ReflectionsThe truth is out there [Archives:2003/654/Opinion]

July 28 2003

By Sadaf Shah
For Yemen Times
[email protected]

There have been some allegations against the Qatar based Al- Jazeera news agency for showing graphic images on television of bloodshed and extreme suffering. The allegations go as far to suggest that because Al-Jazeera does not take proper measures, its live and un-edited content fuels anger among the Arab masses and sets the ground work for suicide bombers and other such terrorist attacks. Such allegations have arisen out of war-torn countries, mainly Afghanistan and Iraq where Al-Jazeera's prominence was evident against other networks who did not have the same kind of liberty as Al-Jazeera. Of course it can also be argued that other networks may be biased in their reporting, thus an Arab network was given more freedom to report on the suffering of an Arab nation.
First and foremost, we should bear in mind the birth of Al-Jazeera as a news agency, similar in content and scope to the American based CNN network. Al-Jazeera is a relatively new agency compared to its counterpart which has been around now for more than two decades. It goes without saying that the people of the Middle East, in the past, have had very little media coverage from news agencies around the world. The argument may well be that Al-J azeera is the voice of the people it is reporting on. It tries to show the various angles of a story from an Arab perspective. Often times, Arab perspective is fuelled with anger and frustration at the complete disregard of Arab humanity. It does not take a news agency to prepare suicide bombers, or plan terrorist attacks. As stated earlier, this is a relatively new agency, whereas the conditions in the occupied territories of Palestine (where suicide bombings are an every day phenomenon) have been devastating for more than half a century.
A nation that lives like a slave on its own soil faces every day violence and suffering inflicted upon it by an occupying power. Such an occupying power that uses heavy ammunition against students throwing stones to revolt against the illegal occupation of their land. Such conditions breed suicide bombings, not the reports of them. Palestinians do not need to watch Al-Jazeera to see what is going on in their homeland, they only need to open their windows and look outside. They see it with their own eyes the destruction of homes by bulldozers or heavy bombs, and the dead bodies of their loved ones. The confiscation of lands, the demolition of homes, the arrest of 'suspects' without warrants, the killing of protestors, and the 'accident' shootings of international journalists are all too familiar in Palestine. Such conditions need to be addressed to put an end to suicide bombings.
The question remains, where is the line drawn to determine how much of the truth is enough? Where does one draw that line, and who has the right to decide? Before even attempting to answer the above questions, we also have to ask, is it not the duty of any/all journalists to report the news as it is happening without passing personal judgement? Are we, as the audience, not responsible and mature enough to draw our own sound conclusions? Some psychologists might argue that watching violence makes us more prone to be violent ourselves. Well, the same can be said of Hollywood's action films, the latest one being the Terminator. The amount of violence and bloodshed in such movies is 'ok' to watch, but not the type of 'real' violence played out live every day on the streets of Ramallah, Gaza, Falluja, Mosul, Baghdad, or Basra. Additionally, as with action movies, we do have the right to watch what we want to! Specific reference is being made to the incredible remote control! If we do not like the content of a story in a news item, we do have the liberty of changing the channel as opposed to when we are sitting in a movie theatre. Sometimes, for some people, life's simplest mysteries are so hard to unravel!
Another argument for censoring the truth is that watching real violence leaves the audience saddened, whereas violent movies do not have the same psychological effect as they usually end 'happily'. Does the truth really need to be suppressed to avoid leading people to sadness? Or maybe, just maybe the suffering of a nation should be addressed so that a 'happy ending' can be achieved?
The content in the news reports of Al-Jazeera is not made up. It is most often live, and the stories are told by real people living those nightmares. Such stories cannot be ignored. It is true that watching such horrifying images and hearing such sad stories, one is left with a depressive state of being. On the one hand, knowledge of atrocities being committed against a nation, and on the other hand, a feeling of helplessness for not being able to do anything about it. A truly wasteful altruism. However, all of this cannot amount to the total censorship of the truth. No matter how convoluted, the truth must be adhered to in all reports, under all circumstances, without any restrictions. The truth should not be censored. It is the free flow of information that allows us to make sense of our complicated world. If information is blocked/censored, we may well start living an illusion, just like Hollywood's blockbusters.