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Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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There's bias, and then there's bias | Are Arab newscasts biased against America?

Is the ayatollah not a Catholic? You don't have to be Noam Chomsky to detect which side Arab TV stations were rooting for during the war in Iraq.

All you have to do is watch a few Arab newscasts, which I have been able to do courtesy of WorldLink TV, the satellite channel offered to 19 million U.S. households.

WorldLink is based in San Francisco. Its lefty politics make PBS look like Fox News. But if you're interested in the big, crazy/mean/mad world beyond North America -- i.e., the 435 strategically crucial countries where U.S. troops are stationed -- WorldLink's mix of documentaries, international news, foreign feature films and world music is priceless.

Be forewarned, however. When WorldLink boasts it presents "viewpoints seldom covered in the U.S. media," it's not kidding. For instance, recently it has been proudly running "Palestine Is Still the Issue," a provocative documentary from Britain whose blatant anti-Israeli tilt assured that no mainstream American network would touch it.

Made by John Pilger, a left-wing Aussie journalist, it uses all the usual tricks of documentary film-making to ask what few news media or pundits dare to ask publicly, lest they be branded anti-Semitic: Why, after so many decades, are Palestinians still refugees in what was once their own country?


Pilger is not interested in balance, and doesn't pretend to be.Yet his documentary is powerful, and naggingly persuasive, for one simple reason -- American TV audiences have never seen anything like it.

Not unless you've seen Israeli soldiers caught on videotape using sharp stones the size of bricks to deliberate break the arm and back bones of young Palestinian men.

Pilger's film and WorldLink's panel discussion afterwards is must-see TV for adults who, for purely masochistic reasons, seek greater understanding of U.S. Middle East policy or wonder why 280 million Arabs might not agree with it.

So is "Mosaic: World News From the Middle East," the 30-minute mix of daily newscasts from 15 private and government Arab TV stations that WorldLink airs in English four times a day.

If you don't think about the impact its distortions have on its more martyr-minded viewers, watching Arab newscasts is a media-junkie's hoot. The other night, as American tanks clogged downtown Baghdad, Al Manar TV of Jordan opened "Mosaic's" program by reciting the latest civilian casualty numbers and showing video of Iraqis desperately clawing at the rubble of a bombed-out building for survivors.

As one man handed another a plastic bag, the news reader said it was "filled with human flesh." A father with a shovel crying for his entombed dead son. The gripping scene went on for two full minutes -- a lifetime in TV news.


Two nights before, it was no different. "Mosaic" served up war news from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon and Iran. Government spokesmen on both sides were given equal, straight-faced credibility, as if reports of U.S. tank columns crisscrossing Baghdad were simultaneously true and untrue. This "balance" gave new meaning to Fox News' infamous claim, "We report, you decide."

The most hilariously news came from our old friends in Teheran, where IRIB-2 TV's fancy graphics and snappy presentation clashed with the anchorwoman's traditional all-black Muslim garb.

IRIB's war news was lopsided with scenes of "anti-war-mongering" demonstrations from around world. But nothing it did was too surprising. You know how CBS titles its war coverage "America at War"? And Fox echoes the Pentagon's official war brand, "Operation Iraqi Freedom"? IRIB-2's war logo is "War for Oil." Now that's bias.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald