Free Arab Media

Qatar Advances Plans To Privatize Al-Jazeera: U.S. Has Criticized Arab TV Network,” by Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A49759-2005Jan30.html, 31 January 2005 (from Collounsbury).

Great news out of the Gulf.

The government of Qatar is pushing forward with plans to privatize al-Jazeera, the popular and controversial Arab television network that has often drawn the ire of U.S. administration officials, a network spokesman said.

al Jazeera’s prominance, and the forthcoming privitization, are both fallout from the Iraqi Big Bang Strategy

Details of the plan are yet to be worked out and await a feasibility report that should be completed in coming months, said Jihad Ballout, a spokesman in the Qatari capital of Doha. Al-Jazeera is highly popular in the Arab world but has repeatedly drawn criticism from the Bush administration about its coverage of the war in Iraq and other hot-button issues in the Middle East.

Pressure from U.S. officials has caused the government of Qatar, which bankrolls al Jazeera, to accelerate the spinoff, according to a report yesterday in the New York Times, which quoted an unnamed senior Qatari official.

This news is wonderful. While al Jazeera is anti-American, it also is the first news channel in the Arab world that freely criticizes everybody. We need to create real political debates in the Greater Middle East, and outlets like al Jazeera are part of this. It is problematic, however, that al Jazeera does not face market pressures and is owned by an ally. Allowing private investors, even if they are Saudi petrocrats, to run a free Arab news network is a great step forward.

In the Greater Middle East, we are the revolutionary aggressor and the dictatorial regimes that made up the status quo are the enemy. We have momentum and freedom on our side. Let’s keep going.

14 thoughts on “Free Arab Media”

  1. Ah…..

    No.

    Sorry, you don't know the market here.

    A quick sell off of al-Jazeerah for political reasons is not going to make al-Jazeerah “face market pressures.”

    It will do one of two things: (a) it puts it in the hands of a non-transparent owner that may very well take it out into la la land, (b) it goes fully commercial and fails – not enough of a free advert market – or goes fully commercial and starts toeing the public line because advert dollars in the region get directed for political reasons.

    The Qatari ownership – tolerance of the loss making, commitment to trying to follow a rough BBC model was the best case scenario.

    You guys on the American right need to rent a clue about the region, your proscriptions are so wildly off base I really don't know how to get you on base.

  2. Thanks for the note.

    A move toward a free market of ideas would be a good thing. It's not in the interests of the world that Arabs see only government propganda.

    You mention two possible outcomes of a privitized al Jazeera, and either are acceptable. al Jazeera is already a quixotic network, playing to popular emotions over any coherent message. When Iran accuses an anti-American station of being a Zionist plot, it's already in la-la land.

    If it fails, so be it. There are other Arab stations. If no Arab station has a market, then Arab medai interest is diverted into places where there are free sources (say, blogs, whether anti-American, Islamist, Arab Nationalist, or liberal).

    Your analogy to the BBC is interesting. The BBC is a Leftist anti-American government behemoth. Such a state media is hardly compatible with a liberal society, and if the “BBC model” fails both in the UK and Qatar, wonderful!

    A free market of ideas, and market freedom in general are vital to democracy. Shai Iraq's lack of a functioning market is the greatest long-run threat it has (after the insurgency). While there may be some natural state sectors, media is not one of them.

    Thanks again for the note. Your comments are very original and challenging.

  3. collounsbury, it's best to keep in mind that in the Right's eyes, government owning all media is in no way the same thing as an individual or corporation owning all media. ( Sarcasm )

    The second is more appealing, because choice can come into the market. if people don't like CNN's liberalism, they can wander off. Or if they don't like FOX News' conservatism, they can wander elsewhere.

    But where do market principles actually function? Where people are educated. 75% of America has no idea if their news is biased or not. They don't F'n care. They want tsunami news, World Series coverage, and Michael Jackson. A female coworker of mine, on being pressed for explanation, couldn't tell me why FOX News was more balanced. She just knew it was. Kudos to their marketing guy.

    A select few are aware of any media providers' bias. And they're typically the ones that don't care or are smart enough to walk away. News has been commoditized, to use their terms, and people will go anywhere for it.

    So why not have the government own it? Because people need news and as long as the government provides it, no one is profiting off the necessary infrastructure… And when on one's profiting, the baby Jesus cries.

  4. Government owning all the media of course is different. Government has the power to tax, imprison, and kill. Giving them a media monopoly is incredibly dangerous, which is why under the Constitution it is forbidden.

    I'd suggest you read “The Road to Serfdom” for a good introduction to the Austrian School's view of markets. People are never fully educated — if any organization had full knowledge, there would be no need for a market.

    CNN has a history of casual liberal-Left bias. While market pressure from FNC has reduced it considerably, people are aware of it. An overwhelming majority are aware of media bias

    67 percent said that “In dealing with political and social issues” news organizations “tend to favor one side.” That was up 14 points from 53 percent who gave that answer in 1985.

    http://secure.mediaresearch.org/news/MediaBiasBasics.html

    Do you honestly believe that the government should control the press?

  5. Well, let me be clear, I am no lefty. In grosso modo, I am fully for free markets, private enterprise etc. I am after all in the financial sector. I have no issues at all with private media ownership, in fact in a properly regulated environment to prevent excessive concentration, I am 100 percent for it.

    However a does of realism is necessary.

    First, in re Dan's comment:
    A move toward a free market of ideas would be a good thing. It's not in the interests of the world that Arabs see only government propganda.

