Aljazeera’s Social Media Shame

Aljazeera only consolidated its association with Islamist movements following its firing of Shlomo Pfeffer

‘It is a sad day for media in general, and for social media in particular’. Judging by the number of retweets, this would easily classify as the most popular among the Israeli Twittersphere in the wake of Aljazeera TV’s disengagement of Shlomo Pfeffer from his responsibilities as its Senior Correspondent in Israel and the Palestinian territories. This controversial move from the Arab world’s prime mouthpiece in the west comes after an equally controversial tweet from Pfeffer, where he expressed his sorrow over the permanent vegetative state of ex-prime minister Ariel Sharon on its 4th anniversary. Widely seen as the enfant terrible of Arab media, Aljazeera has been trying hard to carve itself a niche among both western audiences and audiences of Arab nationals or descent in the west, an effort it concretized with the launching of its English service in 2006. The channel has been trying to reverse its general association with Islamist and other guerilla resistance movements following its airing of the infamous Al Qaqeda videos starting 2001, and to maintain a code of professional objectivity that never managed to escape suspicion. By recruiting local journalists *slash* brand ambassadors, the channel hoped to establish the sort of credibility nurtured by grassroots relationships between its brand champions and their local context. Amidst the controversy, and before the rumors of the disengagement were confirmed, Pfeffer issued a statement on Aljazeera’s blog to explain the real motive behind his tweet and clear ambiguities around it:

‘What I really meant is that I was sad because regardless of his atrocious war crimes, Mr. Sharon was a man with a lot of dedication to his own people, someone willing to go to extremes to further their cause and interests. He was also credited with the courageous act of withdrawing from the Gaza strip, despite wide critique and disapproval among his electoral base. I once interviewed Mr. Sharon and asked him about his long-term vision for Israel. He lightheartedly and bluntly replied that it is every Israeli leader’s dream to establish the borders of the Greater Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile, but there would be room for non-Jews to exist. We will allow them to. Indeed, this deserves respect and this is why I expressed sorrow. I apologize if this was misinterpreted’

Apparently, this explanation did not help much, and did not convince many, especially in Aljazeera’s native geo-political context who saw in Pfeffer’s statement clear bias by his nationality towards a figure so unappreciated yet so central in the Middle East conflict. To Aljazeera’s audience in the Middle East, Pfeffer had no credibility left. He could not be trusted with objective reporting of the daily maneuvers for existence in this sensitive and volatile region.

Reactions among Aljazeera International’s western audiences were of quite a different nature though. The channel’s move was seen as motivated by its origins and political affiliations rather than by its effort to safeguard its professional integrity.

‘Leave #Pfeffer alone, you pathetic Aljazeera!’,

‘Shlomo we love you, and because we are your friends, we are unconditionally by your side’

‘Who said that someone with the twitter handle @ShlomoAljazeera is expressing the views of Aljazeera and not his own?’

‘So what? Shlomo cannot express his own views just because he works for Aljazeera? After all he is an Israeli, he must owe something to Sharon, despite the latter’s unclean record. Can’t a journalist be human after all?

Those were examples of messages that circulated on social media to express ultimate disdain for the channel, and uncritical support for Pfeffer.

If you too, think that Aljazeera has been unfair, please raise your hand and/or leave your reason why. I shall compile your comments into an official petition.

Disclaimer: in the extremely rare event that you did not see this as a fictive story and a direct allegory to the Octavia Nasr/CNN incident, please take note of that.

  1. I knew where this was going when I first read “controversial tweet” (before noticing the tags actually). 🙂 Nicely done! But how many people do you think will understand this in context of what recently happened?

  2. I think it’s quite obvious, but maybe I should add a disclaimer.

    • Raed
    • July 8th, 2010

    I think part of the question is that social media blurred the distinction between “objective” or let’s say neutral/impartial reporting that a journalist needs to reflect in his articles in his capacity as a superhero and his personal/private sphere where he/she can be a human being like any other with viewpoints, biases and opinions.

  3. Raed: Yes, that’s precisely the problem. The nuance might not jump to the eye but I guess she could have gotten away with it had its twitter handle been @OctaviaNasr instead of @OctaviaNasrCNN. She gathers and disseminates news as a CNN person. Consequently, she can tweet sterile personal messages, but cannot comment on politically sensitive matters as a ‘mere person’.

  4. and then the main point is that we’re actually being biased (to Octavia, as Lebanese, Arabs, Tweeps of Octavia,etc..) while criticizing CNN’s bias. Maybe it helps if we see things from an opposite, more detached position. Maybe we will see that CNN’s action was justified after all. If the actual scenario was what’s in the above post, would we have had the same judgement?

    • Khaled Khalil
    • July 11th, 2010

    i would have the same judgment.

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