Comparing Al-Jazeera and Western Media

By Taryn Jones

The modern world is often divided in half between those who love Western media and those who don’t. The Western or European news has influenced the world since the arrival of the printing press in the 1440s. The dissemination of Western news brought new ideologies and cultural overshadowing. “Modernization” became synonymous with “Westernization” and the acceptance of the flow of information coming from the West.

But now the power of the Western media may be on the wane as a direct result of the rise of Al-Jazeera, Qatar’s international news outlet. The Arabic news outlet has become a hard-chiseling stream into the vast ocean of global media.

Founded in 1996 by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Al-Jazeera is the largest Arabic News Channel in the Middle East, offering news coverage 24 hours a day from around the world, according to Allied Media Corp. Emir Al Thani said he founded Al-Jazeera to provide a Middle Eastern voice for uncensored news coverage, political debates, and a focus on social, political, and cultural issues. Some media analysts believe that its mission is also to reverse the dominant flow of global information from the West.

Just how does Al-Jazeera challenge Western viewpoints? A comparison of the same story done by Al-Jazeera and The New York Times provides an excellent example.

The logo of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic News Channel

The logo of Al-Jazeera, the Arabic News Channel

Both Al-Jazeera and The New York Times produced articles Sept. 26 on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s deteriorating health, as reported by North Korean officials. The article posted by Al-Jazeera is very short and to-the-point. Written in an inverted pyramid-style, the article acknowledged Kim’s ailment and provided very concise but specific details on his health. The Al-Jazeera story quoted Michael Madden, an expert on North Korean leadership, on how Kim “appears to have gout” and speculated that his situation is a combination of “diet and genetic predisposition.”

The article posted by The New York Times is far lengthier, 13 paragraphs, and outside of his health report, it provided a more in-depth examination of Kim’s leadership style and his notable absences from political and public meetings. The New York Times did not include any direct quotes from outside experts.

Both news media reported on Kim’s health but the articles differed in execution. Where Al-Jazeera presented the facts solely on his health, The New York Times made several references to the nation’s current state of affairs, such as how outside analysts are looking “for signs of a political purge” due to Kim’s prolonged absence. The article’s wording shifts the reader’s attention from Kim’s health to North Korea’s troubled isolationism.

Even the two headlines suggest different connotative feelings. The reader is more likely to feel apathy towards an article that references the “North Korean leader not feeling well” rather than a more personal headline that states “Kim Jong-un is suffering.”

In comparison to Western media, Al-Jazeera allows for its readers to form their own opinions on topics, sticking to its stated approach of prescriptive yet concise news reporting.

Photograph by Joi Ito through Creative Commons.


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Following Democracy in Indonesia

By Suzanne Slattery

Known to most people as an exotic tropical retreat, Indonesia is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population. In the midst of jihadists beheading journalists and Thailand’s lasting military coup, the country’s democratic elections and political situation garnered Western attention. Last month, The New York Times declared Indonesia as “an unlikely role model for democracy.”

Democracy is relatively new to Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a communist one party system and Myanmar, previously under military junta rule, is in the nascent stages of democracy. Indonesia had its first direct presidential elections in 2004. A year later, the country held elections for provincial-level leaders. Its current president-elect, Joko Widodo, has a rags- to- riches story, sympathetic to Western sensibilities. According to multiple news agencies, Widodo came from the Central Java slums as a son of a timber collector. Through good governance, pragmatism and charisma, Widodo climbed the political ranks to be the governor of Jakarta. In contrast, the man he defeated, General Prabowo Subianto, is the son-in-law of the former authoritarian leader who was ousted in 1998. After Widodo narrowly won the elections in July, Subianto refused to concede and appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court upheld the election results while hundreds of Subianto supporters protested in the streets.

President-Elect Joko Widodo of Indonesia

President-Elect Joko Widodo of Indonesia

Subianto’s party, the Red and White Coalition, still holds the majority in the House of Representatives. After the coalition championed a bill to eliminate local elections, it finally passed on September 26th. Indonesians took to Twitter to express their anger and disappointment, using the hashtag RIP Democracy, Indonesia. With the U.S. government extolling the country as an example of democracy, it’s interesting to examine the media coverage of the recent local elections bill. While the story appeared globally, its importance and framing varied, presumably depending on the importance of democracy to the media outlet.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both covered the story expressing a concern for the current political climate and its effects for the new president. Both articles used statements like “hostile environment,” “state of sudden unease” and “stagnation of the democratic process.” The Economist also framed the story as a new guard about to embark on an uphill battle against an older, corrupt centralized power.

