When US Marine-turned-journalist John Rushing covered the Virginia Tech shootings for Al Jazeera, he lined up with a group of American television journalists as they prepared to file their live reports. At the top of the hour, the Americans all led off their newscasts with the story of how Seung-Hui Cho sent tapes of himself to NBC, but Rushing stood waiting for his cue.
After finishing their report, the journalists took off their microphones and walked away. Rushing continued to wait. While the Cho tapes was the top story across the United States, Al Jazeera led its newscast with a story about a series of car bombs in Baghdad that killed 225 people, and followed it with stories about the Nigerian presidential elections and the flare-up of fighting in Mogadishu. Virginia Tech was the fourth story.
“You have to realize, on a week when the news hardly mentions anything but Anna Nicole Smith, there are events happening around the world,” Rushing told The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart when explaining the difference between Al Jazeera and the American media’s priorities.
While CNN and BBC once dominated the world’s airwaves, an international audience frustrated by the Western media’s bias and banality can now turn on their own news channels. Along with Al Jazeera, stations like Latin America’s Telesur, France Monde, Russia Today and Iran’s Press TV have all emerged over the past decade as competitors to the Western media’s supremacy. In India, there are more than 20 all-news cable stations. In Southeast Asia, there is a flourishing network of blogs and news websites that bypass their countries’ censored press. No longer forced to view their world through a Western lens, a thriving international media is providing the world with a new awareness, and, with it, a new meaning.
The first Palestinian intifada was primarily covered by the American and European media, for a Western audience. But as Palestinian journalist In’am El Obeidi pointed out, the second intifada in 2000 was covered by an Arab media whose journalists “were formed of locals, as familiar with the history of the conflict as they were with people’s feelings and culture… For the first time, Palestinians felt that they were no longer subjects of an outside narrator. They felt that their story was being told and narrated by themselves.”
The rise of the international media is having a important effect in helping change the world’s balance and tone. Where once American and British voices drowned out all the others, the growth of the international 24-hour cable news channel is finally giving the rest of the world its own platform. Not only can Asia, Africa and South America now tell its side of the story, it can challenge Western claims and assumptions.
During the Gulf War, CNN and BBC were the only television stations with correspondents in Baghdad, which meant the entire world watched a war in the Middle East on two Western stations. But for the Iraq War, at a time when the Western media was banging the war drum the loudest, Al Jazeera provided the world with critical coverage of the American- and British-led invasion. Just when Western powers were trying to silence the Arab world, Al Jazeera gave it a voice.
“During the Iraq war, American media voices no longer held the world’s attention by default, and those who made the case for American policy encountered opposition that was loud, persistent, and far-reaching,” wrote Philip Seib in Hegemonic No More: Western Media, the Rise of Al-Jazeera and the Influence of Diverse Voices. The United States has had a difficult time coming to terms with the media shift. After 9/11 and during the Iraq War, the US government accused Al Jazeera of broadcasting propaganda and allegedly targeted its journalists. On the day Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced the launching of Telesur, US Congress approved a program to send radio and television broadcasts into Venezuela in order to counter the station’s supposed “anti-Americanism.”
But it seems the more the US pushes, the more the world resists. No longer content consuming Western views on Western channels, the world’s population is now turning on their own media and finding a new understanding, a new meaning and a new world.