It’s something strange those days to read on Western press about “Al Jazeera‘s biased coverage” (Al Jazeera is always taken as the symbol which stands for the entire Arab media) on the Gaza issue. I am frankly doing all my best to try to be “objective”, by watching the Arab media coverage without making any political statement on it, just as an analyst. But, after hearing such kind of comments on Western newspapers, it is very difficult to stay even calm. I remember very well what happened in “my” media (I am Italian, European, Westerner: therefore here I mean Italian, European, Western media) after 9/11. News objectivity meant at that period to strictly stick to the “us” imperative: those attacks were against “us” as the “West”, “we” were hit, and therefore the “united West” should start a war against terrorism, for which we know that “our soldier” were bravely engaged in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. “We are all Americans”, this was the slogan always heard, in the majority of all the media. In Italian media, would you have dared to ask even a small question or to introduce a doubt in this theorema you would have been immediately accused to be anti-American, therefore anti-Western, therefore almost a terrorist.
My question now is: how we can expect the Arab media to be cold and rational in front of what’s happening to an Arab land, Gaza? How we pretend to have this objectivity while we never had it, at least in the past few years after 9/11? And why do we pretend the Arab media to stick to news values that our media themselves don’t have anymore?
The shift towards different news values from the past “English school” of being impartial, objective, without caring about the context in which the news are given is something which begun during the nineties. The scholar Daniel Hallin calls this trend “commercialisation of news” and states it is a global trend, which has being raising in popularity during the all news stations booms. To gain audiences, those new born stations should involve and engage the viewers emotionally in order to create a “story” that could grab people’s attention for a long time. It’s during this period – and for commercial reasons, first- that the old British school “commandaments” to impartiality have been replaced by those of emotional proximity and involvement. It’s during this period that the anchors start to address with the word “us” to the viewers.
Later, 9/11 has emphasized this situation with a political colour, too, which it didn’t have at the beginning.
The Arab scholars El Nawawy and Iskandar speak about “contextual objectivity” in the case of Al Jazeera. They state that maybe the “objectivity” at its large has never existed, so the concept should be replaced by the “contexual objectivity” which means to be objective to the respect of that particular context where journalists or media professionals are operating.
Al Jazeera is an Arab station, and Gaza is Arab, too. Al Jazeera’s correspondents live and operates in Gaza, so they are experiencing the same tragedy people are experiencing there. As we Westerners did in 9/11, being “all Americans”, even if the Twin Towers where not located in Rome or Paris.
Al Jazeera is giving airtime to the reasons of the Israelis, and has interviewed Livni and other Israeli officials. This is their duty as journalists, and they made it professionally: but, then, can we reproach to them to be on the Gaza’s side?
On the contrary, very sadly I don’t see many “other opinions” on our media, overwhelmed by the “we” issue. But, at this time, who is “we”?
I try to be objective in the context where I am, which is the Arab world. On a personal level, I could never state that what’s happening in Gaza is not a humanitarian tragedy. On a professional level, as an Arab media analyst, after watching “their” coverage and “our” coverage of Gaza, I could never state “we” won the battle.