab world and beyond. Seib(2008), for example, notes “Aljazeera’s success, in this regard serves as a model in the Arab world and beyond, an example of a news organizations with regional and global reach that are certain to proliferate during the next decade” (2008: 23).
In the same context, Franklin (2013) argued that Aljazeera gave a new media model to the Arab world, which mostly everyone is copying. This model, he argues, is defined by breaking taboos that other television stations in the Arab world dare not tackle (cf.seib, 2008).
Aljazeera, according to Seib(2008), also created a unique journalistic practice within the background of Arab and Islamic culture. He comments in his book “…satellite TV from the wider Arab world has forced Egyptian TV to get real and copy Aljazeera’s model” (Seib, 2008: 38).
This new model that Aljazeera brought in, though inspired by the many good practices of Western stations, has an original flavor in its application of the traditional idea of freedom of the press and media, balance, neutrality and objectivity, that emphasizes what El-nawawy and Iskandar (2003) termed “contextual objectivity”, that takes into consideration the historic and cultural distinctions of the Arab and Islamic world.
In the same context, Al-Kandari and Haque (2008) state that Aljazeera journalistic style brings a unique media model in the Arab world. This model, they state “…might seriously provide impetus for change in the Arab world” (Al-Kandari and Haque, 2008: 145). Ayish (2002) argues that current Arabic TV models can be divided into three groups. The first model describes the authoritarian, government- controlled television that airs government messages, where television is hired to serve the welfare and interests of those running the country, such as the national television in Syria.
The second model is semi-commercially owned, and is broadcasted according to the belief of liberal media applying Western journalistic ways. In this model, stories and headlines to cover are chosen depending on their newsworthiness in a regional and international context, whereas at the same time attempting to mirror pluralistic and critical views of society, along the aim of spreading values of democracy, transparency and freedom of speech. Ayish (2002) cites Aljazeera as the best embodiment and representation of such a model. The third model is stations that are fully controlled by the government, whilst at the same time integrating reformist elements that is certain Arab governments realized that people were totally deserting their broadcasting platforms to television stations such as Aljazeera. Broadcasters such as Abu Dhabi television are an almost accurate representation of this model (Ayish, 2002:140-142).
The flowing model suggested by Entman (2003) in order to clarify the process of manipulation and influence as shown in news about elite thinking, foreign crises, public opinion, offers a unique outlook to study a global media outlet like Aljazeera. Even though Entman’s model was specifically created in order to examine the power of interchange among the media and the White House spin machine, and the American government attempts to manipulate the framing of issues in news, with the intention of influencing the publics’ opinion, this model gives useful applications in the case of Aljazeera, particularly as it is becoming a global media player (cf.Cherribi, 2006:134). That is why Cherribi (2006) tried to adjust this model to the case of Aljazeera, stating that such an application would be fitting to hiding the role played by Emir of Qatar (as a picture of the role played by the state of Qatar), and other Aljazeera structures, and provides a diagram to explain the idea below as presented by Cherribi (2006: 135):
Administration Emir of Qatar
Other elites Arab League, Heads of
State, Islamic Institutions,
White House, Western
Media Al Jazeera Journalists, Al Qaradawi (Religious leader)
News Frames Framing words, framing images, Framing Fatwas
Public Arab Publics Polls, Other indicators
The above is Entman’s (2003) Cascading Network Activation Model Applied to Al-Jazeera by Cherribi (2006). Cherribi (2006) states…the first three terms in Entaman’s model – Administration, Elites, Media, are altered in representation to fit Aljazeera’s structure. In comparison to Entman’s figure, what was the administration or the White House was replaced by Emir of Qatar, who is the leader of the country and the one that allowed Aljazeera to come into existence and to continue broadcasting from Qatar. Elites included the Arab league, Arab leaders, Islamic institutions, and western leaders including the White House and U.S officials. Al-Jazeera channel and its journalists are in the next level, but with them is included an invariable factor, Al Qaradawi a religious leader who issues fatwas (religious edicts) and who has a big platform in Aljazeera’s programs. The next point is, News Frames, which remains as it is in Entman’s model. The last point, which is public opinion in Entman’s model, is in the case of Al-Jazeera’s focused mainly on pan-Arab and Muslim public opinion (Cherribi, 2006: 135-137).
