Inside a news spin zone

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Fair and balanced. We report, you decide. The most trusted news in America. Most of these advertising tags strike me a version of the proverbial big lie - not just slanting the truth but rotating it 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The reason I don't sell my TV set is that public perceptions created by such programming are as important as the real events it discusses.

"Control Room," a riveting new documentary about the Arab-run Al Jazeera network, reminds us that news programming can vary so widely from place to place that journalistic myths of "objectivity" and "impartiality" seem more naive than ever.

Jehane Noujaim is an Arab-American filmmaker, but the view of Al Jazeera presented by "Control Room" doesn't seem especially skewed toward Arab perspectives. Compared with many US cable shows, in fact, it seems ... well, fair and balanced.

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Yes, an Al Jazeera reporter rails against violent American meddling in the Middle East, but he also speaks of US-style constitutional democracy as a model for the world.

American journalists in the Middle East also get to speak, and to argue with their Arab counterparts. These portions of the film highlight US freedom of speech, the ways this freedom may be modified by professional duties, and the fundamental fact that no side has a monopoly on insight and conviction.

"Control Room" enters a spin zone of its own at times, as when it tries to make the death of an Al Jazeera employee seem like the most poignant martyrdom of the Iraq war. This apes US networks that presented the rescue of US soldier Jessica Lynch as stirring melodrama rather than strictly factual reportage.

In all, though, "Control Room" shows how all reporting is storytelling that's controlled by editors, producers, and ideologies. Nobody interested in world affairs can afford to miss it.

Not rated; contains violent images.

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