Thursday, June 17, 2004
When we listen to Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration mouthpieces, we are led to believe that America has no greater ideological enemy than the Arab news network al Jazeera.
The independent Qatar-based news station, is watched by 40 million Arabic viewers worldwide. Since the beginning, the military intervention (Operation Enduring Freedom), the network and its related Web site have become even more visible internationally and are tuned into for their Arab perspective on America’s involvement in that part of the world.
Both Americans and Arabs accuse the other side of biased reporting and propaganda disguised as news. Emotions escalate until a breakdown or impasse makes any abridgement in the gulf of understanding all but impossible. That may not be exactly what is meant when we refer to the Gulf War (again), but it does bring up the double meaning of the title Control Room .
Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim focuses her documentary cameras on the news floor of al Jazeera’s studios and the press-room of Centcom, the US central command center in Qatar. Obviously, the title refers not only to the control booth of the TV station but also, the spinners of the news. What we discover is that information is not the enemy so much as lack of information or disinformation is.
The al Jazeera producers and reporters are, by and large, BBC-trained and advocate the “fair and balanced” reporting we once respected before Fox News tarnished that particular phrase. It’s true we’ll see things on al Jazeera (and in this movie) that we haven’t been permitted to see on American television: prisoner-of-war interviews, bombed Iraqi children, and so on.
Noujaim learned her trade in the Pennebaker-Hegedus fly-on-the-wall school of documentary filmmaking, but even so, she allows her movie to focus on select individuals. American press officer Lt. Josh Rushing, Sudanese-born al Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim, and al Jazeera producer Samir Khader all provide personal and memorable examples of the conflicting tugs on their professionalism. Centcom is shown manipulating stories, as when the frustrated Tom Mintier wails, “They’re burying the lead,” on the day the US enters Baghdad but Centcom will only provide information about the rescue of Jessica Lynch.
The most important thing Control Room teaches us is that truth is not a very durable export, and that what is news in one part of the world is “more of the same” in another part. Perception is key, and Control Room should be required viewing for anyone within reach of a TV signal.
CONTROL ROOM (4 Stars)
Directed by Jehane Noujaim
(Not Rated, 84 min.)