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World and America watching different wars

CNN vs. Al Jazeera: Seeing is often believing

By Danna HarmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 25, 2003


The Hamouda family is gathered around the TV, sipping sugary tea and glued to the pictures of captured US soldiers being interrogated by Iraqis on the popular Qatar-based satellite station Al Jazeera.

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"What's your name?" A terrified young female POW is asked. "How old are you?" The camera moves to her feet, which are bloody and bare.

"Yieee!," cheers eldest son Ahmed, knocking over a fake geranium plant as he shoots up from the couch in excitement. "Show it how it is!"

It is not that they are happy to see suffering, says Hellmy, the father, somewhat apologetically, as the camera weaves between several bodies. "But the other side of the story needs to be told."

The gruesome video shown Sunday on Al Jazeera - reaching 35 million Arab-speakers worldwide, including about 20 percent of the Egyptian population - will probably never be seen by the average American TV viewer.

In fact, American audiences are seeing and reading about a different war than the rest of the world. The news coverage in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, reflects and defines the widening perception gap about the motives for this war. Surveys show that an increasing number of Americans believe this is a just war, while most of the world's Arabs and Muslims see it as a war of aggression. Media coverage does not necessarily create these leanings, say analysts, but it works to cement them.

"The difference in coverage between the US and the rest of the world helped contribute to the situation that we're in now,'' says Kim Spencer, president of WorldLink TV, a US satellite channel devoted to airing foreign news. "Americans have been unable to see how they're perceived."

For example, most Americans, watching CNN, Fox, or the US television networks, are not seeing as much coverage of injured Iraqi citizens, or being given more than a glimpse of the antiwar protests now raging in the Muslim world and beyond.

In the Middle East, Europe, and parts of Asia, by comparison, the rapid progress made by US led troops has been played down. And many aspects of the conflict being highlighted in the US - such as the large number of Iraqi troops surrendering, the cooperation between US-led forces and various Gulf states, commentary on America's superior weapons technology, and the human interest angles on soldier life in the desert - are almost totally absent from coverage outside the US.

"Sure, the news we get in the Arab world is slanted," admits Hussein Amin, chair of the department of journalism and mass communication at Cairo's American University. "In the same way the news received in the US is biased."

The view from Europe

Some analysts note that European press ownership is less concentrated than its counterparts in the US, and is seen as providing more perspectives than either the Arab or American outlets. In Frankfurt, for example, readers have access to 16 different German language newspapers - many of which present different vantage points, which makes for a more lively and varied debate.

European journalists also seem to ask different, more skeptical, questions of this war, often being the ones at White House and Pentagon press conferences to ask whether the invasion of Iraq has turned up any of the weapons of mass destruction that used to justify the invasion - even as their American counterparts repeatedly focus on such questions as whether Saddam Hussein is alive or dead.