Monday, July 16, 2007

News Crawl

If English is still the language of the Internet, Islamic extremists are trying to use digital media production tools to provide their own English subtitles and even record English-only broadcasts that emulate Western news formats.

Recently, in "Iran's Press TV to give alternative view," The Los Angeles Times describes how the current religiously conservative Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadhas made the state-run Press TV a top priority for his government's public diplomacy efforts in order to respond to what he describes as his country's position as "the target of global media war." Of course, given the fact that the Iranian government has detained a local Irvine resident Ali Shakeri, who is involved with U.C. Irvine's "Center for Citizen Peacebuilding," along with other Iranian-Americans affiliated with academic think tanks and centers, I think that the U.S. media should be providing a lot more negative coverage of the civil rights abuses of the Iranian pro-mullah regime to get these detainees freed.

What the LA Times story misses is the role of the Internet in these English-oriented initiatives. The Times focuses only on competing satellite channels such as "the BBC World, CNN International, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Al Jazeera International and France 24" without considering how Iranian authorities may also be concerned with how their state TV is disseminated outside the country by anti-jihadist watchdog groups through electronic distributed networks.

At a barbershop in north Tehran, Pooya Ardaroudi said he would use the channel to sharpen his English.

"I am preparing to emigrate to Australia and work as barber there," the 25-year-old said. "I can watch the news and improve my English while I am cutting people's hair."

Weirdly, as this excerpt shows, the Times focuses almost exclusively on how this English channel would be broadcast within the country, when clearly the Iranian coverage is aimed at English-speaking audiences abroad. Obviously, the government isn't creating these shows to provide more English language alternatives to improve the cultural literacy of its domestic population, but rather to counter the way that state messages are being presented in the West.

Anyone who has ever been sent a link to a YouTube video by an Israeli colleague knows that anti-Semitic content on Middle Eastern television is a primary concern for advocates for military and diplomatic support for the Jewish state. Although Link TV from MOSAIC offers a range of news programming from the state-run Al-Alam News Network in Iran, many other groups that present sections of Iranian programming focus on the network's conspiracy theories and racist rants. For example, MEMRI TV monitors Iranian broadcasts with an eye upon a range of damaging public diplomacy subjects that include Holocaust denials and September 11th conspiracy theories. In contrast, Press TV is running softball stories, such as items about peaceful coexistence in multi-ethnic and multi-faith regions of the Middle East.

According to a New Yorker article, some third-party observers claim that translations provided by the SITE Institute are also slanted toward more broadly anti-Muslim interpretations. Many anti-Western groups are now providing their own translations with the footage they release. For example, Al Qaeda's Al-Sahab media group that produces pro-jihadist videos for distribution on the Internet is providing more English-language content with their "news"-style broadcasts of jihadist experts in front of scholarly book shelves, which includes adding their own in-house English subtitles. Recently, Al Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri appeared in this video in which he appeals directly to African-Americans, particularly those in the U.S. Armed Forces, by using English audio and video footage from black nationalist Malcolm X.

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