BROOKE GLADSTONE: American media gatekeepers have been puzzling openly over how to use the all-too-plentiful images of murder. Sometimes, as we just heard, we the people are asked to weigh in on the decision. And when we are not shown the images, often we are told why. Not so in the Arab media where, according to Mamoun Fandy, news consumers are presented with a steady stream of unthinkable images with little by way of hemming and hawing. Fandy is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and a columnist for the pan Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. He's been monitoring Arab satellite channels and newspapers, and he reported on his findings for the Washington Post last Sunday. The headline read: "Where's the Arab Media's Sense of Outrage?"
MAMOUN FANDY: This is really sort of a new turn for Arab media and Arab television -- to show these gruesome images over and over again. What struck me initially is the absence of any sense of outrage. Publicly, you know, there was no discussion also of the legitimacy of these pictures; the legitimacy of the communiques that are put on the air and their impact, whether they are recruitment tools for Al Qaeda.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But you also wrote that privately, many Arab journalists have a different view.
MAMOUN FANDY: Privately, the whole Arab world has a different view. Privately, there is a different reality in the Arab world that's not captured by the Arab media represented by the pan Arab media, like Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and other news channels. But also, the journalists themselves, there is the intimidation factor - the fear factor. I mean, these terrorists killed one of the major writers in Egypt, Farag Fouda, who challenged their rationale for this random jihad. These people are not reluctant to stop and kill in broad daylight.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Obviously, we don't want to speak of the Arab world as a monolith--
MAMOUN FANDY: That's correct.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- so what you're saying is: those who would condemn the executions are afraid, and those who support it feel comfortable in doing so, because there'll be no consequences.
MAMOUN FANDY: Sure. I mean it's obvious, as you said, that the Arab world is not a monolith, but certainly one can talk about the pan Arab media as a monolith, because they do not report local stories. They always focus on these pan Arab stories, and this is why you find the Occupied Territories and Iraq are the mainstay of, of Al Jazeera as well as Al Arabiya. They try to make the Arab world as a monolith, because they do not report the different views that exist in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, versus Iraq, Egypt and other places.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let's talk about Al Jazeera.
MAMOUN FANDY: Some basic facts about Al Jazeera that people should know straightforwardly. First of all, Al Jazeera is not as independent as many talk about here in the West. It's a state-owned television owned by the state of Qatar. Everyone who works in Al Jazeera is a state employee. So the idea of Al Jazeera as independent Arab channel is a myth. A second thing that's relating to Al Jazeera and other channels, and this is probably -might be seen as an outrageous statement by others - but Arab media is free under occupation. They are not free anywhere else; that they can report whatever they want from Iraq under the Americans or Palestine under the Israelis, but next door there was the killing of Kurds in Qamishli last month, in Syria, and Al Jazeera was nowhere to be found. There is a genocidal campaign in Western Sudan in Darfur, and there is no coverage of that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that's because--?
MAMOUN FANDY: Because the Arabs are doing the killing, to tell you the truth. I mean this is straightforward -- that if non-Arabs are doing the killing, then there is an outrage. If the Arabs themselves are victimizing other Arabs or non-Arabs, then somehow there is an amazing silence and, and somebody has to speak out about this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why do you think it happens? It's not simply because they're afraid of getting attacked by terrorists in their own lands. It's because, you say, of the prevailing culture.
MAMOUN FANDY: There is a general mood in the Arab world to deflect all the problems of the Arab world to the outside world, because governing regimes in that part of the world have very little legitimacy in their own lands, so mainly they live off the threat from the outside that the Israelis are going to get us and the Americans are going to get us, so therefore we don't have to think about our internal situation. There is this slogan that Nasser invented in the '60s [SPEAKS IN ARABIC LANGUAGE] -- "No voice should prevail over the voice of war." That's the dominant slogan, and continues until today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you wrote that this prevails in Arab newsrooms as well, and you talk about Abdul Rahman Rashed, the head of Al Arabiya, and Al Arabiya is a station like Al Jazeera that--
MAMOUN FANDY: It's Al Jazeera's main competitor, yeah. Well, Abdul Rahman is-- Rasheed-- is a very serious individual who is an honest journalist who tries to do the best, and he gave me a couple of examples, one of them from when he was the editor in chief of Asharq Al-Awsat the paper that I write for. He said he caught one of his editors trying to change the caption of an AP photo about an American soldier talking to an Iraqi girl and made it into an American soldier soliciting sex from an Iraqi girl. He's the new head of Al Arabiya, and he said something that I did not quote in the piece in the Washington Post -- when he went into his first meeting with his people, he said "Look, you are very much like drug addicts as far as hate America campaign that you are involved in, and I'm giving you three months for detox. If you do not get over it, you know, consider yourself not working for me." But he said, you know, it's been three months, and they are still really addicted to the same stuff.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mr. Fandy, I seem to be at something of a loss. You're in a better position than I am to condemn the Arab media, as you seem to do, but American media has gotten a lot of criticism for failing to understand the Arab context, and, and would you say that that criticism is deserved?
MAMOUN FANDY: Absolutely. But before I just basically sound like I condemn all Arab media, I would like to also say that there are Arab journalists who were killed in Algeria and other places going after the story, but these people are being finished off by a culture of terrorism and intimidation that's dominating the scene today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you're saying those who have tried to buck the trend in the Arab media are murdered?
MAMOUN FANDY: Absolutely. Many, many journalists. A friend of mine-- he disappeared from Cairo last August. These are people who tried to be good journalists in the Arab world, and it is, it's an uphill battle. As far as the American media, yes, there is an absence of context. There is an absence of basic information about the Arab world, and sometimes the American media is extremely gullible as far as taking Al Jazeera reporting as if it were legitimate reporting and put the pictures from Al Jazeera as if they were legitimate pictures. The Americans thought that Al Jazeera is somehow the, the Arab CNN, but it's not the case whatsoever. Al Jazeera is not CNN. Al Jazeera is not journalism, period.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, thank you very much.
MAMOUN FANDY: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mamoun Fandy is a columnist for the pan Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. His Washington-based think tank, Fandy Associates, provides analysis to governments, industry and the media.