Is Al Jazeera anti-Semitic and anti-American?

Network Gets High Marks for Egypt Coverage, but Sparks Controversy as Well

The broadcast room of Al Jazeera English Language Channel, Doha, Qatar.
Matilde Gattoni/arabianEye/Getty Images

With its 24/7 coverage of the Cairo protests garnering praise from media critics, many are calling on more U.S. cable systems to carry the Arabic news network Al Jazeera.

But is the Qatar-based network anti-Semitic and anti-American, as some - like Fox News host Bill O'Reilly - have claimed?

And should Al Jazeera - which is presently only available in a few U.S. markets - be offered nationwide?

Matthew Baum, a professor of Global Communications and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, says yes - but with a few caveats.

Baum, who watched Al Jazeera fairly regularly when he spent time in Europe in the past few years, says "there's no question the mix of editorial views on it are more critical of U.S. policy and Israel, and more sympathetic to Arab perspectives than what you'd see on an American network."

Baum says it's not surprising that Al Jazeera has a more pro-Arab editorial slant. "That's simply reflecting who their customers are, the perspective of the region."

And while some of what he heard in Al Jazeera broadcasts "annoyed the crap out of me," Baum adds that Americans should have "more exposure to what folks in that region think. We tend to be pretty uninformed about what's going on in that part of the world."

Eric Nisbet, a communications professor at Ohio State University who has studied Arab media and anti-Americanism, says it's important to distinguish between the English and Arabic channels of Al Jazeera. The English channel has a very cosmopolitan perspective and is staffed largely by former corespondents from the BBC and U.S. networks, he says.

The Arabic channel, not surprisingly, is aimed squarely at an Arab audience and prides itself on giving voice to a wide range of perspectives from throughout the region. The result? At times it airs the views of extremists, "sometimes without challenging them as much as they should," Nisbet says. "There are definitely some biases in that they are an Arabic channel for Arab audiences."

And yes, there is anti-Semitism, Nisbet adds. "Unfortunately in Arabic political discourse there is a great deal of anti-Semitism. The conversation there about Israel and American foreign policy is very different from our discourse in the U.S."

Nisbet hastens to add that the channel also frequently features representatives from the U.S. and Israeli governments, and that it is widely watched in Israel.

Even given the network's problems, Nisbet, like Baum, believes Al Jazeera, at least in its English-speaking incarnation, should be aired more widely on U.S. television.

"We as a country need to know what other people think of us," he says. "If we really want to make informed decisions about foreign policy and about the opportunities and challenges we face overseas, we need to hear that perspective. Al Jazeera provides a very non-American window on the world that we need to be looking through."

Photo by Getty Images

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