The Jakarta Globe had extensive, updated political coverage, but mainly focused on Widodo’s resignation as the governor of Jakarta. It posted a short article on the current Indonesian president drafting an emergency regulation to veto the bill until a later vote. There was no mention of potential problems of democracy or of citizen outcry. Instead, it published an opinion piece where the author lambasted a political oligarchy attempting to regain centralized control.

Parliamentary and local elections held April 9 in West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Parliamentary and local elections held April 9 in West Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

The Tokyo-based The Diplomat posted a feature called the Elegy of Indonesian Democracy. The piece included statements like “nation mourned” and claimed that the “hard won democracy was under threat.” In contrast, Aljazeera had little to say on the subject. Its last article on Indonesian politics was dated back to the election in July. Coverage from China’s Xinhua News Agency, had less of a “democracy in peril” angle, and focused more on the conflicting parties. It briefly mentioned the bill that would annul the right to vote for regional leaders. There was no mention of public outcry nor did it mention Subianto’s ties to the former military regime.

Photograph of Joko Widodo courtesy of NHD-INFO ( Licensed under Creative Commons.

Photograph of Indonesian election by Sarah Tz from Flickr ( License under Creative Commons.

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Ebola’s Domino Effect

By Modupeola Oyebolu

Of the five West African countries where Ebola cases have been reported so far, Liberia has been the worst hit. Although it has the smallest population of the group, more than half of the 7,470 cases on record have occurred there. The highest number of deaths, 2,069, has also been in Liberia. These deaths are the more obvious tragedy of Ebola, but the virus has also had an impact on the nation’s economy.

The BBC reported in August that a mine expansion by the world’s largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, was halted as the Ebola outbreak ballooned. The nation’s finance minister, Amara Konneh, also told that the fear and uncertainty that comes with the disease has disrupted daily life in Liberia, affecting everything from food prices to transport costs. These events are damaging to the effort to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which was ruined in almost 14 years of war. “We were just starting to work our way out of poverty at the time Ebola struck,” President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said in a national address dated Sept. 17. “We were poised to turn investment into operations so as to create the jobs we need; we had made significant progress to reform our education system and improve our health system.”

Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf  of Liberia

Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

That health system is also overwhelmed by Ebola. This has meant that Liberians suffering from other illnesses are unable to get the care they need. Cynthia Quiqui, the chair of a group of Liberians living with HIV, recently told a local paper that many of the group’s members have died since the outbreak began. Additionally, 172 healthcare workers have been infected with Ebola and 82 of them have died.

There are also concerns that the Ebola outbreak could lead to a food crisis. The World Food Programme reports that the food chains in the three nations with the highest number of Ebola cases— Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia— are being threatened as many farmers are abandoning their crops in a bid to avoid infection. Restrictions on movement and bans on some traditional protein sources are also contributing to the risk of a food shortage.

It is clear that the rise in Ebola cases has had multiple implications on life in Liberia. Because its spread is unrelenting, the World Health Organization has introduced a new plan to complement ongoing efforts to combat the virus. The United States has also committed 3,000 soldiers to help build additional care facilities. These new efforts are necessary so that the Liberian people can resume rebuilding their nation again.

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Progress in Colombia with FARC Negotiations

By Allan Roberts

More international attention is focused on Colombia’s violence and corruption as opposed to its excellent coffee and numerous emeralds. Since 1964, the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), has been responsible for many of the country’s kidnappings, murders and illegal narcotics. After 50 years, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is taking the unprecedented step of trying to make peace with the rebel group.

President Juan Manuel Santos

President Juan Manuel Santos

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 25, Pres. Santos discussed the final steps towards peaceful resolution with the FARC. As reported in Colombia Reports, the left-wing group has agreed to three out of five points in a comprehensive peace plan with the Colombian government. Both sides have been meeting in Cuba for nearly two years, discussing such points as ending the illegal drug trade and participating in public politics. The first of these points, Land and Rural Development was finalized on May 27, 2013. The remaining points will be known once both sides come to an agreement.

