Western hegemony over global media

Imbalance is being corrected by the alternative media which is taking the internet route.

One of the great tragedies of our times is the near total decline in the credibility of the western media. There are some exceptions but only some. Since much of the global media, including India, is largely imitative, indeed, completely dependent on western sources for its international news, the lack of credibility attaches to it too. The harm this does in the arena of foreign policy is incalculable: influential sections of the elite become passive recipients of images or stories doled out by the traditional metropolitan centres of control serving their interests.

Happily, this imbalance is being corrected by the alternative media which is increasingly taking the internet route. This media will not, for a while, have the means for news gathering on the scale the mainstream media has. But, in time, it will. Almost the first consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the emergence of the global electronic media. Peter Arnett of the CNN clambered onto the terrace of the Al Rashid hotel in Baghdad to inaugurate the era of wars being brought live into our living rooms.
This was Operation Desert Storm. Two months later, BBC World Service TV was born.

Most visible

Naturally, this dramatic live coverage projected the Anglo-American approach, something which came across to the Arab world as the most visible form of Arab humiliation, an Arab defeat in the Arab drawing room.

I am surprised how this turn in coverage of wars and conflicts – Bosnia, the two Intefadas, Israel-Hezbullah war, occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – is not mentioned as one of the potent catalysts for what came to be further amplified as Islamic terror. It was to provide ventilation to Arab suffocation that the rulers of Qatar, at that stage not on the best of terms with Saudi Arabia, launched Al Jazeera. This coincided with the BBC World Service retrenching staff providing the new Qatari outfit with world class technical and editorial media personnel.

Since open societies like India would not resile from habits inherited from the colonial period – for foreign affairs turn to AP, Reuters and BBC – the rulers of Qatar filled in the gap. From its inception there was a question mark on Al Jazeera. Qatar, after all was the regional headquarters of the US central command which was prosecuting all US military action from Iraq to Afghanistan. How could Al Jazeera co-exist with Centcom? How could it ‘independently’ cover Centcom military action? This coverage would stoke Anti Americanism on Arab, indeed, Muslim street.

Libertarians like Prof Fouad Ajami of John Hopkins University wrote scathing articles against Al Jazeera ‘harming’ the US project. Why blame Ajami alone: even Thomas Friedman was describing Iraq as the greatest project the US had undertaken in the interest of peace and democracy. Why, Najaf’s Ayatullah Sistani was being recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize! And all this wonderful work was being undone by Al Jazeera.

Secretary Colin Powell went ballistic. So agitated was Pentagon that Al Jazeera office in Kabul was bombed. Its principal correspondent was jailed in Spain. Guantanamo Bay was probably not ready then. To arrest the impact of Al Jazeera, Saudis launched their own channel – Al Arabia. Al Jazeera became the global voice of dissent. Its credibility was priceless.

Its credibility having plummeted, the western media needed Al Jazeera’s credibility. The Arab Spring provided the opportunity. As dictators began to fall in Tunis and Cairo, the Kings and Sheikhs got together in a scrum. Forgotten was the Saud-Qatar antipathy. The two got together, first to coax a resolution out of the Arab league seeking a no fly zone over Libya and are now helping manufacture regime change, hand-in-hand in Syria. In both these enterprises they have thrown in the media they control –Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, its ‘priceless’ credibility placed at the US’s command.

This confluence of the western and Arab media has been brilliantly choreographed by military strategists. If a story is less credible or a downright concoction, it can always be sourced to the Arab channels. This the BBC and the CNN can then quote without harming their own bruised reputations further.

Peter Arnett inaugurated the era of live coverage of wars from Baghdad. Which face have you become familiar with in all the footage from Libya or Syria? You are told footage has been smuggled or flashed out by mobile cameras. The only face etched on my mind is of an eager young BBC reporter in Libya leaning triumphantly over the body of Gadaffi lying in a refrigerated warehouse meant for slaughtered animals.

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