Media Warfare Is the Middle East’s Latest Blood Sport—and the U.S. Is the Loser
By Lee Smith
Earlier this week, Al Jazeera staffers were driven out of a news briefing held by the Egyptian military—apparently because of perceptions by those in the crowd that the Doha-based network is biased toward the Muslim Brotherhood government. This incident is only the latest salvo in what’s emerging as an ongoing media war in the Middle East. Last month I wrote about the Middle East media war and its role in the real-world conflict in the Middle East pitting the Sunni powers—from the Arab states in the Persian Gulf to Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey—against the Iranian-led resistance bloc of mostly Shia states and organizations like Hezbollah, Syria, and, increasingly, Iraq, whose bloodiest battlefield right now is in Syria, but which is claiming lives and minds throughout the Middle East.
Pushing the resistance bloc’s narrative are a host of media organizations, including the Beirut-based daily newspapers Al-Akhbar, publishing in Arabic as well as English, and As-Safir, as well as the newly founded satellite TV station Al Mayadeen, which is reportedly owned by Bashar al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf.
Promoting the Sunni narrative of the media war—and of the shooting war in Syria—are the two giants of Arab satellite TV: Al Jazeera, which is supported financially and politically by the emir of Qatar, and Al Arabiya, which is owned by a consortium led by members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. There are also various other television stations, newspapers, and websites representing the interests of Persian Gulf Arab powers, including the two great pan-Arab daily newspapers Asharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat—which are both owned by members of the Saudi royal family and headquartered in London. Where satellite television has captured the largest audiences, these two papers publish leading Arab intellectuals in their op-ed pages while faithfully chronicling the opinions and policies of Riyadh decision-makers for other Arab elites throughout the region.
In Beirut, the other great center of Arabic media, are a number of other media outfits aligned with Gulf Arab interests, like Future-TV, owned by the family of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Since Lebanon borders Syria, where the Sunni-Shia shooting war is presently most active, Beirut is effectively the front line of the media war.
Yet up until the beginning of the uprising against Syria, the Sunni-owned press was anything but unified. The purpose of the Arab media is to advance the interests of states, regardless of what those interests might be from moment to moment. Where the old Arab media was directly owned and controlled by states, today’s Arab newspapers and satellite TV stations are owned either by the ruling families of Arab states, or by powerful people whose political and financial interests are tied to states, who can afford the nicest studios and the largest production budgets for their ventures, and whose profits are measured in influence rather than dollars. Read the rest of the story in the Tablet.