While channels like al Jazeera are known to many Americans, very few have ever watched a single minute of al Jazeera or other Arabic-language broadcasts. There is a place people can turn daily to judge for themselves how the news is delivered in the Middle East. We speak with Jamal Dajani, producer of the program MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East, winner of the presigious Peabody Award. [includes rush transcript]
Since September 11 and the launch of the Bush administration’s so-called war on terror, another war has been fought worldwide. That is the information war. Never before in history have there been so many media outlets in the world. The global domination of massive networks like the BBC and CNN has been challenged by networks like the Arabic language satellite channels al Jazeera, al Arabiya and others which reach tens of millions of homes across the world. These networks paint a very different picture of what is happening in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan.
Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela has spearheaded an effort to create a latin American network modeled after al Jazeera called Telesur, while al Jazeera is preparing to launch an english-language network. While channels like al Jazeera are known to many Americans, very few have ever watched a single minute of al Jazeera or other Arabic-language broadcasts. Even still, many government officials and media pundits have somehow managed to develop strong opinions on the channel.
There is a place people can turn daily to judge for themselves how the news is delivered in the Middle East. We are joined in the studio by Jamal Dajani. He is a producer of the program MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East. MOSAIC is a daily show on our partner network LinkTV that compiles television news reports from throughout the Middle East. This year, MOSAIC won one of journailism’s highest honors–the Peabody award.
- Jamal Dajani, producer of MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined by Jamal Dajani, who is producer of the program ”MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East.” ”MOSAIC” is a daily show on Link TV, where we also broadcast, that compiles television news reports from throughout the Middle East. This year, ”MOSAIC” won one of journalism’s highest honors, the Peabody Award. This is a clip from ”MOSAIC.”
NARRATOR: As the aftershocks of the Iraq war continue to reverberate throughout the Middle East, many Americans are curious how developments in the region are being perceived by national leaders and people on the streets of Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem and Cairo. Four times per day, ”MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East” brings you unfiltered news in English from over 15 national broadcasters throughout the region. See what over a quarter of a billion people in the Middle East are watching every day. Hear directly from their correspondents, and discover how they assess the current situation, not on short sound bites but in complete unedited news reports. Get the whole picture, watch ”MOSAIC.”
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, that, ”MOSAIC,” Jamal Dajani joining us, director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV, producer of ”MOSAIC: World News from the Middle East.” We welcome you to Democracy Now!
JAMAL DAJANI: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, first of all, congratulations on the Peabody Award. Talk about the idea behind ”MOSAIC” and how you gather this footage from the newscasts around the Middle East.
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, I mean, the idea was born after September 11, because what you see on corporate American media is basically sound bites. You don’t get any real news coming out from the Middle East without the pundits telling their own spin around it, and so the idea was born in a sense that you have 280 million people living in 22 countries in the Middle East. The Middle East itself is not a monolith. You have over 130 different satellite stations currently operating out of the Middle East. So, what we wanted to do is bring a window to what those folks out there are watching on a daily basis. And that’s basically what ”MOSAIC” is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you get it? How do you get these newscasts? I mean, you’re not really digesting it. You’re bringing excerpts of these reports from Lebanon TV, Jordan TV. Where do you get them from?
JAMAL DAJANI: Many are available on satellite that we receive, just download, you know, from the satellite. Others we have stories with shelf life. We ship over from our recording studio in Cairo. But basically, we have a small team, a hard-working team that monitors — that monitor stories on a daily basis and in certain instances, we may have a show just going after one story and comparing how these different networks are reporting it, you know, from Israel to the Lebanese broadcasting, to the Iraqis and so forth. And sometimes we are, of course, event driven, so if you have something going on in Iraq, that’s where our focus is going to be for that day.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And is the kind of programming that you are compiling, is it geared predominantly around issues in which the Arab world and let’s say the United States or the West intersect, or do you also bring together some of the programming that deals with the domestic conditions in those countries, as well?
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, unfortunately, I mean, we do both, but unfortunately, with the events going on in Iraq, this is what has been dominating the news. I mean, we bring social, economical issues from time to time or stories, you know, about woman rights in Saudi Arabia or in Morocco, and so forth. But the show is really driven with the facts on the ground, and recently, as you are all aware, even in the corporate media here, the big story is Iraq or something happens in the Palestine-Israeli issue. Recently the events that were unfolding on the Lebanese front and in Syria, those were what we have been focusing on.
