As Israel’s war against Gaza rages on, the foreign media must watch from the sidelines. Israel has barred access to the Gaza strip for journalists and human rights monitors, as part of an attempt to impose political control on the reporting. The closest that the foreign media can get to the action in Gaza is Hack Hill, where Gaza burns “splendidly on the horizon” and clowns mock the correspondents. Real clowns, not just Joe the Plumber, mind you.
However, there is one media organization that is already on the scene in Gaza – Al Jazeera. For AlJ, the problem isn’t getting into Gaza, but rather getting their news out. Their solution? Embracing the new media of the Internet:
While getting to the story has not been an insurmountable problem
for Al Jazeera English’s journalists — they are, in effect, surrounded
by it — getting their reports to the English-speaking public has been a
bit trickier. The network is largely unavailable in the United States,
carried only by cable providers in Burlington, Vt.; Toledo, Ohio; and
Washington, D.C. (In Burlington, the local government last summer
rejected public calls for the city-owned cable provider, Burlington
Telecom, to drop the channel.)
By contrast, Al Jazeera’s
English-language service can be seen in over 100 countries via cable
and satellite, according to Molly Conroy, a spokeswoman for the network
Recognizing that its material from Gaza will have
influence in the United States only if it is highly accessible online,
Al Jazeera has aggressively experimented with using the Internet to
distribute the information it has gathered.
For example, Mohamed
Nanabhay, the 29-year-old executive who established Al Jazeera’s
new-media group, beginning in late 2006, said that Al Jazeera planned
to announce this week that all its video material of the war in Gaza
would become available under the most lenient Creative Commons license,
which basically means it can be used by anyone — rival broadcaster,
documentary maker or individual blogger, for example — as long as Al
Jazeera is credited.
Also, it currently streams its broadcasts in a variety of formats and has a dedicated channel on YouTube with more than 6,800 videos.
This isn’t just lip-service, mind you. Mohamed Nanabhay, the executive mentioned above, is on twitter (@mohamed) and also runs a dedicated Gaza twitter account (@AJGaza) for breaking news in addition to the regular Al Jazeera account (@AJEnglish). The AJ YouTube channel is among the most-viewed News and Politics channels, but what is even more exciting is the AJ Creative Commons Repository where daily video reports from Gaza are currently being filed. These videos are being released under the most liberal license, requiring only attribution to Al Jazeera for private, commercial and non-commercial use (including remixing). For example, here is high-res MPG footage of Day 19, available directly for download to your personal computer, or embed directly into your blog posts:
Already, Wikipedia is using this footage for it’s own articles on the Gaza conflict. All this is of course in addition to the regular english-language website (with RSS feed) and mobile-phone version.
It’s worth noting that Al Jazeera’s reputation as “Jihad TV” is wholly undeserved and unjust. Far from being a biased, pro-Islamist propaganda outlet, Al Jazeera is one of the most professional journalism outlets in the world, and a beacon of genuine reporting and commentary in the autocratic landscape of the Middle East. I’ve called Al Jazeera the NPR of the Middle East and Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) has been defending the channel for years. It’s telling that Al Qaeda routinely lumps Al Jazeera in with the BBC and CNN as media oppressors of the Islamic world! The innovative embrace of new media will help to earn Al Jazeera some much-deserved credibility in the eyes of the general news consumer, inshallah.