Media and Democracy in the Arab World
Holland. (2000). Distributed by Films for the Humanities &
Sciences, FFH 11205, Princeton, NJ. VHS. Lars Otten, director.
by Ralph D. Berenger
Control Room [see excerpts and
review in this issue] there
was the Netherlands' DNW-TV's "News World" program
from 1999, which aired a segment that was among the first Western
examinations of Al Jazeera, and the political world surrounding
it in Qatar.
as The Media and Democracy in the Arab World by Films
for the Humanities & Sciences (and reformatted to play on
US-made NTSC systems), the program remains strangely fresh nearly
half a decade after it was produced. Perhaps that is because
it makes references to US military action in Iraq while criticizing
US foreign policy in the region. Not much has changed in the
past five years.
covers such wide-ranging stories as the role of women in Iranian
politics (including an interview with the then-prime minister's
wife); the jihad in Afghanistan and Osama bin Ladin, who had
showed up as a wanted man long before September 11, 2001; coverage
of the first democratic election in Qatar; and a poignant interview
with a lonely Egyptian camel herder in the employ of a super-rich
Qatari. But it was Al Jazeera that clearly fascinated the documentarians.
Al Jazeera as the "CNN for Arabia," producers conducted
interviews with Faisal Qasim, presenter of the feisty talk show
"The Opinion and the Other Opinion," who gave his
near-Jeffersonian views of media's role in democracy. To illustrate
his point, the producers selected a segment of the talk show
featuring an academic debating a political Islamist, an exchange
that often degenerated into name-calling as the two guests shouted
past each other in Arabic-directly to their particular audiences.
In that regard, Qasim's show is not unlike televised debates
between supporters and detractors during an election year in
the US. "Democracy (in the Arab World) will come through
media," Qasim opines.
familiar face to Middle East media-watchers was Salah Negm,
at the time Al Jazeera's chief editor. Negm moved to competing
Al-Arabiya in 2003.
Lars Otten's documentary has historical significance-although
this is no museum piece-because he caught Al Jazeera in its
formative years and froze in time those heady early days of
the satellite broadcaster when it was riling governments throughout
the Middle East-and the West.
information on the Films for the Humanities and Sciences series,
click on www.films.com. TBS