TRULY AN ALTERNATIVE SOURCE.
ANYONE WHO SAW any of the TV coverage of the recent (or, to a certain extent, ongoing) war with Iraq no doubt saw some coverage that came from the Middle East's answer to the Fox News Channel, Al-Jazeera. ``Exclusive to Al-Jazeera,'' a ``Wide Angle'' documentary, examines the controversial network as it covered the war.
Not only did Al-Jazeera infuriate and offend American officials with its coverage, it irritated Iraqi leaders (the ones that could be located, at least) to the point that they almost ejected Al-Jazeera reporters from the country, just as they had CNN's from Baghdad.
As ``Exclusive to Al-Jazeera'' points out, many of the employees at the network - which is not state-owned, and was the first uncensored channel in the Arab world - were trained in the West, some working at the BBC. Omar Bec, the head of news gathering, is a droll, sharp guy who doesn't seem to have much of an agenda beyond simply reporting.
When Al-Jazeera comes under fire for showing images of killed and captured American troops and is accused of defying the Geneva Convention (which applies to nations, not the media), Bec wryly wonders aloud if American networks are receiving the same amount of rebuke for showing Iraqi prisoners of war. (Even some American pundits - Fox News' Greta Van Sustern, for example - argued that Americans were mature and sturdy enough to see grisly images of the battle many encouraged, though none of Al-Jazeera's footage was ever shown on TV here until this documentary, although some images are blurred.)
The film also profiles Mawfak Tawfiq, the network's translator, who works even as he worries about the fate of family members as Baghdad is bombed (after translating the words of Colin Powell, he shrugs, ``That was my contribution to civilization this evening''). Other challenges: hackers attack the Web site, other networks pirate hard-won images without permission and one of the network's reporters is killed by American shelling.
What the film fails to do is examine the slanted nature of Al-Jazeera's coverage. Anyone who visited the network's English-language Web site (when it wasn't being hacked, at least) saw some fairly inflammatory headlines. This editorializing is glossed over in the documentary. Still, it's an absorbing look at how the war was viewed through the eyes of reporters on the other side of the conflict.
David Kronke, (818) 713-3638
EXCLUSIVE TO AL-JAZEERA - Three stars
What: ``Wide Angle'' documentary on the Arab world's leading news network.
When: 9 tonight.
In a nutshell: An interesting portrait, despite overlooking a key aspect of the story.
Outside of the control room, the Arab network Al-Jazeera had to deal with hackers, image poachers and a reporter's death during its coverage of the Iraq war.