- Contemporary Arab Broadcast Media
A simple search on Amazon reveals Al-Jazeera in the titles of dozens of works, dealing with many aspects of the famous broadcasting network, from its history and political economy to its impact on international relations, its place in the so-called war on terror, and its editors' choice of language when covering events. Examination of Al-Jazeera is central to Contemporary Arab Broadcast Media, and any reader would initially presume the book to offer some new insights about it. After all, given the recent, rapid growth in scholarly work on Arab media, new books on the topic need to be distinctive. Here, one is led to expect El Mustapha Lahlali's study to examine Al-Jazeera's coverage of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and to compare it with the coverage of two other news channels broadcasting in Arabic, namely Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra.
In principle, such an undertaking—highlighted on the book's cover— may have seemed comparable to that of Leon Barkho, who used critical discourse analysis in his 2010 book to compare the way Al-Jazeera, CNN, and the BBC covered Israeli-Palestinian clashes and the invasion of Iraq.1 Where it would differ would be in the events covered and by whom. In practice, Lahlali's account of his three chosen channels turns out to be an exercise fraught with mystery, as this reviewer feels duty-bound to show.
The mystery starts with the title. Al-Hurra, as explained in chapter 3, is a US operation funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a US federal agency. Lahlali implies that the US launched Radio Sawa and Al-Hurra simultaneously in 2004, after President Bush "laid the blame on Arab channels for spreading 'hateful propaganda' against the United States,"2 but Radio Sawa actually started in March 2002. Setting chronology aside, however, how does Contemporary Arab Broadcast Media justify labeling Al-Hurra "Arab"? It is true that publishers often choose [End Page 176] an all-encompassing title for a specialist book to attract more interest. In this book, however, the author himself promises an all-encompassing account that will "acquaint the reader with the development and progress of Arab media" before moving to focus on "three Arab channels" (including Al-Hurra), which together are said to "represent the face of the Arab transnational media landscape."3 Thus, a US media outlet is defined as Arab because it broadcasts in Arabic. By the same logic, British, French, German, Russian, Chinese, and Turkish stations broadcasting in Arabic could also claim the same label.
The second mystery, given the author's promise to survey the development and progress of Arab media, surrounds the timing of writing and publication. The year of publication is 2011, and the precise release date was June 6. A sentence on page 86, stating that the Libyan regime arrested an Al-Jazeera team in Tripoli "in March 2011," proves that the book was not printed before March 19, the date of the arrest. So why does it say nothing at all about Arab media during the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt? Except for a single reference in the conclusion to "the 2011 developments in Egypt, Tunisia and across the Arab world," the author writes as if these "developments" had not happened.4 Readers are likely to understand the "radical media change" of the current era to have something to do with social networking and video-sharing online. Yet the radical change Lahlali speaks of is the "launch of satellite and cable television channels."5
In fact, the majority of references cited in the overview in chapter 2 date from 2001 to 2005, and much of the material garnered from these secondary sources has long since been overtaken by events. It is, for example, astonishing to read, in a book published in mid-2011, that Egypt's state-owned newspapers "are [the] most influential."6 Even if the author had no chance to mention why these newspapers' performance during the 2010 elections and demonstrations...