The Iraq war was notable for the prominent presence of a new, non-Western media organisation – the Qatar-based Arabic channel Al Jazeera. What role did it play during the invasion? And did the presence of an alternative Arabic point of view have any substantial effect on the TV coverage in the West?
“For all of the media chatter about Al Jazeera, when it was talked about during the invasion, it tended to be criticised – for instance when it showed footage of British soldiers killed in southern Iraq. So the channel’s ability to penetrate the British sphere was limited,” said Robinson.
“Where Al Jazeera was important was in attracting Muslim audiences in Britain who were tuning out of the mainstream media. And of course it was very important in the Arab world itself, in terms of directly challenging CNN and representing the perspective of the Arab world.”
Al Jazeera’s crucial role in shaping a largely negative perception of the invasion in the Middle East is one reason why the coalition has had an “uphill struggle” ever since in terms of “the ‘hearts and minds’ battle”, he added.
All this suggests that the recent launch of Al Jazeera’s English language channel could have unexpected effects on audiences in the West.
“We need to wait and see, but the launch of Al Jazeera English is certainly interesting,” said Robinson.
“It is clearly a significant player with a reputation and public profile. It has the potential to change things. But the question is who will tune in – will it attract a white British audience? And of course, the channel is still subject to pressures, commercial and otherwise.”