UA prof: Al Jazeera an option for those who want the whole story

Media Watch 

UA PROF: AL JAZEERA AN OPTION FOR THOSE WHO WANT THE WHOLE STORY

Western media sources go to great lengths to limit graphic war footage.

That is not the case with Al Jazeera, and as a result, some viewers utilize the Qatar-based news organization's English- language website as a way to get a more complete version of the impact of war.

That's according to a study co-authored by Shahira Fahmy, an associate professor at the UA's School of Journalism. Her findings, published in the journal Media, War and Conflict, suggest there is a significant English-speaking contingent that appreciates the willingness of Al Jazeera to provide what other news outlets won't.

"Al Jazeera is just like Fox (News) and CNN in that they have their own interpretation of news events," Fahmy said. "If you're not at the receiving end of the bullets, you'll report differently than if you are on the other side. The most important thing to realize is there's not diversity just across cultures, but also within a certain culture or country. Look at the differences between CNN and Fox."

Fahmy was granted permission by Al Jazeera to conduct a survey among users of its website. At first, the survey encompassed the Arab-language portion of the site, and later expanded to the English-language site. It is data from the English-language site that made it to the publication, as Fahmy discovered that 55 percent of the survey participants were from the United States, with another 25 percent from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Most of the remainder came from Islamic countries.

"People who go (to english.aljazeera.net) are not the mainstream U.S. audience," Fahmy said. "The vast majority call themselves liberals and independents. Only 16 percent said they were conservative. The vast majority has traveled abroad and has a college degree. Almost 9 in 10 said they found information there they did not find on CNN and through other Western media. They were seeking information not available to them."

According to Fahmy, the search for a well-rounded outlook superseded concerns over the intense nature of some images.

"They argue the events themselves are disturbing," said Fahmy. "... By showing graphic images of wounded soldiers and civilians, Al Jazeera is showing the realities of what's going on in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I think the U.S. audience needs to have more international news. ... I'm not going to argue bias, but if you watch (Al Jazeera), at least you'll have more empathy and a humanizing effect in all of us. They show Iraqi kids being bombed by the United States in Baghdad—but seeing a picture like this, you'll think, 'This is a kid, just like every other kid.' It can result in a less-polarized public opinion, and in the end, better diplomacy and a push for more peace in the world—even if we claim it is biased. What media's not biased?"

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