All this, according to Cherribi (2006), is not something new. It is quite a portrayal of a medieval ruler who runs the media like any other state institution.
Zayani and Sahroui (2007) however argue that Aljazeera does not precisely fit in any of the models that cover the Arab world. They state that even though Aljazeera is financed by the State of Qatar, “Aljazeera’s control system is loose and its integrated systems aren’t up to the level of sophistication required” (Zayani and Sahraoui, 2007: 53). For Aljazeera to be a media model it has to fulfil many conditions.
In the same context, Iskandar (2006) argues that although Aljazeera has many accomplishments, it cannot be seen as an alternative media model. He proposes that Aljazeera news channel functions in much the same way as other mainstream institutions in the Arab world in the way of how the network plans and puts together its news stories. He also explains that the Aljazeera’s financing, structure, and ownership inflict a great deal of control on it being a unique alternative media model in the region (Iskandar, 2006). Fandy (2007) sees eye to eye with Iskandar, especially regarding Aljazeera’s financing, structure, and ownership adding that political ‘failure to notice’ of the station’s operation, by the ruling family in Qatar, as well as the absence of transparency over its financing, decision making, and operations which poses many questions about Aljazeera’s independence, and therefore casts further uncertainty as to whether or not it is a unique alternative media model.
Rinnawi (2006) goes further. He looks upon Aljazeera as a continuance of the dictatorial model that still controls the Arab world, directly or indirectly. This preventive model, he argues, carried on until the late 80s without the challenge that emerged from within the Arab world. Sakr (2001), Seib (2008), Abu-Rab (2010), Qassim (2012) and Al-Tamimi (2012) are among those who argue that Aljazeera channel is growing into a more responsible organisation that is institutionalized into the mainstream in terms of the adoption of journalistic professional standards, while retaining its unique Arab identity. They suggest that the station should aim to offer a serious alternative media model, not just in the Arab world, but globally.
In accordance with this, Thussu (2007 cf. Wessler and Adolphsen, 2008: 439-46) proposes an analysis of a media stream that sees Aljazeera among many channels that are challenging the traditional flow of news and current affairs from the West. He states that “There is evidence that global media traffic is not just one way – from the West (with the USA at its core) to the rest of the world, even though it is disproportionately weighted in favour of the former” (cf. Wessler and Adolphsen, 2008: 439-46). Sakr (2007, cf. Wessler and Adolphsen, 2008: 439-46) expanding Thussu’s point of view by upholding that the concept of contra-flow is not just about more creation capacity of news and current affairs in non-core zones, but also about the contact, help and even possible challenges that go between the newly set up counter flow outlets such as Aljazeera, and more established ones in the West. We could mention here for instance multiple cooperation agreements that Aljazeera signed with CNN and the BBC to cooperate and collaborate in a lot of areas, while each of these broadcasters and outlets maintained their independence and competitive edge. Abdelmoula (2012) explains that a lot of major organizations are entering into partnerships with Aljazeera, such as BBC, CNN, ZDF, NHK or others, because they see that Aljazeera provides an output that is unique, and at times challenging to what they do.
El-Nawawy and Iskandar (2003) see eye to eye with Sakr (2007), and propose that the standpoint given by Aljazeera and the other ASB (Arab Satellite Broadcasters) channels does not only challenge Western vision on current affairs, but also creates a connection between the two worlds, increasing the likelihood of understanding and cultural exchange. More precisely, “with its bold independence, openness, and freedom, Aljazeera can improve the communication between the United States and the Middle East and achieve the ideals of Habermas (1984) theory of overcoming the residues of ignorance and misunderstanding through enlightened forms of public discourse” (El-Nawawy and Iskandar, 2003: 10). Zayani (2010) argues that Aljazeera’s journalistic practices familiarized news practices and norms that eventually became well-known among media professionals, as well as researchers in the region, as the ‘Aljazeera model’, leading, as he notes, “to the reinvigoration of the culture of news broadcasting in some established channels and, subsequently, to the rise of competing channels and the development of a competitive media environment…aspects of Aljazeera’s journalism and some of its program formats started to be copied among various outlets operating within a hitherto congested media-scape” (Zayani, 2010: 185).
