Monday, January 31, 2005

Arab Media and the Election

The New York Times has an article entitled "Arab Media Focus on Voting, Not Violence". Link.
Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq on Sunday morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision. Should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?

After nearly two years of providing up-to-the-minute images of explosions and mayhem, and despite months of predictions of a blood bath on election day, some news directors said they found the decision surprisingly easy to make. The violence simply was not the story on Sunday morning; the voting was.

Overwhelmingly, Arab channels and newspapers greeted the elections as a critical event with major implications for the region, and many put significant resources into reporting on the voting, providing blanket coverage throughout the country that started about a week ago. Newspapers kept wide swaths of their pages open, and the satellite channels dedicated most of the day to coverage of the polls.(...)

For many Arabs, the strong turnout on election day proved a unique opening, one that made the debate on television screens more nuanced. On Al Jazeera, especially, many Iraqis lauded the process even as analysts from other Arab countries and Iraqis tied to the former government of Saddam Hussein denounced the elections for having occurred under occupation, and for having been centered on sectarian issues.(...)

Perhaps the most ambitious effort came from Al Arabiya, which had eight satellite trucks broadcasting from across Iraq, as well as numerous video phone links from Mosul, Baquba, Ramadi and elsewhere, and live feeds from neighboring countries. To give emphasis to elections coverage, Al Arabiya also built a special studio at its headquarters in Dubai for the event. Al Arabiya executives did not disclose the cost for the effort but said it was significant.

"We think this is a very important event, not just in Iraq but in the Arab world," Mr. Hage said. "It's the first real democratic event in the whole region and it deserved the attention." Giving the event such special attention, Mr. Hage said, would help build Al Arabiya's brand as a critical news source, if not expand its viewership.

Can you believe it? A debate with both sides represented on Al Jazeera.

Here is a thought experiment for you. Try to imagine this article appearing in an alternate universe where Al Gore, or any other Democrat, had won the 2000 election, or even one in which John Kerry had won the 2004 election. It cannot be imagined. It could not have happened. George W. Bush has caused the World to change incredibly for the better.


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