Blog Archive

Blog Archive – December, 2010

The Man Behind Wikileaks

December 25, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

He did not impress me initially, although from the first exposé, the video “Collateral Murder”, I was impressed by the organization’s work.Now with the tensions, threats, and internet war that have developed in the wake of the release of the U.S. diplomatic cables, the exceptional character of this young man is more and more evident.

First, I am completely convinced that these leaks were some government scheme to find a reason to control the internet. For those of us who use alternative news sources and our own intelligence to understand the malice and chicanery that Washington indulges in, much of the information in the cables is not new to us. But the Wikileaks program, especially the most recent release of hundreds of thousands of cables is an astonishing accomplishment that will become a historical watershed.  

Activists and enterprising, courageous journalists have been trying in their own way to inform and motivate the public and confront the excesses of American empire.  But none have succeeded like Wikileaks promises.  

Street protests and inquiries are just not enough. And today we have many angry and bright young people whose can combine their ‘hacking’ abilities with their sense of justice to bring new rules to the game of people and power. Whistle blowing has come of age. And thanks to Wikileaks, they have the outlet they need to disseminate the awful information we now find ourselves poring over. 

With the release of Assange from a British prison, he has become much sought after. On the one hand certain government s  want him. And on the other, the media have found him a person of real significance. Before his recent imprisonment, on more than one occasion, he abruptly ended interviews when the agenda changed and his host went beyond what was probably agreed beforehand. Walking out of an interview with a major network is a rarity in modern-day media.  That it itself tells us something about Assange. 

Also contrary to others who might be advised to stay away from media while under house arrest, Assange is making himself available to the media--some media. In the past few days he has given interviews with Al-Jazeera Arabic as well as the BBC and Al-Jazeera English. I had a chance to watch David Frost’s lengthy talk with Assange on his December 20th Al-Jazeera English program “Frost over the World”. It was a tour de force. Not by the veteran media personality Frost, but by the guest-- Julian Assange. This is a very bright and courageous man who knows exactly what he is doing and what his organization is capable of.  

On David Frost’s side, he like many celebrity journalists, has become rather conventional. He has lost his investigative bite. So that most of his conversations today are polite chats, lacking both challenges and revelations. This interview was  different and the camera focused on host Frost often enough to allow us to witness the awe which his guest’s replies inspired in him. This was a real interview, not a polite chat or a spar. It was apparent that Frost was captivated by the careful, articulate statements of Assange. That itself speaks much. 

By now most of you will have listened to Assange yourself. There are no evasions, no platitudes, no arrogance. He is brilliant in representing his organization, his aim and his legal problems. Normally lawyers might advise a client who is under police investigation not to speak to media.  But I would guess Assange’s legal team understand his special ability to address issues head on and to avoid entrapments or baiting.  

Having also heard Assange answer questions from Al-Jazeera Arabic TV host in another lengthy interview last week, I have even great admiration for his courage and lucidity. Many questions from Al-Jazeera were directed to forthcoming information from US-Israel diplomatic cables. This is perhaps the most sensitive of all US relations, and Assange prepared us that there would be some ‘controversies’ aroused by them. Simply to announce that cables directly related to Israel are forthcoming is in itself an act of immense courage. Stay tuned.  

[ The Man Behind Wikileaks ]

A view of Al-Jazeera TV from the Middle East.

December 10, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Although I am not in Doha, Qatar itself I watch the Al-Jazeera networks daily along with a host of other Arabic language channels. I refer not to Al-Jazeera English, which many Americans (mis)understand as the famous Arabic language TV network that came to prominence after the first Gulf War in 1991.  Al-Jazeera (Arabic) attracted worldwide attention and admiration for alternative views it offered with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. Today it remains a top news source where one can also find excellent critical views of US foreign policy and solid reports of developments around the world that never reach the US public.

The original Arabic Al-Jazeera is still an unrivalled world news source for Arabic speakers. It is a network (65 bureaus globally) with highly professional correspondents, excellent news sources, and a roster of Arab-speaking experts on a wide range of subjects. It features hard hitting debates led by provocative hosts—men and women; it maintains an unflinching support for Palestinian independence, and offers sound criticisms of Israel and US policies in particular.  

But Al-Jazeera (English) is a different and weaker creature. The Al-Jazeera that some Americans (especially those identifying themselves as progressives) look to as an hard-hitting alternative source on the Middle East is not the original Al-Jazeera.  

Much has changed in the last 6-7 years. Al-Jazeera Network now has five 24/7 Arab language channels: Besides (the original Arabic) Al-Jazeera News, it now includes Al-Jazeera Sports, Al-Jazeera Documentary, Al-Jazeera Mubasher (Live), and Al-Jazeera Children. Al-Jazeera Documentary frequently broadcasts translations of English language historical, political and science specials, often programs originating in the US. Al-Jazeera Children also takes a lot of material from western sources. 

Then there is Al-Jazeera English (English.aljazeera.net). It started up April 16, 2007. While this channel is generally supportive of Palestinian independence and seeks out alternatives to what one finds on CNN or BBC, it does not carry the hard-hitting programs and in-depth political analyses one finds on its parent Arabic news channel. Nor it as aggressively and uncompromisingly critical of US and Israeli policy as the Arabic channel.  

Al-Jazeera English is more akin to Free Speech Radio News (FSRN.org), the daily radio news radio program known to many Pacifica listeners. Unlike BBC and CNN, but like FSRN, Al-Jazeera English correspondents are primarily from within the country they are reporting on. Which means a story from Guinea Bissau will be reported by a Bissauan journalist, a story from Indonesia by an Indonesian journalist, and so on. These correspondents are excellent. The network also seeks out commentators who will, for example, dare to mention Israeli activities within Iraq, or to criticize UN policies, corruption and ineffectiveness. Welcome as they may be, criticisms of taboo subjects are limited, even on Al-Jazeera English.  

Then we have English Al-Jazeera’s in-depth interviews like that hosted by Riz Khan, and the debate program ‘Empire’ led by Marwan Bishara. Points of view broadcast in these discussions come close to what you might find on ‘Democracy Now’. (Al-Jazeera English is not a Middle East-focused channel.) 

This week Pacifica announced that its four US-Pacifica Radio stations will carry a one hour news feed from Al-Jazeera daily. This will, I expect be English Al-Jazeera; and since the original is a 24 hour service, the one hour of Al-Jazeera for Pacifica will, by necessity, be heavily edited. 

Will this edited English Al-Jazeera be a real addition to Pacifica? I suppose it is worth a try. But do not expect the hard hitting, real alternative news Arabic Al-Jazeera News provides Arabic speakers in the rest of the world. Alas. 

[ A view of Al-Jazeera TV from the Middle East. ]


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