Media and Islam: Al Jazeera

For many Americans, Al Jazeera is probably the most well-known and most misunderstood news organization from the Muslim world. Launched in Arabic in 1996 by the Emir of Qatar, a tiny country in the Persian Gulf, Al Jazeera‘s ambition is to become an independent and influential television network on the scope and caliber of BBC and CNN International. It became hugely popular yet controversial in Arab countries because of its many confrontational talk shows, but few Americans paid much attention to it until after the 9/11 attacks when Al Jazeera aired statements by Osama bin Laden. It’s hard for Americans to trust Al Jazeera and it was hard for me, too.  I suspected that an Arab news organization would have an inherent bias. I doubted that a  TV network sponsored by a government, a non-democratic government, could be truly independent. The suspicion was hard to get rid of when I couldn’t receive or understand Al Jazeera‘s broadcast. Continue reading

Media and Islam: A Closer Look at the Messengers

Like many Americans, I knew little about Islam before 9/11 and had little interest. Eight years later, I have greater interest but still feel uninformed and frustrated. Even though the media and the Internet are filled with information about Islam, much of it is confusing, dubious, or outright wrong. I’m not sure which media sources, if any, provide credible and objective information about Islam and the Muslim world. One of our goals here at Inside Islam is try to sift through these various sources.

I end up getting all my news about the Muslim world from my usual news organizations: BBC, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, for example. But all of these tend to lump their coverage of Islam into their coverage of the Middle East. Moreover, they are all “outsider,” Western, non-Muslim media outlets. I wonder whether I’m getting a full and accurate picture of what’s going on in the life and minds of Muslim people.

newspaperI have reasons to worry. A national survey this month reports that press credibility is at its lowest level in two decades. Less than 30 percent of Americans say that news stories are accurate or free of bias. When a college junior from Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, writes about what she misses about home while studying in America, “access to quality news broadcasting” is high on her list.

“I lament the moment when I turn to the TV Guide channel to find that BBC World, CNN International and ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) are replaced with FOX, CNN America and CNN Headline News. While the brightly-colored studios, extraneous props and chummy presenters on most American news channels lure me like a moth to flame, the content leaves me feeling uninformed. Somewhere along the line, something went wrong with the U.S. news media. … It feels like news channels are being run by ad agencies.”

Constructive dialogues and meaningful debates can happen only when all parties involved have educated themselves with adequate and accurate information. Right now I don’t feel informed enough to engage in or benefit from any debates about Islam. Working for Inside Islam gives me a chance to examine various media sources about Islam and become informed. In the coming months I’ll report here the results of my examination and exploration.

Where do you get your news about the Muslim world? Is there a good media source about Islam that you can recommend to me and other Americans? I appreciate your input.