Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Al Jazeera covers Tunisia round the clock

'The network turned to the Tunisian story in December after a young college graduate trying to earn a living as a fruit vendor set himself on fire to protest harassment by police and the hopelessness and lack of jobs under the government of President Zine el Abidine ben Ali. Its footage of angry mobs and blood in the streets was a creeping threat to Ben Ali, who was attempting to censor Tunisian media in a bid for calm.

The Tunisian parliament accused Al Jazeera of distortion and bias in its coverage. It condemned the network for hurting the country's reputation and creating a "spirit of hatred and resentment … to spread chaos, instability and distrust in the country's achievements."

It quickly became apparent, though, that Al Jazeera and other media were reporting on the unmasking and unraveling of a 23-year-old corrupt and autocratic regime. Images of protesters ransacking villas owned by the president's family provided an egalitarian element that roused activists across the region, including in Algeria and Libya, where governments were attempting to quell their own unrest.

Some analysts noted that Al Jazeera focused on the religious aspect of the Tunisian saga. Ben Ali was considered a U.S. ally for cracking down on Islamic extremism, which included jailing militants and forcing opposition politicians into exile, such as Rashid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamic Renaissance Party. The network appeared to devote more time to Islamist voices than other opposition figures expected to have more of a role in the new political order.

Others, however, credited Al Jazeera with showing balance. "They did an excellent job," said Hussein Amin, a professor of journalism and mass communication at the American University in Cairo. "It was objective coverage with different points of view."

Unlike some of its competitors, Al Jazeera, with an estimated 40 million to 50 million viewers worldwide, prefers a more rapid tempo.

"I was able to follow Al Jazeera's minute-by-minute coverage of the revolution through my iPhone," wrote Bassam Sebti on MidEastPosts. "The Qatari network has an iPhone app that live-broadcasts their news, in addition to its presence on Facebook, Twitter and Al Jazeera Blogs. It was simply everywhere and for free!" '

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