The day after the Tunisian uprising succeeded in overthrowing Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the following happened. Mr. Moncef Marzouki, a member of the Tunisian opposition at the time, who later became the Tunisian president, wrote an article published by Al-Jazeera.net titled ‘The Horrific and Astounding Horizons of the Arab Revolutions.’
Marzouki said, “Who can deny today that we are a nation that has a heart with one pulse, and that (Al-Jazeera Channel) today is the one who is adjusting the pulse to the same rhythm.”
For my part, I have nothing that can be used to refute Mr. Al-Marzouki’s view in this regard. At the time, Al-Jazeera was capable of laying the Arab priorities agenda, shaping mental images of the main actors, discarding the main issues or effacing their features, charging the masses and mobilising them towards a certain direction, making capitals fall and tossing leaders in the dustbin of history.
It was a decisive magical power through which Al-Jazeera was capable of provoking the change that occurred in the traditional ways of making international and national policies. This was done via the influence of concentrated satellite broadcast, which in its turn reframed the political, military, social and cultural conflicts in a way that demonstrated many a time its superiority over elements of hard power.
Al-Jazeera was launched in 1996 by an obscure and distant actor lying at the Arab World’s outskirts, benefitting from enormous financial surpluses, limitless expenditure and a solid political cover boosted by the entitlements of custodianship. Since the ‘custodian’ has no historical burdens and is within a confused context and in crisis, benefitting from geographical advantages and exploiting the fragility of the sphere in which it is working, it quickly positioned itself as “the new and only voice.”
If it were up to me, I would have made Mr. Marzouki’s description of the “rhythm that (Al-Jazeera) determines for the Arab World” the declared vision statement of this media channel which preoccupied minds and hearts, and which has not stopped for one day since its launch from courting controversy and making breakthroughs. But what about the mission statement? In other words, how did Al-Jazeera succeed in committing its vision, the efficacy of which was proved time and again? Isn’t the ascension of Mr. Marzouki to the presidency in his country irrefutable evidence of this efficacy?
Al-Jazeera has done so by harnessing its new and professional media tools in the Arab media space by practising a carefully thought out blend of intelligent and traditional biased patterns. It began with presenting lost stories, unspoken about issues, providing a platform for unheard voices and raising the issues of corruption and despotism before being excessive in choosing biased sources, fabricating incidents, distorting facts and adjusting its performance according to the interests of the Qatari state. This has continued until it became a black propaganda tool, a platform for some terrorist forces, an inciting and mobilising element and a means of blackmail and exerting pressure.
To be fair, Al-Jazeera has reshaped the Arab media field and driven major powers within it to reconsider their media systems, which in turn pushed the Arab media expenditure to new levels, reaching, according to some sober estimates, $30 billion annually. It stirred a stagnant situation, employed cadres, developed techniques, and contributed to shedding light on disadvantages, evils and injustices. However, all this has taken place according to the same vision statement, the same mission elements, and with a huge amount of opportunism and sense of vindictiveness that have resulted in a number of losses. States have been destroyed, peoples were displaced, and worlds have collapsed.
It is impossible to separate Al-Jazeera’s performance from the political regime embracing it, and it is also impossible to determine the consequences of its action away from its objectives. We understand that it is necessary that the means reflect a considerable amount of the owner’s will and his approaches so as not to negate the reasons of ownership itself. At the same time, we fully perceive that total consistency between the owner’s will and his media’s performance regardless of agreed upon professional considerations and standards doesn’t produce media as much as black propaganda.
Due to its overly pragmatic tendency, Al-Jazeera dragged the Arab media system to political duels via media tools that required the deliberate absence of professional standards. After there has been some hope that it will supply this system with some degree of professionalism and takes it to new rational horizons, here it is leading it, in cold blood and innocent gestures, to “horrific horizons,” according to Al-Marzouki’s description.
Will the main Arab media platforms match Al-Jazeera in this foolhardiness? Or will they leave it to determine the “rhythm”? Or will they establish media practices that Arabs audience deserve?