Information Warfare: Why Al Jazeera Fixed An Error


March 12, 2015: Arab media regularly run stories purporting to be fact but are most definitely not. All mass media do this to a certain extent but the leader in this dubious practice are Arab media. Within the Arab speaking world these fanciful stories are rarely fact-checked and corrected because their readers accept this sort of thing. Many Arab editors are aware of how media in the rest of the world is more dedicated to the truth and this can be seen in English language versions of their media; which do not run the more outrageous stories, or versions where the really fantastical claims are deleted or toned down.

Even the Arab language satellite news outlets run many unchallenged stories that would not pass Western levels of fact checking. One exception is al Jazeera, which has a growing English language service that can easily be seen by non-Arabs worldwide. The editors of the English editions try to keep out the stories that entertain (and don’t bother) their Arab speaking audience but would leave English speakers wondering about the lack of professionalism at al Jazeera. As a result al Jazeera has become more and more responsive to corrections to its English language items. One such case occurred in early 2015 when al Jazeera ran a story (in both Arabic and English) repeating accusations by local officials in Gaza that Israel had deliberately opened dams in southern Israel in order to cause floods in Gaza. These floods did occur after heavy rains but when Western readers asked al Jazeera about the fact that Israel had no dams anywhere near Gaza (or southern Israel for that matter) al Jazeera quickly withdrew the story.

The al Jazeera editors could have attributed the error to the fact that they simply took the word of Gaza officials without bothering to double check. But the fact of the matter is that in most Arab countries most everything that goes wrong is blamed on foreigners (usually Israel, the United States or the West in general). It is considered impolite (if not outright dangerous) to criticize such reporting. But in this case it was considered prudent to play by Western rules in order to retain what few English language readers they had, and to avoid Western media picking up on all the similar stories Arab media put out and making a big deal out of it.



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