Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

Fake news from a source you want to trust: Al Jazeera’s attack on Nas Daily

Nuseir Yassin is a Harvard-educated Palestinian Israeli who left his job at Venmo to travel and create a video blog. His one-minute videos, called Nas Daily, gained a large following (his Facebook page currently has nearly 18 million followers). After he completed 1,000 of these over the course of three years, he and his girlfriend moved to Singapore, where he then started producing a longer video once a week, opened a video-making company and this year, a school and studio. The academy’s mission is to give people a voice so they can stand up for what they believe in. His message has always been one of looking for good things anywhere he goes as well as of acknowledging and correcting the bad things he encounters. This Tablet piece from January 2019, less than a month before he wrapped up his 1,000th video, offers a glimpse into his motivation and perspective.

On October 20, Nas posted a video, Be Careful of Aljazeera, in which he explains why Al Jazeera is behaving disingenuously. The first issue, to be honest, is something that could almost be expected. In a class on international public relations I am currently taking, we have discussed how messages can be massaged to fit different publics or audiences. And so the fact that Al Jazeera in Arabic posts different stories than it does in English could speak to different topics of interest. But that is not what is happening here. It goes beyond that. What Al Jazeera published in Arabic actually contradicts what they post in English. One example Nas gives is how Al Jazeera in English is supportive of remembering the Holocaust and understanding the hatred it fed on. The example in Al Jazeera’s Arabic press, though, actually sheds doubt on if the Holocaust even happened.

Screenshot taken from Nas Daily’s Facebook account; click to watch the six minute long video

In order to provide an example that is outside of the Israel-Palestinian issue, I went to both the Arabic and English language sites and searched for stories with the word homosexual (مثلي الجنس in Arabic according to Google Translate) and compared results. For Arabic, I also used Google Translate to see in English. The first screenshot is from aljaeera.net (Arabic) and the second from aljaeera.com (English).

Screenshot of search results taken from Al Jazeera’s Arabic website
Screenshot of search results taken from Al Jazeera’s English website

One story in Arabic claims that rates are higher in Western churches than elsewhere and contends that social factors are responsible, not predisposition or genetics. In another article, an Egyptian journalist wants Netflix to provide warnings about shows that are “inconsistent with our morals” and wonders if “there is a plan to convert our children.” Contrast this with Al Jazeera’s articles in English which are factual in nature. Of note, though, is that while the article about the Pope looks at a number of countries to show how LGBTQ rights are handled liberally or harshly, none of them are Middle Eastern.

Journalism is not public relations, but the issue of consistent versus incompatible messages coming from the same body to different audiences and in different languages is an issue that ought to cause concern, as it affects credibility across all of Al Jazeera’s organization. On Al Jazeera’s English language website, under PR – About, the site notes the awards it has received along with its missions as an independent  news channel which gives a “voice to the voiceless.” There is no comparable page on its Arabic site, although it does have a page speaking to its high journalistic standards.

What Nas demonstrates in his video is that they do not abide by them. He actually takes Al Jazeera to task for something far more egregious than treating audiences so differently. His main objection – and the larger issue at hand – is that Al Jazeera has taken its false stories about him (it contended that he worked on behalf of the Israeli government) and planted it on other media channels that it had created. These other channels are not independent entities, but actually belong to Al Jazeera, and together these stories besmirching Nas garnered far more hits than any of their typical stories.

Nas points out that because Al Jazeera is government-funded and has an enormous amount of money behind it, promoting an agenda via fake news is not engaging in journalism. (It is worth noting that this is different from BBC or VOA, which are funded through a license fee or via taxes, both of which are ultimately paid by citizens. Qatar has no income tax; government funding is really government funding, not a flow-through from taxpayer money.) Nas also notes that the week before this video was posted the US State Department required Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent. The Justice Department’s site notes that the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires “agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.” Agents are not reporters. Agents are acting on behalf of others.

This is a pity because their English language news is considered balanced and has been embraced as a welcome addition to the media news landscape, especially for US coverage. (Interestingly, three different bias-checking websites seem to all agree that Al Jazeera leans a bit left in English although it sometimes is selective in its reporting and in its factuality. The sites are  mediabiasfactcheck, all sides and ad fontes media.)

After Nas’s video came out, a number of news sources did report on Nas’s accusations. But, they were mostly Jewish press. Mainstream media, with the exception of Mashable Southeast Asia (not even “regular” Mashable) and the International Business Times, seemed to ignore this story, which I find shocking. To me, Al Jazeera Arabic’s activity of deliberately creating and spreading false stories – and creating separately named channels to increase the story’s; reach – is not very different from the Eastern European groups that have infiltrated social media in order to stir up discord and tension among Americans. Needless to say, it also does not appear that Al Jazeera reported on the story either, at least not in English.

This story deserves further investigation into what else Al Jazeera is doing in all its media channels and activities. Planting false stories and spreading them through fictive means is not only deliberately inflaming tensions and increasing hate but is the antithesis of journalism. It is propaganda.

Is the absence of outrage because the accusation about Israel is one other media outlets are not bothered over? Would other news sources prefer fake news about Israel to outing those outlets which give their industry a bad name? Over the last few years much of the news media has lost credibility, and not only because politicians cried “fake news” whenever they didn’t like what they were hearing. It was also because of the agenda-driven news sites and non-news sites which shared anything for clicks. Ignoring a story like this one does absolutely nothing to remedy that situation.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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