Friday, April 22, 2011

MENA Political Watchdogs: Social Media and Al Jazeera

NPR: Clinton Lauds Virtues Of Al Jazeera: 'It's Real News'
NPR: Syrian Activist In Hiding Presses Mission From Abroad
American Journalism Review: The Al Jazeera Effect
Politico: Al Jazeera has fans in Obama W.H

It is undeniable that social networks have been instrumental in fueling the Jasmine Revolution in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). In fact, the term, “Jasmine Revolution” was coined by a Tunisian political activist and blogger, Zied El Hani in January of this year.

Content on social media outlets galvanized protestors, leading to the toppling of decades-old regimes in the region and spurring others. In doing so, social media content has gained a new prevalence as a source of information for international audiences. Social media appears to be at the frontline of political and social discourse about the Middle East. Many of the blogs, video posts on You Tube, and Facebook pages have not only informed local citizens, but have educated the world of the atrocities committed by autocrats in the region.

On Friday, during what has already been termed as “Bloody Friday” by international medial, Syria’s government initiated a brutal attack on protesters, according to eyewitnesses. Indeed, many of the reports received by news media were received in the form of video recording on cell phones or as links from posts to YouTube. A Syrian political activist, Rami Nakhle, is on the run from Syrian officials in Beirut, Lebanon. He collects much of the eyewitness reports from protestors (which are illegal in Syria) and uploads them on various social media websites, including his own. Some of those images and videos have made it into Al Jazeera’s programming.

In fact, Al Jazeera has received considerable attention and praise for its coverage of the Middle East revolutions. With hundreds of reporters already in place, and, working closely with “cyber activists,” commentators have suggested that Al Jazeera has outperformed more established media channels in its coverage of the Middle East. In a speech on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the channel as a leader in “literally changing people's minds and attitude.”

While Al Jazeera has many skeptics, who allege that the channel has an anti-Semitic, anti-American bias, the channel has strongly asserted itself as a leading global news source. The wealth of information communicated by Al Jazeera to its audiences has greatly influenced global sentiments towards events in the Middle East. As social media sources and Al Jazeera gain greater confidence of international viewership, their role in shaping public opinion will continue to gain prevalence, serving as political watchdogs in the region.

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