Control Room Jehane Noujaim

Control Room Jehane Noujaim
As summer 2004 heralds the unusual season of the anti-imperialistic American blockbuster, Jehane Noujaim's (Startup.com) intriguing documentary on Arabic news network Al Jazeera is well placed in the heat of the moment. Focusing on the network's coverage of the war in Iraq, Noujaim and his crew track Al Jazeera and their cameras through a protracted, gruesome journey in documenting the war that has become Bush's defining act.

Situated at the heart of Iraq's media coverage, the Central Command outpost in Qatar, Noujaim's Al Jazeera protagonists — newscaster Hassan Ibrahim and producer Deema Khatib — must negotiate space and wartime among their unlikely bedfellows at the BBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and yes, Fox News. Under the vague stewardship of U.S. Marine Lt. Rushing, the media centre operates with vibrancy and tension. Producer Khatib waxes cynically about news coverage and the U.S. itself, only to admit that he'd jump at the chance to work for an American network, particularly Fox, who because of their staunch nationalism and zest for propaganda the film attempts to paint as Al Jazeera's American cousin.

Interspersed with daily newsroom life and tragedy are difficult and painful in retrospect clips from the news coverage of both Jazeera and other networks. George W. Bush is shown saying he expects captured American soldiers to be treated humanely, "just like we have treated the prisoners we have captured humanely." Oh yes, that's right. We've got it all on tape.

While a gruesome war is conflict enough, Noujaim draws inward repeatedly to focus on the art of war coverage: its spins, its choices and its risks on both ends of the Fox/Jazeera continuum. While the U.S. accuses Jazeera of staging scenes of wreckage and death, Jazeera volleys back with accusations of set-up Sadaam Hussein hate rallies and deliberate information subterfuge.

While Noujaim has only scratched the surface of the "mirage" of objectivity, as a webmaster of aljazeera.net so eloquently put it, his documentary illuminates the power of media in political conflict, at home as well as abroad. (Alliance Atlantis)