Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Al Jazeera and Freedom of Speech: Oxymoron or Necessity?

I was intrigued by a piece written by William F. Buckley, Jr. in the online version of the National Review.

In it, Buckley argues that Al Jazeera is a font for anti-American propaganda and gives undue publicity to the savage people that behead others for their own ideological reasons. He also argues that the idea of free speech should not apply here because of the inflamed situation.

Well, Mr. Buckley, you got it about half right.

Granted, that particular news organization does not fairly portray, well, much of what is going on in the region. It tells its viewers what they want to hear and shows them what they want to see. Wait a minute...we do that too! Shame on both of us.

I do not support the horrid acts of these craven cowards who hide behind masks, guns and an ideology that preaches hate and destruction. It is despicable and wrong by any code of morals, ethics or religious standards.

In fighting this factor, it must be remembered that terrorism and the media are made for each other. Terrorists seek maximum shock and maximum dispersal of images of their actions for the minimum effort. Terrorism is a media-driven event. If it were not for the influence and spread of the global media, terrorism would not be what it is today. People would not be effected by it in the same way that they are our days of news bombardment.

If we want to fight this phenomenon, here are a few suggestions:
  • Remember Radio Free Europe, our voice to the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War? Let's fight fire with fire! If this is a war of media images and fights for "share" of a world audience, let's use our time and talents in an all out shock-and-awe media blitz. We are the ones that invented modern advertising, reality shows and celebrities who are famous because they are famous. If we can turn those impossible feats of mind, why not blasting our story to the television audiences of the Middle East? Everyone who gets Al Jazeera also should be hit with our version. Then, like us, the poor people can be totally confused about what to think. From confusion comes understanding (or changing the channel).
  • Wanna be a persuasive news organization and get your message in front of millions, Al Jazeera? Take a lesson from American television news. First, I am afraid that the beheading videos have to go. No good trying to convince people of your point of view when their countrymen are being beheaded over your airwaves, is it? If you want to persuade people in the West that the Bush administration is evil and after the Islamic world, playing up the violent parts is the worst way to do this. A lot of people here may agree with your message...dress it up in some tropes of Western journalism, and you may surprise yourself.

Lastly, on freedom of speech. It is one of the most sacred rights that humankind possesses. It should not be restricted in any way, shape or form. The way to a free and just society is through robust and open public debate. All voices must be heard for there to be progress.

Mr. Buckley, I still think that John Stuart Mill and John Milton (Aeropagitica) may have a slight advantage over you. Your commentary is good and insightful and you are an innovator in American political commentary (at least in the twentieth century). I admire you a great deal.

Can't recall, however, college freshmen reading your books to acquaint themselves with the basic ideas of liberty and freedom...A supplement, possibly, but never a required text.

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby.

No comments: