Thursday, July 11, 2013

Media Warfare Is the Middle East’s Latest Blood Sport—and the U.S. Is the Loser

Who owns the widespread and influential new Arab media, source of much of our news about the region?

By Lee Smith

Arab MediaEarlier 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.

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