I have always considered Al Jazeera to be one of the enlightened and forward looking institutions emerging from the Arab World. A news programme that is firmly rooted in sound, accurate, factual reporting. OK I know that everyone does not see Arabic News in the same way as I do. I was exposed to reporting bias by that paragon of impartiality, the BBC, during the Northern Ireland troubles. I know that even when rooted in the factual reporting can be highly biased. The point is, Al Jazeera seemed to be an antidote to all the other Arabic news, and it is a news channel consumed by Arabs.
So it was with some surprise that I learned differently yesterday. I was having my golden tresses restyled and trimmed in Thurles by my barber who is a French national of Arabic extraction. He has Al Jazeera on the TV all the time. We were chatting about Algeria, Pieds-Noirs, and the recent tragedy of 92 Malian refugees who died in the desert when their trucks broke down.
As we chatted he nodded at the TV and commented in an offhand manner that Arabs no longer trust Al Jazeera. I asked him why, and he said it was because Al Jazeera always tells bad news. This raises all sorts of issues about the future security of Al Jazeera.
If you are raised on a diet of happy-clappy propaganda, telling you that you live in the greatest country in the world, and that you are rich and well-off, and then you hear real news and opinion from an independent source, who do you believe? If Al Jazeera gives “bad news” we can understand the appeal of the channel to the intelligentsia, but we may also understand a rejection by the commons. If you are condemned to a life of poverty is it better to find your life acceptable, or is it better that you are made to feel dissatisfied with your life every time you turn around.
For that matter, how happy are we “wealthy” western people with our lot? Every time I turn on the TV I am barraged with all the reasons why I am not “happy”. My car is not big enough, my clothes are not stylish enough, my teeth are not straight, I don’t have enough holidays, I don’t eat out enough, I don’t bring my boys to enough football matches. In short, regardless of what I earn, I don’t spend enough money.
Also, I don’t plan sufficiently for the future. I don’t have enough insurance, my pension is not big enough, and if either myself or my wife die our children will not be able to retire on the payout.
Western style news programmes sometimes throw in the odd fluffy heartwarming story. Donald Trump gave $10k to a good Samaritan today. But news is generally pretty negative stuff. We revel in disasters, riots, wars and scandals. Good news is ho-hum.
So which is better, to be an Arab viewer who rejects Al Jazeera and settles for a modest but happy life, or to be a dissatisfied well-informed Western consumer?
“How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”
Robert Browning (1812–89)
I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I gallop’d, Dirck gallop’d, we gallop’d all three;
“Good speed !” cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we gallop’d abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turn’d in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shorten’d each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chain’d slacker the bit,
Nor gallop’d less steadily Roland a whit.
’T was moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawn’d clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld, ’t was morning as plain as could be;
And from Mechelm church-steeple we heard the half chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, “Yet there is time!”
At Aershot, up leap’d of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To state thro’ the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other prick’d out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.
By Hasselt, Dirck groan’d; and cried Joris “Stay spur!
Your Roos gallop’d bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We ’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretch’d neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shudder’d and sank.
So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laugh’d a pitiless laugh,
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!
“How they ’ll greet us!”—and all in a moment his roan
Roll’d neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.
Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, lean’d, patted his ear,
Call’d my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer;
Clapp’d my hands, laugh’d and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland gallop’d and stood.
And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ’twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I pour’d down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.