Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Is Al Jazeera trolling?

I saw Control Room, a documentary about media relations with the United States Central Command in Iraq, especially Al Jazeera. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives. What struck me most, however, was a statement from Samir Khader, senior producer at Al Jazeera about that station's role. He said:
My own feeling is that the message of Al Jazeera is first of all educational, to educate the Arab masses on something called democracy, respect of the other opinion, the free debate--really free debate, no taboos, nothing is called taboo. Everything should be dealt with intelligently and with openness and to try by using all these things to shake up these rigid societies, to awaken them, tell them "Wake up! Wake up! There is a war around you. Something's happening in the world. You're still sleeping. Wake up." This is the message of Al Jazeera.
I goggled at the screen when I heard this. It's exactly the justification put forth by Internet trolls for their inflammatory behavior. "We're trying to shake up The Establishment," they say, "to make people think, for a change."

I don't actually have a problem with "all topics discussed, openly and intelligently," but I've too often seen that used as a justification for a worthless discussion. I like a good Swiftian modest proposal, but I've found that sometimes trolls take it too far. That's my concern about Al Jazeera. Are they trying to have, or be a part of, a good discussion, or are they trolling for viewers? I know they didn't invent sensationalism, and I don't mean to pick on Al Jazeera for that. The real story here is my own bias. I heard "all topics discussed" and "shake up rigid societies", and that meant "troll" to me, immediately. It's possible Khader is sincere, but the phrases he used to express that screamed "insincere" at me.
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