Zayani comments that Aljazeera’s formula and model for setting up the ground rules and practices for investigative journalism in the region “started to take root in a region that is not traditionally associated with free and democratic institutions” (Ibid: 185). He proposes that the Aljazeera’s climb to importance and recognition among media professionals, as a model should be copied, has impacted the “prominence of the news genre itself”, with many of the newly-established channels having “more clout and freedom” (Ibid: 186).
In other words, Zayani considers Aljazeera’s model as defying the current media practices and flow, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but also beyond, which resulted in the need to set up competing channels broadcasting in Arabic, by the US government (Al-Hurra), France (France 24), in Germany (DW Arabic), in China (CCCP Arabic), UK (BBC Arabic) and Iran (AlAlam). Zayani (2010) states “the rise of Aljazeera on the world media-scape represents a rupture in a hegemonic West-centric order controlled by multi-national corporations and aligned with Western view-points and interests, whether they are economic, ideological or geo-political” (188). From his point of view, Arab news channels are becoming more intimidating not only to media domination in the West, but also to the dominant position of core nations, represented by the global media theorists because channels like Aljazeera “are infusing the global media scene with contra-flow, which untie some of the hegemonic dynamics global media have been locked in” (Ibid: 188).
In my sampling of studies about Aljazeera I have selected a convenience sample as the best way to approach the study, since this method allows for a greater level of flexibility and ease of selection, and is suitable to the limited time-scale available. Deacon et al, (1999) explained convenience sampling “as less preconceived and direct, more the product of expediency, chance and opportunity than of deliberate intent” (Deacon et. al, 1999: 54). There are two forms of convenience sample- weak and strong. The previous could be defined as when “sample units or clusters are selected simply because they are nearest to hand. However, the strong where the sample units are focused around natural cluster of social groups and individuals who seem to present unexpected but potentially interesting opportunities for the research” (Ibid: 54). In my research, I have tried to select my sample around the bunch of studies that Aljazeera Study Centre collected about Aljazeera station, as the main sampling group.
The initial version of the collection of studies, which were published in 2011, had a total of 191 studies (61 PhD theses, 58 master’s theses, 49 books and 23 short studies). The most recent version, published in 2012, had 214 studies (68 PhD, 59 masters, 51 books and 36 short studies and papers). I have put into groups the sources published in these into primary and secondary sources.
Primary sources included a number of studies that looked at a variety of aspects about Aljazeera as their main area of study; these include El-Nawawy and Iskandar (2003), Ayish (2002, 2005, 2010), Alhassan (2004); Al-Jaber (2004), Abdel Rahim (2005), Miles (2005), Lynch (2006), Zayani (2005), Qusaibaty (2006), Zayani and Sahraoui (2007), Barkho (2007), Fandy (2007), Seib (2008 (2012), Hammond (2007), Anzawa (2011), Al-Sadi (2012), Powers and El-Nawawy (2009), and Abdelmoula (2012).
These academic works were dedicated almost in their entirety to Aljazeera, although they varied greatly in their approaches. Secondary sources were academic works where Aljazeera was not the main area of focus, but a significant section was devoted to Aljazeera, and those include Sakr (2001), (2005), (2007), Miladi (2006), (2013), Cherribi (2006), Tatham (2006), Thai (2010), Azran (2010), Cooper and Momani (2011), Abdullah (2012), Al-Tamimi (2012), Hanson (2013), and Dorsey (2013). These academic works bibliographies proved to be very helpful sources for accessing other studies. The third sample included academic works that dealt with wider issues about the media in the Arab world, and other parts of the world, but tapped certain aspects of Aljazeera as a media phenomenon; these works include Khatib (2013), Hroub (2013), Cushion (2012), Abdullah (2012), Kamrava (2011), McPhail (2010), and Hafez (2004), inter alia.
