The Effect of Al-Jazeera

Class this last week was another one that was rather interesting. Professor Hayden was out, but Professor Kelly stepped into to make sure that we still had a lecture. This class was actually rather interesting primarily due to the movie we watched in class. It was a PBS Frontline movie called, War of Ideas. The main focus of this film was on the rise of the media stations in the Middle East and how the United States in particular was reacting to them.

It was actually quite amusing to watch Americans “freak out” slightly about Al-Jazeera. What I am mainly referring to here is a scene in which the reporter/narrator meets with a gentleman from Accuracy in Media and we see the man talking about how he was sending letters to cable providers who refused to carry Al-Jazeera. We later discussed this event in class and how it is actually a bit of a disservice to not allow the American public access to Al-Jazeera. A point which two members of the military who appear in the movie agreed.

It’s quite obvious by this brief description that the movie itself is old as Al-Jazeera can now be found in the United States and it could always be found online. But, the gentleman from Accuracy in Media reminded me of one of the readings we had for this week. “Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?” written by Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy looked at the effect that Al-Jazeera English had on viewers. The gentleman (I wish I could remember his name) argued pretty vividly that Al-Jazeera was solely a “mouthpiece” for Al-Qaeda and as such should not be watched because it would corrupt the minds of people. But, in this study Powers and el-Nawawy found that those who ended up watching Al-Jazeera English were watching Al-Jazeera English to reinforce what they already believed. “In the same way that viewers tune into particular broadcasters for information that will affirm their pre-existing opinions, they also seek out broadcasters that prioritize international issues that they are particularly concerned with” (Powers and el-Nawawy, 2009, p. 278).

The results that Powers and el-Nawawy found did not really surprise me and I almost feel that the gentleman from Accuracy in Media was not thinking of this when he was sending letters and asking for Al-Jazeera to never actually make it into America. I kind of wonder if he would have reacted the same way had he known that the only people watching Al-Jazeera English would be those who already disagreed with what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East?



Powers, S., & El-Nawawy, M. (2009). Al-jazeera english and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?. Media, War and Conflict, 2(3), 263-284. doi: 10.1177/1750635209345185


2 thoughts on “The Effect of Al-Jazeera

  1. Becky,
    That documentary was definitely one of the most interesting I’ve seen (though that’s not saying much, as you know I’m not a huge doc viewer…but still) because of the fear factor. I almost wonder whether the fact that we have so many media channels means that ‘mouthpieces’ lose their power. There’s definitely something to be said for your concluding question-I don’t think he would have reacted the same way because, let’s face it, we don’t get involved in other countries’ affairs unless they effect the US directly. And often, that’s at the cost of development. At dinner tonight, a few of us were discussing why it is that America invaded Iraq- because at the time of the invasion, the nation was truly starting to make developmental progress. Of course, now they’re back to square one.
    As media students, the case of Al-Jazeera makes for an interesting one. Does it foster the feeling or is it just another way for us to catch a glimpse of what’s going on in other countries?
    – Tara

  2. Becky, I think you have a really good point here. One of the things that we discovered in our group was the power of combining entertainment with education and your post about Al Jazeera reminded me vividly of FOX News in the US. Now, in this case, I use both terms loosely, but the fundamentals apply. An “educational” message is more powerful when paired with “entertainment.” With FOX News and Al Jazeera, you could argue that it’s not so much entertainment but a satisfaction of seeing your beliefs reinforced on television, but that is another debate.

    The Shannon-Weaver model suggests that noise prevents a message from getting from a sender to a receiver, and in media the noise is usually entertainment. In combining entertainment and media, a message gets across more effectively and therefore further cements the worldview affirmed by these news networks.

    This raises a whole new challenge for those trying to propose a new paradigm: if you pose an alternative concept and try to share that message with people watching these networks, the noise in the model is now edutainment espousing the opposite side. I think this hits at the heart of public diplomacy today: how can you fight a message that both affirms what people already believe and presents it as objective information at the same time?

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