    Fine, and your point is what?

    al-Jazeerah is not a state TV station, it's more along a BBC model. As a longtime consumer of al-Jazeerah, I can assure you it is a contributor to the 'free market of ideas' and bears no ressemblance to state TV. With the sole exception it rarely if ever covers its home base, Qatar. Since Qatar is the size of a postage stamp or two, and rich as fuck, this is pretty trivial.

    Actually this topic deserves extended commentary on my own blog come to think of it……

  6. I look forward to reading it on your blog!

    I'll quick rap up my thoughts.

    First, I do not think the BBC Model is one to copy. It is clearly under state influence, culturally if not poltiically. And the fact that both networks tend towards anti-American gives one pause (regardless of the rightness of anti-Americanism, that two networks on the same “model” have the same bias is cause for thought).

    The problem with being owned by a government as “rich as fuck” is that it allows al Jazeera to promote a propoganda agenda with no worry about feedback (other than diplomatic). Perhaps in a free market, its viewers will support al Jazeera's views. Perhaps not. Perhaps it will be purchased by “philanthropists.” But what is known is that in the current environment, a radical viewpoint is being promoted by a very deep-pocketed government that is able to retard the entrance of competitors.

  7. And OPEC owning it would be different how? Or perhaps Rupert Murdoch? I don't think the government owning Al-Jazeera is a great thing either. I don't have a solution for this. But I do know that selling it off to Osama or his cousins isn't going to do anyone any good. Maybe we'll get lucky and a conglomerate of freedom fighters or the Red Cross or someone will buy it. Or maybe we won't and some deep-pocketed cleric will buy it and spew forth the same biased drivel you accuse it of now.

    But at least then he'll be making money, and the Right will be able to sleep.

  8. “And OPEC owning it would be different how?”

    OPEC is a cartel of states. Its members range from the tolerable (UAE) to the merely thuggish (Venezuela) to the nightmarish (Saudi Arabia). OPEC control would not be preferable.

    Government should not control the press. This is a basic issue. The government has the power to imprison and kill and tax. Considering the reaction against Bush “payola” of some on the left (http://drforbush.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/01/13/tell_congress_and_the_fcc_to_stop_payola_pundits.html), I'd think Democrats would be especially critical of government speech control.

    “But I do know that selling it off to Osama or his cousins isn't going to do anyone any good.”

    Mr. bin Laden does not have citizenship in any state, so there are paperwork issues for him buying a satellite station. Considering that we live in a country born in opposition to Corruption of Blood (http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c315.htm), I find that Left's revival of that authoritarian doctrine worrisome.

    I do not know who would buy al Jazeera. Perhaps arch-capitalist Ruport Murdoch would, and bathe the ummah in Page Three Girls (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3651850.stm). Perhaps a Shia charitable trust would purchase it, and shed it of its “Zionist” leanings. I do not know.

    What matters is that states should not run the media. I believe in free expression, and state media is hurful to freedom.

  9. Well, I have to say, ….. you don't have any real idea of what you're talking about. Simple as that.

    BBC operates in a Brit cultural framework. That is rather more important than its funding structure.

    As to the al Jazeerah agitprop agenda hypothesized, I'm afraid this is silly. al Jazeerah is not promoting a “radical agenda” at all.

  10. I think it's time to figure out a way to thread comments. i can't tell who's replying to me and who's replying to you. It also seems to throw off continutity. I don't want to have to start a Temporal Cold War, but dammit, I will if it comes to that.

  11. I trust Collonsbury cannot mean that BBC operating in a “British cultural framework” is more important than funding mechanism. Virtually every British publication operates in the same framework, but C. had earlier mentioned the “BBC Model” as something presumably distinct.

    The BBC's government support shields it from market pressures, making it a unique media outlet in Britain. It's Leftist viewpoint is so built-in that even tearing out senior managers (as it did recently) probably will not correct it.

  12. I see your point, Dan, but agree with Collounsbury that the reality on the ground doesn't currently support a market for what you support. (Based on his comments in his blog.) The market there is not free to fully express its political ideas and 'spinning off' al Jazeerah will only force any honesty about this deeper underground.

    I also think the issue here is better summed up by someone actually familiar with the internal issues of the Arab news venues including al Jazeerah namely Salameh Nematt (Washington Bureau Chief of Al Hayat, a London-based Arabic language newspaper). His position is that all of the Arab based media organizations are run under license from the nations they are based in and they are unable to provide their most important role which is to freely criticize the government. This is the reason al Jazeerah doesn't report on news in Qatar and won't seriously criticize the negative effects of the institution of monarchies in the Arab world. Nematt articulates (see http://www.c-spanstore.org/cgi-bin/cspanstore/184654-4.html ) the passive aggressive attitude of all Arab goverments toward democracy since democracy would erode the base of power in any of those governments.

    So the change in ownership of media in any Arab country (Iraq now offering a glimmer of exception) will not change this constraint – don't upset the government, perpetuate the same old myths and give plenty of people something to wag their tongues about.

    I do agree with your comment about alternative free media, such as blogs. One nice reference for this success is http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/2005/01/31#a745

  13. On most everything, I agree with you. The Arab world has serious problems. Most Arab states are “passive aggressive” to democracy and often hostile to freedom. Perhaps worse, the rule of law is badly corrupted.

    I think my difference with Collunbury is that I believe that movement in the right direction is good, while for him movement, once begun, is counterproductive if it is too slow.

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