In choosing the sample to inspect over the course of the research, I gave importance to academic works that depended on multiple pragmatic tools to support the arguments and hypotheses of the study, particularly the studies selected within the primary group of studies. The rationale for this is that many of the academic works done on Aljazeera are very graphic in nature, and do not rely on strong pragmatic tools in order to test the hypotheses they put forward or answer the questions of the research. Research that depends on strong, scholarly and empirical tools has therefore been of importance in achieving the aims of my research.
An additional part of the chosen works that I will be examining is that the bigger the contribution the research makes towards answering my research questions, the more importance it is given. Some of the studies on Aljazeera would be of use in the theoretical chapter on Aljazeera, and may provide a useful tool to explain some of the points along the way, but it would not be regarded as a primary source of data or evidence collection, from which conclusions could be drawn and generalized.
Moreover I collected a number of other resources from other open sources such as Google search and from multiple academic journals about media studies in general, as well as making extensive use of Jordan’s University library. Via search words; such as ‘Political Islam, Aljazeera Arabism and Aljazeera and Islamists’; search engines revealed 188 studies and books. Of these findings I chose 23 which were not cited in Aljazeera’s own studies book, and had the ability to contribute to the study as secondary sources. Additionally, when I used search terms such as ‘Aljazeera, democracy and freedom’, search engines revealed 63 books and academic studies of which I selected 11 studies that were relevant secondary sources. Then again, when using words such as ‘Aljazeera agent for Qatar’ or ‘Aljazeera and Qatar’ or ‘ Aljazeera serving Qatari political agenda’, search engines revealed 2000 materials, of which 34 studies had already been selected as either primary or secondary sources during previous sampling strategies..
Lines of critical evaluation:
Steered by Cushion (2012) and Hallin and Mancini (2004), amongst others, I will significantly examine the journalistic performance and nature of Aljazeera, and whether it fits or doesn’t fit as a distinct media model, as studied in multiple scholarly works, on four levels. Initially, the historical level of Aljazeera will be studied to conclude to what extent multiple scholarly works took into consideration historic context in their analysis of Aljazeera’s nature and journalistic performance, in addition to how relatable this context is. Secondly, at the theoretical level I will analyze to what degree multiple academic works studied theories such as contextual objectivity, impartiality, balance, pan-Arabism, pan-political Islam, hegemony and propaganda, and if Aljazeera’s journalism fits within the confines of the concept of a ‘model’ as defined in social sciences. Thirdly, I will significantly evaluate academic works with regard to their pragmatic approaches to Aljazeera’s nature and journalistic practices, and how strong they are in terms of supporting the claims advanced. I will also attempt to reveal the strengths, common areas, and differences in each model, and whether there are areas of overlap among the three different models I identified. Finally, I will study and critically assess the methodological approaches of multiple academic works on Aljazeera, identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
Problems and difficulties:
One of the main problems I encountered in doing this thesis is the short time available I had to fulfill the tasks required, and to provide an inclusive yet systematic mapping of various academic works on Aljazeera, across the globe. Another problem is that the multi-lingual variety of scholarly works published on Aljazeera in different parts of the world and in different languages made it tricky for me to examine/collect them all. I could speak only Arabic, English fluently which meant that many other studies were beyond my reach. Some of the studies published in Aljazeera’s list were written in German or other languages. Trying to translate these works was not an option, because of both time constraints and financial factors.
I would have preferred to have had more time in order to carry out a much more intensive mapping of studies on Aljazeera across the globe, but this remains a task which others with more time and financial resources at their disposal may be able to carry out in the future. One additional problem that I came across is that even though this research aims to be as representative as possible of countries where Aljazeera was studied, I found out that the research done of the station was mainly dominated by the output of certain countries, namely the UK, U.S., Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria, alongside other countries largely beyond reach, either because it was difficult to access research materials, or because of the time constraints I pointed out earlier. I have established that Aljazeera channel has become a worldwide phenomenon, with studies having been conducted on it in China, Japan, India, Russia, Europe, and the Americas, and in a lot of different languages, which puts the importance of this research in attempting to uncover and examine the nature of Aljazeera in the spot light. In the following chapter, nonetheless, I will explore the worldwide context in which Aljazeera came into being, and its beginning and proliferation across the Arab world.
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