Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Al Jazeera's "Listening Post"

Al Jazeera's weekly Listening Post is an absolute must for anyone interested in issues related to journalism, international media and ICTs. It usually covers a broad range of media-related stories, not only bringing in various perspectives on issues the program chooses to focus on that week but also raising questions that can easily be ignored and/or forgotten when mixed in with the usual news digest. Especially here, in the US.

With very rare exceptions, the program is very interesting (certainly recommend watching it; if you're not hooked on it yet, that is), and although there could be - as always - certain improvements here and there, I would say it is by far among the best programs, if not the best, of its kind in terms of analyzing issues pertaining to international/foreign media.

I thought I'd highlight this week's episode, especially because the second major story it covers is Russia Today. I won't be talking much about RT here, since I was invited to provide a short comment on the issue, which is in the program itself. And then, the readers of this blog already know my "feelings" about RT all too well, so I don't think I need to repeat myself too much.

The program did a very good job in encapsulating the major issues surrounding RT, its "origins", its coverage and (questionable) credibility, especially in such a short period of time. I was happy to see them address - very diplomatically - the question of RT's Director Margarita Simonyan, RT's sources of funding and desperate attempts to shine on the international scene. However, the problem is not in that they don't shine; rather, in that they shine in a negative light. The conspiracy theories, stories on aliens and pet fluff are all true. I'm just glad RT seems to have gotten rid of the ridiculous "language learning" program.

There were a couple of things, however, that the Listening Post didn't really touch upon. The first one is the issue of how RT actually promotes many of the very stereotypes of Russia held in the West, all the while claiming that it has set out to challenge these very stereotypes. The other is the evaluation of RT as an actual public diplomacy tool. After all, the members of its audience are not "blank slates": they perceive and selectively process the provided information based on their worldview and preexisting beliefs.

RT seemed to be enthusiastic about having the Listening Post do a piece on them - reporters and the director herself gave what looked like quite extensive interviews. Yet, Ms. Simonyan seemed rather perplexed by the actual "outcome". On her twitter feed she commented [translated from Russian]:
"Al Jazeera is bashing us in their program today. We are, they say, propaganda and generally trou de cul. I'm amazed at their shamelessness :) After all, the entire world knows that their boss... was getting CIA instructions on the coverage of the Arab Spring. Wikileaks leaked all these negotiations. But no, they still pretend to be an independent media organization."

And the war is on. Yet again. This time it is Al Jazeera, not Fox News.

This is not to say, of course that the rest of the program does not merit attention. The first part on the coverage of the assassination of the Iranian scientists is a great angle that deserves a separate post in itself. The other one I wanted to point out was the bit on the mysterious assassination of a Pakistani journalist, whose case was never really investigated. Very timely, especially after the lame promise to "investigate" the murder of Mukarram Khan Aatif. There we go - yet another name on the list. Hrant Dink, of course, is on that list, too. Just happens to be a different country and under a slightly different set of circumstances. But that's a different post, as well.

To conclude this one, in short: watch the Listening Post! :)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting piece...
    Very concise and apt comment shown by Al Jazeera.
    With all due respect to A.J. and some Western media, I have mixed feelings. I do not watch RT regularly to be able to claim whether or not they are engaged in propaganda. But on many occasions I had a good chance to see how CNN and even "venerable" BBC and others (I will not even begin to discuss such truly propaganda tools as VoA, Radio Liberty, etc.) engage in propaganda, promote stereotypes, distort facts, provide one-sided coverage.
    What annoys mostly, however, is hubris of some Western journalists. They have the right to bash RT (and I may share their opinion at times) but nether they themselves, nor the media outlets that they work for are paragons of unbiased reporting... Yes, how many literate people you can find in the UK who would say that the Independent is truly "independent" and provides objective coverage.
    Well, my point is not to "defend" RT but to stress once again and sadly that media in general is sliding down further to being merely propaganda tools.
    The first piece in that A.J. program (on the assassinated Iranian scientist and univ. professor) is a telling example...