AMY GOODMAN: Jamal Dajani, tell us the difference. So, for example, the latest killing of the anti-Syrian journalist when he put the key in the ignition of his car in Beirut or, of course, just the latest developments in Iraq, what is different? Can you give us an example of a station that you’re excerpting their newscast of?
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, like you mentioned before, you said there is a war of information going on. And this is actually — there is a war of information going on between all these different networks. And it’s driven by either sectarian or by the governments. For example, what you talked about the killing of the journalist in Lebanon, you have a war going on between the Christian-sponsored station like LBC, and Al-Manar, which is financed by Syria and Iran, and the Hezbollah station there, basically putting the blame on each other whether this was, for example, the Hezbollah are saying that this is a conspiracy by the Mossad and the United States to create a civil war in Lebanon and, of course, LBC is focusing on the Syrian involvement in silencing the people that are criticizing the government of Syria.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, you’re saying no matter what country you go to, you find a similar pattern, which is the media in those countries, in one form or another, trying to advance a national interest or political interest. Do you find at the same time, some — those who are trying to dispassionately look at the facts and try to better inform their listeners?
JAMAL DAJANI: Yeah, but I do believe like networks like Al Jazeera is really the address. You know, to get some kind of the truth, but we feel also by watching all of these different networks, the truth emerges, which is also interesting. You are talking about all of these different people or different countries trying to advance their points of view, the U.S. also have joined this battle by launching Al-Hurra from Virginia here to somehow add another item on the menu of all of these Arab viewers to watch the American propaganda machine. That’s what they refer to it there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, are you running Al-Hurra, as well?
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, actually, we monitor Al-Hurra, but believe it or not, Al-Hurra is a one-way station. In other words, it’s not permitted to be aired over the United States. So you are paying —
AMY GOODMAN: Because it’s propaganda.
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, it is propaganda, but you are paying for it. The American taxpayer is paying for it, but is forbidden to watch it in the U.S., which tell me, you know, what is the reason behind it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the case of Voice of America, because it was considered propaganda, okay for others, but not for domestic consumption. So what is Al-Hurra saying? What is the view that it is giving, that it is sending to the Arab world? For example, on the occupation?
JAMAL DAJANI: Well, Amy, as you said, the occupation or is it a liberation and so forth. So, there is definitely a twist on the way they’re reporting things, that things are improving in Iraq. The election is a great thing that happened to Iraq. The Iraqis are free and liberated, and focusing more on the democratization while totally ignoring the agonies of the man on the street, the average Iraqi citizen, and the effects of the occupation on their daily lives.
AMY GOODMAN: You also, separate from ”MOSAIC,” have done a documentary, Occupied Minds: a Palestinian Israeli Journey Beyond Hope and Despair. Can you talk about this?
JAMAL DAJANI: Yeah, this is a documentary done with my partner and co-producer, David Michaelis, who’s an Israeli. It’s basically the journey of a Palestinian and Israeli going to the town they were both born. We were both born in Jerusalem in the same town, but we, in fact, we grew up worlds apart, and it’s a perspective from the way we look at things, traveling together through the Palestinian territory, talking to Palestinians and to Israelis from the left and the right, and Occupied Minds is really about not just what the facts, what goes on the ground as far as occupation, but it’s really the mental occupation that both people are now suffering from. The Palestinians are suffering from the physical occupation, the mental occupation, but also the Israelis are suffering from the mental occupation, how to deal with the, you know, with the threats, the daily threats that they have to face or to deal with. You know, we interview a mother that have lost her son, who was in the Israeli army. It is really a look at that fact of — that people don’t usually explore.
JUAN GONZALEZ: If the theme is clearly that the land occupation has led to occupied minds, do you reach conclusions as to whether both sides will have to liberate their minds first before they can deal with the land issue or will the land issue have to be dealt with before the mental occupation can end?
JAMAL DAJANI: I think people have to look beyond their noses, and this is what — just our experience being removed, even though we grew up there and we lived all of our life, it gives you an opportunity to look from a distance at events there, and then when you talk to people, you feel they’re all trapped in their own bubble of thinking, they cannot just move beyond thinking how can we move further, how can we live in peace, how can we share the land? Everyone is trapped in their own thinking, whether, you know, from a religious upbringing or whether just from being indoctrinated all of their life of one way or the other thinking about fear and suspicion of the other.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much Jamal Dajani for joining us, director of Middle Eastern programming at Link TV, producer of ”MOSAIC,” winner of the Peabody Award this past year. Thank you.
JAMAL DAJANI: Thank you.