Who's Afraid of Al Jazeera?

No one is indifferent to Al Jazeera, the Qatari-based Arab satellite television station. You can practically see the blood of US officials boil when they discuss it. To be sure, in the context of the dream of all Arabs being united and independent of foreign control, Al Jazeera is undeniably partial to Arab aspirations. But that does not make its news reporting untruthful.

In fact, Al Jazeera, which US Secretary of State Colin Powell calls "horrible" and "slanted," is a pivotal vehicle for reform and change, which genuinely democratic Arab activists and the international community alike have been calling for. So incensed has America been, however, that it created its own Arabic language mouthpiece in the form of satellite station Al Hurra.

Yet Al Hurra is forbidden from broadcasting within the US, because it is state controlled. Arabs don't trust it, either. It demonstrated its lapdog status by never broadcasting images of prisoners being abused inside Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison. In this respect, at least, Al Hurra fits perfectly within the tame tradition of Arab state broadcasters.

America, however, is not alone in challenging Al Jazeera head on. The BBC, which briefly ran its own Arabic language news station in the mid-1990's - before closing it down because its Saudi funders were unhappy with its reporting - recently announced that it will re-launch an Arabic language news satellite station.