June 11 2004

Control Room Questions Wartime Media Motives

By Raymond R. Beltrán

Throughout the duration of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Al Jazeera reporting network, made up of former BBC Arabic Television members, has been demonized by U.S. government officials, like President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for airing gut-wrenching footage of dead American troops in the battlefields of Iraq. Saddam Hussein has labeled the station a tool of U.S. propaganda for airing the monstrous abuse of Iraqi civilians by their leaders. For standing outside of the perimeters of both forces, Al Jazeera has found itself between a rock and a hard place.

Egyptian American Director Jehane Noujaim (Born Rich, Only the Strong Survive) recently directed a documentary, Control Room, which depicts the labor of reporters in a time of war, focusing on this controversial network and the current U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Even though it’s been stated that the film questions America’s “radicalizing” and or “stabilizing” of the Arab world by networks like CNN and FOX, the film more importantly questions the existence of objectivity in the present world of journalism and war.

Like a preceding documentary, Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain’s The Revolution Will Not be Televised (about the U.S. supported coup of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela), Control Room exhibits an alternative station struggling to combat pro American, conservative news perspectives that ultimately tell the world that Iraqi people are fully supporting the U.S. led occupation.

Noujaim and her crew traveled to places like CentCom, the media news center in Iraq built by U.S. forces which stands as the home of war covering networks like FOX, CNN and Al Jazeera. Arguments arise between U.S. Press Officer Lt. Josh Rushing and Al Jazeera Journalist Hassan Ibrahim, over what the role of media should be, and what it actually is, during the occupation of Iraq.

“It benefits Al Jazeera to play to Arab nationalism because that’s their audience, just like FOX plays to American patriotism, for the exact same reason … because that’s their audience,” says Rushing, a serviceman who throughout the movie desperately attempts to justify the U.S. occupation.

Although, Control Room doesn’t act as a pro-anything and definitely doesn’t come across as a tool for either the Arab or American networks. Noujaim has selected her interviewees with precision, with comments from intelligent, yet biased, persons that have flaws within themselves.

Hassan Ibrahim exhibits his strong sense of Arab nationalism, without apologies, and why not? He’s an intelligent Saudi Arabian man, who emits rebuttals of logic in his opposition to the war. But Noujaim, with a craft for directing, knows that it would be intriguing to add a comment where Ibrahim admits he has the utmost faith in the American people and their constitution to rise up and put an end to their government’s tyrannical decision making process.

As Rushing comes across as sometimes a stumbling-over-words interviewee, the discussions held between him and Ibrahim are interesting for their lack of wartime rhetoric usually held between two uneducated antagonists. Each has recognized that Arab and American networks have a mission that draws a very fine line between a wartime reporter and a combat soldier. Both seem to have their place on the battlefield, and both seem to be taking a side.

As truly a war documentary, Noujaim leaves behind visually grotesque footage, usually inserted for shock value, but adds anticipating moments of Al Jazeera’s control room in Doha, Qatar during President Bush’s warning to Saddam Hussein, 48 hours before the first bombing in Basra. Noujaim includes the last few minutes in the life of Al Jazeera Journalist Tarek Ayoub before a U.S. military plane missile-attacked an Al Jazeera broadcasting station, and the almost hilarious and boldly stated comment by CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier, claiming that the media highlights of the Jessica Lynch saga were circumventive drama to “bury the lead” in true wartime issues.

The only grotesque footage on the battlefield, besides the war itself, will be of the treatment of Iraqi people during the use of Gestapo type tactics by American and British troops to weed out suspected “terrorists” in civilian communities.

All in all, the American viewer will see a completely different perspective of the war through the lens of Al Jazeera cameras and may also walk away with a splinter of sense of what the role of media is during the war in Iraq.

This movie is Not Rated by the MPAA.
Running Time: 86 minutes
Release Dates: June 18th – June 24th
Theater: Landmark’s Ken Cinema

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