Pres. Santos’ U.N. announcement comes just months after a reelection victory against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. The June election saw Santos win 50.9 percent of the vote against Zuluaga’s 45 percent. Despite reelection, the president’s FARC negotiations have received much criticism. Among Santos’ harshest critics is his predecessor, Pres. Álvaro Uribe. Uribe has gone on record calling Santos “a traitor” and “a scoundrel” for the negotiations.

Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC in a 1983 kidnapping attempt, took a hardline approach in dealing with the guerrilla army. During his administration, the former president appointed Santos as Minister of Defense. As defense minister, Santos oversaw the death of FARC leader Raul Reyes and the rescue of 15 hostages in Operation Jaque, including three Americans and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

Uribe aggressively campaigned for Santos’ presidency as his successor. After his election in 2010, Santos surprised many by taking a moderate stance against the FARC. Uribe subsequently endorsed Zuluaga during the 2014 elections.

Many Colombians also criticize the Santos connection with El Tiempo, the largest news publication in Colombia. Members of the Santos family (including Pres. Santos, his great-uncle former Pres. Eduardo Santos, and former Vice Pres. Francisco Santos) have been shareholders since 1913. This has raised concerns about the current president’s portrayal in the media, despite his inactivity as a shareholder since 2007.

Despite criticism, Santos said he will not give into a ceasefire with FARC militants until all negotiations are met. At the International Economic Alliance in September in New York, Santos explained, “It is less costly because if you have a ceasefire, you will give a perverse incentive for the guerrillas and never reach a peace agreement.”

The FARC is the oldest and largest left-wing rebel army in Colombia, according to the United Nations. Founded in the aftermath of the country’s civil war (La Violencia), the communist rebels are one of the world’s richest guerrilla armies, with annual earnings of more than $500 million. The U.N. estimates the FARC supplies more than 50 percent of the world’s cocaine, and 60 percent of the cocaine to the United States.

Photograph by Ministerio TIC de Colombia (Presidente Juan Manuel Santos en el APP de Manizales) licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license via





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Pussy Riot Members Create New Media Site

By Candice Norwood

Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alyokhina, 26, two of the more visible members of the controversial Russian punk band Pussy Riot, have taken the media into their own hands by launching MediaZona, an independent news publication that will focus on the Russian justice system.

The website, which is completely in Russian, gives updates on developments in the Russian courts, prisons and law enforcement. It also includes a section with longer, more in-depth stories that highlight problems within Russia’s correctional system.

The site will be housed under the organization Zona Prava, “Zone of Rights,” which the women created in 2013 to assist people being exploited in prison camps.

“Since our release from prison six months ago we’ve felt that Russian media are no longer able to cover what is going on,” Tolokonnikova explained in a press release. “There is no space for anything in the media that criticizes Putin’s policies and tracks human rights abuses by Russian courts and law enforcement,” she said. “Our new media outlet will try to cover it all.”

Pussy Riot punk band.

Pussy Riot punk band.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina entered the spotlight in 2012 when Russian police arrested the women after they attempted to perform with other members at a cathedral in Moscow. Their arrests drew international criticism and protests, returning attention to the Russian government’s treatment of citizens.

Even throughout their 21-month sentence in Russia’s Penal Colony No. 14, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina continued to voice their complaints, even participating in a hunger strike to protest the colony’s conditions.

“The penal colony refuses to hear me. But I, in turn, refuse to back down from my demands,” Tolokonnikova wrote in an open letter, published in The Guardian newspaper. “I will not remain silent, resigned to watch as my fellow prisoners collapse under the strain of slavery-like condition.”

Following their December 2013 release, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina got right to work with interviews, and they even staged a performance protest during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, reported Russia Today.

It is unclear what lasting affect their media venture will have. Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina have not shared how their MediaZona team plans to obtain information and sources in a country that has little media freedom.  They do, however, have a strong network of support ranging from young adults to major global organizations such as Amnesty International. With a steady stream of new content and a political journalist named Sergey Smirnov as MediaZona’s editor-in-chief, their news outlet could take a stand against the state-run media.

If these women have demonstrated anything over the past several years, it’s that they do not intend to back down.

Photograph by Denis Bochkarev from Wikimedia Commons.

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