The Battle for the Arab Viewer

Directed by Nordin Lasfar

48 minutes / Color
English subtitles
Release: 2012
Copyright: 2011

In early 2011, people around the world tuned into Al Jazeera to watch the Egyptian revolution in real time. Meanwhile, rival broadcaster Al Arabiya was also offering near continuous coverage, with cameras on a balcony overlooking the 6th October Bridge, where protesters and police clashed.

How was the content of those broadcasts - and the networks' subsequent coverage - influenced by their political allegiances?

Featuring interviews with current and former journalists from both networks, and analysis from independent pundits, THE BATTLE FOR THE ARAB VIEWER highlights the philosophical differences between the two pan-Arab networks.

Al Jazeera was created by the Emir of Qatar after he deposed his father in a coup. The station typically champions the poor and social movements - such as the Muslim Brotherhood - that are hostile to the Saudi regime. The station has grown highly influential. In the film, a passerby stops Al Jazeera's chief Cairo correspondent on the street to thank him and the government of Qatar for supporting the anti-Mubarak forces, saying the network is "90%" responsible for the revolution.

With Al Jazeera supporting elements hostile to Saudi Arabia, the Saudis set up their own network as a counterpoint: the more conservative Al Arabiya, owned by a close friend of the royal family.

While THE BATTLE FOR THE ARAB VIEWER offers insight and analysis, it also shows how the battle between the two networks plays out on the ground in Cairo. We go behind the scenes with Al Arabiya journalist Randa Abul Azm and Al Jazeera's Abdelfattah Fayed as they follow stories, break news, and cover events such as Hosni Mubarak's trial. (Azm is allowed into the courtroom, but Fayed is not.)

Media bias is nothing new - as Mirazi says, viewers of Fox News and MSNBC each know what they are going to get. What is different in the Arab world is that the networks are directly owned by states. He says, "They keep shifting according to the countries they are sponsored by, and that affects the stories their citizens get on a daily basis."

As democracy spreads through the region, will truly independent media follow?

"Lasfar's film highlights the negative impact such sudden, jarring shifts in editorial perspective can have on public discourse in the Middle East, while underlining the need for authentic independent media outlets. THE BATTLE FOR THE ARAB VIEWER would be an excellent addition to all media studies, journalism, communication, and Middle Eastern studies collections. Highly Recommended!" —Educational Media Reviews Online

"Presents an excellent overview of the political dynamics that shape the editorial practices and perspective of both networks." —Al Jadid: A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts

"Beyond its exposure of the policies of Arab-language TV news, the film also gives an intimate insight into the work of the chief reporters working for both." —Brian McNair, Journalism Practice

"A very timely and instructive video, showing that media and politics are not only each lively on their own but necessarily and unavoidably intertwined." —Anthropology Review Database


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A film by Nordin Lasfar

Select Accolades

  • 2012 MESA FilmFest, Middle East Studies Association


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