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Al-Jazeera is easy scapegoat, U. Mideast center chief says

Yes, there are anti-American programs on Al-Jazeera, says Ibrahim Karawan, but don't blame the rise of anti-Americanism in the Middle East on the popular Arabic-language TV news network.

Karawan, the director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah, talked about Al-Jazeera Wednesday night following a free screening of the documentary "Control Room," which examines the way the controversial channel covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.

"Al-Jazeera is an easy scapegoat," Karawan said. But to blame it for anti-American feelings in the Middle East "should not be convincing." Karawan noted that he has been interviewed many times by Al-Jazeera reporters, and that there are also "doctrinaire, intolerant" Al-Jazeera programs he refuses to appear on.

The network, headquartered in Qatar, has revolutionized Arab media, he said. Before Al-Jazeera, the typical news bulletin in places like the Egypt he grew up in featured "the president of the Republic meeting someone." Al-Jazeera, on the other hand, is unafraid to tackle social issues — although don't expect it to ever report anything unfavorable about Qatar itself, he said. The country's foreign minister has even been known to call one of the channel's talk show hosts on the air to warn him to stop interrupting a guest, Karawan said.

In the United States, the channel is perhaps most known for its insistence on showing the bodies of dead and captured American soldiers, as well as graphic images of bloodied Iraqi civilians.

"We wanted to show that war, any war, has a human cost," explains Samir Khader, the show's senior producer, during one scene of "Control Room." The movie contrasts Al-Jazeera's approach with the more scripted, bloodless depiction of the war allowed on American TV, a depiction orchestrated in part by the U.S. military's Central Command, also located in Qatar.

Control, in fact, is a central theme of the documentary, made by Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim.

Arab viewers are fond of Al-Jazeera, Karawan said, "to the irritation of most (Arab) leaders and the Americans." The network was established and is run by a group of successful Palestinian professionals, "so they brought with them their grievances," Karawan said.

The free screening of "Control Room" is part of a series of films presented this week by the Salt Lake City Film Center, which will show "The World According to Bush" at 7 this evening at the Salt Lake City Main Library.